An interesting juxtaposition of topics on Woman’s Hour today. Amongst the early items, Jenni Murray interviewed Lisa Harker, Head of Strategy at the NSPCC, and Radio 1 presenter, Gemma Cairney, about the shocking frequency of teenage relationship abuse. Gemma’s documentary “Bruising Silence” aired on Radio 1 tonight, and the NSPCC published a report, “Standing on my own two feet” in 2011, described as the first ever study of abusive relationships among teenagers (downloadable from the NSPCC website). Among the findings, from the University of Bristol, were that 25% of teenage girls and 18% of boys had experienced physical violence in a relationship. In a lot of cases, there was a strong association with witnessing violence in the home, or with peers or family members – 20% of girls had seen domestic violence.
Both Lisa and Gemma described the shocking findings that a significant minority of girls accepted violence as normal. Either they had witnessed it at home, or friends told of similar experiences, or they experienced a repeating pattern in relationships. Though they did not have the financial or familial ties that might keep an older woman in a relationship, it was this sense of the norm, coupled with the overbearing emotion of first love, and the desire to please, which contributed to the difficulty for teenagers to leave.
Following this item, a discussion on why women find it hard to ask for a pay rise might have seemed trivial in contrast, yet the same themes were emerging, as psychologist, Mary Sherry, described the powerful drivers conditioning boys and girls to behave in particular ways from a young age. While boys are taught to “be strong” and that “winning is all”, she argued that girls are expected to “be perfect” and are conditioned “to please”. This seemed only to add emphasis to the difficulties teenagers find in walking away from abuse.
A number of points stood out for me, in relation to wider family violence issues.
- how violence can become a habit
- the assertion that perpetrators of violence can experience guilt about their behaviour, which then further fuels the abuse
- the close relationship between different kinds of family violence
- the normative effect of repetition
- the link with low self esteem and a sense of deserving the abuse
Just as with parent abuse, the call was for teenage relationship abuse to be more widely recognised, so that victims could more easily access support; accompanied by a strong call from Gemma Cairney for young people to be convinced that violence is neither normal, nor acceptable.