The Rise of Domestic Violence in Teenage Relationships and the Accessibility of the Law
August 28, 2012
The Fresh Outlook
The Fresh Outlook scrutinises the current legal classification of domestic violence and looks towards recent campaigns aimed at promoting awareness.
It is believed that violence in teenage relationships is much more prevalent than previously thought. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds were twice as likely to be abused by violent partners. The study, Standing on My Own Two Feet, was carried out by Bristol University, in conjunction with the NSPCC in a supporting capacity, in September 2011. It primarily focused on the experiences of young people who are either outside of the education system, young offenders, young people in residential care or those who are at risk of sexual exploitation.
The report contacted the young people through a range of agencies across the south-west of England. The findings of the study have been compared with a larger study – also by Bristol University on behalf of the NSPCC in 2009 – called Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships. The earlier study featured 1,400 girls between the ages of 13-17, who were not considered to be from vulnerable backgrounds.
The 2011 report surveyed and correlated the responses of 44 Boys and 38 Girls aged between the ages of 13-18. It revealed that those from financially vulnerable backgrounds are twice as likely to suffer a form of domestic violence as their counterparts with greater financial security. It also highlighted that those who were no longer active in mainstream education found that physical, emotional and sexual abuse was commonplace. It is a problem that affects both young girls and young boys.
More than half the girls interviewed admitted to having been in a sexually violent relationship before the age of 18 and half of those had experienced physical violence. Six boys (13%) admitted to having used physical violence and four others confessed that they may have pressured their girlfriends into having sexual intercourse. The report also concluded that one in four boys revealed that they had been in relationships with physically aggressive partners. Half of the girls interviewed thought that control was an integral aspect of an intimate relationship and a quarter of the girls in the study confessed to instigating physical violence in their relationships.
Acknowledgment of the staggering rise in domestic abuse within teenage relationships however is limited. The lack of exposure is primarily due to the legal definition of domestic violence. The definition currently states that domestic violence is “any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members”. This is enshrined within the Family Law Act 1996 and the extensions granted to certain sections by the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. This distinction, however, ensures that those under the appropriated age  cannot be legally considered as victims of domestic abuse. This has been highlighted recently in the case of the murder of Emily Longley by her boyfriend Elliot Turner. Turner had previously been violent on several different occasions during the course of their relationship. He was convicted of her murder earlier this year [May 2012]. The context of her murder however is significant. The legal definition of domestic violence would fail to apply to here; Turner was 20 and Longley only 17, a minor in accordance with the law. The restrictions of the definition mean that the services designed to support and care for those in violent relationships, such as independent domestic violence advocates, agency risk assessments and refuge provision would not have been available to Emily. There has been talk since late 2011 that the government is intending to broaden the definition of domestic violence to incorporate those under the age of 18. However no guidelines have been initiated.
Emma, who was interviewed for the Standing on My Own Two Feet study, told researchers how she had been forced into having sex “quite a few times” when she was 13.
“I’ve never shouted rape or anything. I’ve never been able to say that I’ve been raped but it’s not like I’ve given consent. In certain situations it has been pushed on me and it has been really horrible.” The situation that Emma had described is legally defined as statutory rape.
The Home Office committed to running a youth prevention campaign to tackle teenage relationship violence in the violence against women and girls action plan which was published on 8 March 2010.
The teenage relationship abuse campaign originally ran in February and March 2010 and we re-ran advertising from September to November 2011 on youth TV stations, in cinemas, on posters in schools, shopping and leisure centres and online.
By Ross Jones
[Image courtesy of heraldpost]