Comment piece on young peoples attitudes to violence against women

The days of women being given a slap for disrespecting the men in their lives should be nothing but a bad memory and a harrowing scene from a Charles Dickens’ screen adaptation. Male assault of woman should be nothing but a distasteful reminder of when women were no more than chattels and the possessions of male relatives, acceptably controlled by through violent behaviour.

It is disappointing and troubling that young adults from across the UK are still experiencing the trauma of violence against women. The ICM survey commissioned by the End Violence Against Women campaign, which was published yesterday, reveals that of the 16-20 year olds questioned a significant proportion – 42% – knew of at least one girl who has been hit by their boyfriend.

I was appalled when I read this, but not necessarily shocked. In recent years there seem to have been report after report and numerous surveys published that inform the public and the government that violence against women and sexual assault are still distressing realties for a large minority of the female population. Only last year, the End Violence Against Women Campaign was launched; its aim to put a stop to all forms of violence, which one in two women in the UK will be subject to some form of violence at the hands of a man in their lifetime.

The need to stop violent behaviour is urgent, but the ICM report also highlights worrying tendency that young women face when forming relationships; the issues of coercion, pressure and blame. As with so many aspects of life, being the odd one out isn’t fun. Young people feel the pressure of expectation from their peers and with the sexual hype that arguably exists in our society, being sexually active is perceived as the desirable norm.

Whilst this is not an inherent problem for those young people who are mature enough and feel confident about taking their relationships to a sexual level, 40% of those surveyed know a girl who has felt coerced into sex with a boyfriend, suggesting that perhaps they did not feel emotionally ready to commit.

The pressure to become physically involved with a boyfriend, coupled with the expectation held by over one quarter of those surveyed that if a girl is overtly flirtatious, a boy should expect to have sex with her shows how expectation can lead to pressure, which in turn can lead to young women to make decisions they will either regret or will leave them feel vulnerable.

It is well publicised that young people in the UK are drinking to excess to a greater degree than previous generations. In England the rise in hospital admission of under 18s for excessive drinking has seen at 20% increase in the last five years.

The decision making process for younger people is not aided by alcohol but it is no excuse for pressure and force. The Association of Chief Police Officers survey, published last week challenged the notion that the use of date rape drugs is widespread, citing instead the excessive consumption of alcohol by women. Again it could be argued that this response pushes the blame onto the victim of the crime and in some ways remove a large amount of responsibility from her attacker.

Critics of the report have argued that if a woman believes she has been drugged and raped, it is not the place of the police to rubbish her claims but to investigate the crime with an open mind and understanding. With conviction for rape in England and Scotland hovering at 5%, apportioning blame for a women’s behaviour is really not the best starting point.

In 2006, violence against women should not be an issue which requires a large scale campaign for the public and the Government. However, the study released yesterday showed that a small minority hold the view that it is acceptable to use violence to control women, and we must work to change this through education and advertising.

Young people hold the future in their hands; and we must ensure that they understand that violence against women should never be accepted. One abused woman is one more than should be tolerated by any society and that is why I give my full support to End Violence Against Women’s campaign to educate young people.

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