1/4 of teenage girls suffer physical violence, 1/3 sexual violence in relationships

// 2 September 2009

One third of girls age 13-17 have been forced or pressured into “unwanted sexual acts”, and a further one quarter have suffered physical violence by their boyfriends, according to a study by Bristol University and the NSPCC. A smaller number of boys reported being pressured or forced into sex or suffering physical violence in a relationship.

To break it down:

  • Nine out of 10 girls said they’d been in an intimate relationship
  • Of these, one in six said they’d been pressured into “unwanted intercourse”
  • And one in 16 had been raped
  • Others had been “pressured or forced to kiss or sexually touch
  • One in four girls had suffered physical violence such as being slapped, punched, or beaten by their boyfriends
  • One in 17 boys reported being pressured or forced into sexual activity
  • Almost one in five boys reported suffering physical violence in a relationship

Girls were much more likely to find this behaviour harmful — more than three in every four compared to one in ten boys. Girls also reported that they suffered more repeatedly in relationships and at a younger age.

Sian, one of the girls interviewed for the research, said: “I only went out with him for a week. And then because I didn’t want to have sex he just started picking on me and hitting me.”

Another girl, Tanisha, said about her boyfriend: “He bit me on the face. It was horrible, really disgusting. Because when I am trying to show my point of view, he doesn’t appreciate it.”

Unlike most boys, girls often felt they had little choice but to put up with the abuse because they felt scared, guilty, or feared they would lose their boyfriend.

Having an older boyfriend was found to put girls at a higher risk, with three-quarters of them saying they had been victims. Girls from a family where an adult had been violent towards them, one of their parents, or siblings, were also at greater risk.

For boys, having a violent group of friends made it more likely that they would be a victim, or be violent themselves, in a relationship.

One of report’s authors, Professor David Berridge from the University’s School for Policy Studies, said: “The high rate and harmful impact of violence in teenagers’ intimate relationships, especially for girls, is appalling. It was shocking to find that exploitation and violence in relationships starts so young. This is a serious issue that must be given higher priority by policy makers and professionals.”

So this means that before reaching even the age of being able to vote, a huge number of girls in this country will have already found themselves on the receiving end of male violence.

Meanwhile, you might remember the media’s – and particularly the Daily Mail’s awful response to Harriet Harman’s proposals to introduce lessons in schools which would address some of these issues. Mail Watch points out the newspaper appears to have made a screeching u-turn on this issue:

Bizarrely, the two articles are based around very similar findings and discuss exactly the same thing (school lessons on domestic abuse), yet the angle has completely reversed. Nothing has changed except the editorial stance: in both instances, someone has said that domestic abuse is a problem and that the key to reducing it is education.

Quite right, too, and the Mail should be applauded for apparently waking up to the ghastly problem of domestic violence. But how can such sudden change of heart be reconciled with their past form? Was last month’s disgusting tirade against women and the dismissal of sexual abuse motivated simply by the fact that the issue had been raised by a female Labour MP and therefore had to be derided at all costs, but now the politically neutral NSPCC have said the same thing it’s acceptable to agree?

Comments From You

Jennifer Drew // Posted 2 September 2009 at 6:12 pm

The extract I show below from the blog Mail Watch provides the reason why the Daily Male appears to have suffered amnesia and now claims (male) violence against teen women needs to be challenged.

‘Without Harriet Harman forcing Dacre and co. to blindly disagree with claims that women suffer as a result of male violence, they can frame the topic as yet another example of the licentiousness of the nation’s youth, which is, in Mail land, a result of the Government’s liberal approach to (ironically) sex education, erosion of moral standards, and Labour’s hatred of marriage and the family. The absence of the very same school lessons they campaigned against in August becomes evidence in September of the unwillingness of the state to nurture and protect its children.’

So The Daily Male has not changed its direction but instead has co-opted this very disturbing piece of research to make the claim UK young women and men are totally out of control and in need of a conservative government which will bring back ‘family values.’

Meaning of course back to the mythical 1950’s wherein men ruled their families with rods of iron and women and children knew their subordinate places.

Oh if only life were as simple as the Daily Male promotes.

I strongly recommend reading the whole findings of this very important research because many teenage boys are subjecting their female girl friends to control, intimidation, physical and sexual violence. Whilst a number of boys report they have been subjected to physical violence by their female girl friends, most of the boys brushed off the violence and unlike male on female violence such incidents were a one-off not repeated incidents designed to maintain male power and control over female partners.

Butterflywings // Posted 2 September 2009 at 6:44 pm

Exactly Jennifer. I love how anti-feminists are so keen to include the slightest argument as domestic violence – when they want to pretend that female on male violence is just as prevalent.

Yet they accuse feminists of doing just that when it suits them.

As you say, abuse is a sustained campaign of bullying and violence in order to completely control the partner. Obviously this is far more prevalent in the male-female pattern than the reverse (or in same-sex relationships).

Admittedly, I don’t think physical fighting is ideal.

I also think that we have to accept it happens – people get tired, stressed, angry, and can behave in very non-ideal ways sometimes.

There is a difference between a one-off incident of mutual fighting, shoving or hitting etc., and sustained abuse where one person is too terrified to fight back and has been psychologically abused into feeling they are worthless and deserve this treatment.

earwicga // Posted 2 September 2009 at 7:33 pm

I’ve found a summary here http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/research/Findings/partner_exploitation_and_violence_summary_wdf68093.pdf

Is there a fuller report anywhere?

Karen // Posted 2 September 2009 at 7:41 pm

Maybe if these young boys weren’t exposed to media influences that show their attitudes as acceptable, this wouldn’t be as big a problem. Also, sex is still shown everywhere these days as a mark of “male-ness”-heaven forbid you’ve had less sex than your mate that you look up to because they lost their virginity and can keep a string of girls on the go. Wonderful attitudes to women like this were becoming apparent a few years ago when found that girls were being pressurised to strip off in front of web cams for 13 year old boys to drool over and use to exercise power over them. The Male probably won’t ever point the finger of blame in the right direction, that would require a miracle, could this be because when they were this age, they were just as lecherous to the young ladies around them? Yes, we need education provided to show that some attitudes are totally unacceptable and are (or certainly should be) punishable. Then provide better access to counselling for girls caught up in domestic violence (because lets face it, thats what it is irrespective of the location it occurs in) without them fearing that they won’t be taken seriously or accused of not being one of the gang. Also, maybe we should go back to basics and give sex education lessons with enough detail to show sex as a sign of love and desire, not a sport to play one-upmanship with and to hold over the heads of vulnerable women and girls.

earwicga // Posted 2 September 2009 at 7:50 pm

Just scrolled down to the bottom of the page on http://www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/research/Findings/partner_exploitation_and_violence_wda68092.html

And it says the full report is due to be published in the Autumn.

nick // Posted 3 September 2009 at 9:28 am

I found this survey from the Belfast Telegraph dated Oct 2008 ….not sure of the age of the respondents, but seeing as it says pupils , then senior school age . Personally I think its all very sad and endemic of the kind of society we live in.

3% of all pupils think it is okay for a man to hit a woman if she nagged or wouldn’t stop arguing (4% of boys, 1% of girls)

13% think it is okay for a woman to hit a man if he nagged or wouldn’t stop arguing (15% of boys and 11% of girls)

4% of all pupils think it is acceptable for a man to hit a woman if she is not treating him with respect, while 15% think it is okay for a woman to hit a man in this case

19% of young people think it is fine for a man to be violent towards his wife if she has slept with someone else (22% of boys and 16% of girls), while 42% think it is okay for a woman to hit a man in the same circumstances (with no significant difference between boys and girls)

12% of all pupils believed that a boyfriend who hits his girlfriend deserves a second chance, while 16% say a husband who hits his wife deserves one

35% said a girlfriend who hits her boyfriend should get a second chance.

The report highlighted that differences in the sex of the violent partner seemed to influence pupils’ attitudes towards it.

sianmarie // Posted 3 September 2009 at 9:59 am

this research is just so horrible, so shocking. and yet not shocking as well.

at bristol feminist network we had a meeting about sex ed and encouraging relationships education in schools.

women’s aid have created some amazing packs for primary and secondary schools with lesson plans for relationship education that are perfectly pitched at each age group, reception lessons talking about boys and girls toys and playing inclusively, and older classes asking students to discuss what they consdier to be an act of DV, all with the explanations of how to avoid triggering or making a pupil feel uncomfortable.

so if any teachers are reading this, i would recommend looking into getting a pack for your school. with evidence like the above arising, we have to do all we can to prevent violence starting so young and education is the way forward on this i think.

Aimee // Posted 3 September 2009 at 10:56 am

This is why it’s absolutely imperative to empower girls from a young age! This is why we need to get rid of all this helpless little princess crap and let our girls know that they are strong, autonomous individuals in their own right and not subject to the whims of men and boys. This makes me so sad.

HarpyMarx // Posted 3 September 2009 at 2:28 pm

The research is shocking but not shocking, it certainly is very grim reading. I wrote something about on my own blog.

I have also seen the study that Nick refers to as well. The latest research recommends anti-bullying strategies. There should be also open honest discussions about sexual relationships, power relationships, coercion and control. Important as well re self-esteem and self-confidence because many of these girls interviewed felt scared along with guilt (if they said no). But it also reflects the conditioning processes and expectations .

It really is depressing reading

Hannah // Posted 3 September 2009 at 7:31 pm


Thanks for highlighting the Women’s Aid education pack- I didn’t know it existed and will definitely use it with the young people I work with and let my colleagues know about it.

Rita // Posted 4 September 2009 at 3:18 pm

At one point on channel 4 i watched a documentary where boys thought it was a girl’s fault when raped, if she went into company of many boys. What was sad about this attitude was that they did not see anything wrong with it. A norm. Good old fashioned education where kids were kept alot more busy and disciplined should come back with a few improvements. It would work IMHO.

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds