Natalie Collins, Youth Worker, Creator and Trainer, DAY Programme
“My boyfriend bought me an iPhone 5.”
“At school I have to wear shorts under my skirt otherwise the boys lift it up and show my knickers.”
“My mum says I’m going home over the summer and will go through a ceremony to become a woman.”
As a youth worker, would any of these statements from a young person worry you? Would you consider them a safeguarding concern? For many who work with young people, such comments can slide under the radar; it doesn’t occur that these could be warning signs of serious abuse and violation.
Often gifts of expensive technology to a young person can come with strings attached, perhaps offering sexual favours to the boyfriend’s friends or can be used as a bargaining tool; “You have to do what I want, I bought you a phone!” Almost all up to date mobile technology comes with tracking software, which can be used to keep tabs on a girl/boyfriend. Also the expectation may be that Skype is kept on constantly, preventing the young person ever being away from their boyfriend.
Sexual harassment is rife in schools. Girls shouldn’t have to dress to protect themselves from boys’ advances. Such behaviour can desensitise girls to their right to bodily autonomy and can leave them believing they have to “let” boys do what they want. Sexual harassment is illegal and if we don’t challenge it immediately, it can lead to boys believing they are entitled to access to girls bodies, whether the girls want it or not. For the sake of all young people, we must take all forms of sexual harassment seriously.
While there are no statistics on the prevalence of female genital mutilation in Scotland, a study for England and Wales estimated that nearly 20,000 girls were at risk of being cut. The risk to girls increases over the summer holidays, when they have time to travel to their family’s country of origin, go through the terrible and totally unnecessary process of having their genitals cut and sewn up, often with no pain relief and then have time to “heal” before arriving back after the holidays. Often fears of appearing racist or ignorant can prevent youth workers questioning girls further, leaving them at risk of serious harm and potentially even death.
The risk of harm to young women across Scotland is not always apparent to those working with them. Everyone holds beliefs about abuse and violence. Some people have the idea that abuse only happens in certain communities or that it is rooted in alcohol or drug use. There are some that believe young people’s intimate relationships don’t need to be taken seriously because they are “only kids” or that it is just “boys being boys”. This can blind practitioners to the many ways young people are harmed daily by those they know.
All these issues disproportionately impact girls and young women. Many services are reluctant to acknowledge this, considering it lacking in “equality” to name the problem as male violence against women. There can be concerns of demonising men and boys and not offering services equally, however denying the gendered nature of sexual exploitation, FGM and domestic abuse will result in a failure to respond effectively to either those being hurt or those perpetrating crime. Such abuse is rooted in beliefs of ownership and entitlement.
It’s as we challenge language and attitudes that reveal beliefs of ownership and entitlement that we will see change happen. We can’t just accept language that demeans either girls or boys as “youth culture”. We provide a framework which sees ownership and entitlement as diametrically opposed to how we live our lives and how we form healthy and meaningful relationships.
It is impossible to become an expert on every issue that impacts young people, but we can endeavour to learn more about issues of domestic violence, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment and harmful cultural practices. For the sake of all young people, we must.
DAY Core Principles
We are passionate about giving you the tools to work with young people, equipping them to understand and address domestic abuse in their lives, their friend’s lives and in the wider community. We want to encourage individuals and organisations to build on the foundations we have developed with DAY with their own ideas and innovation. So often we uphold structures to the detriment of the values with which the structures were created. In light of this we encourage DAY trained organisations and individuals to develop the DAY material, building on the DAY Core Principles to “PROCEED safely”.
|Power and control is the motivation for domestic abuseRight use of power in all delivery
Ownership and entitlement are the roots of domestic abuse
Challenging societal messages is integral to ending domestic abuse
Encouraging critical thinking in young people
Equality of opportunity
Development and innovation
For more information on:
Sexual harassment in schools: http://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/schools-safe-4-girls