#FriendsCanTell – Domestic abuse experienced by young people

Below is a slightly abridged version of an article that first appeared in the Local Government Association’s First Magazine. #FriendsCanTell was launched on 14 February 2022.

Domestic abuse is an epidemic – one that young people experience disproportionately, despite a common misconception that it only affects adults who live together. Relationships that are often dismissed as intense but short-lived teen romances can also be characterised by violence and control at the same severity as the abuse adult victims face.

Rather than reaching out to a professional or service, it’s young people’s friends who are their first recourse for help. There’s much more we can do to make that a safe and effective thing to do.

In 2021, hundreds of girls, young women and non-binary people spoke to us as part of the ‘Your Best Friend’ project. Most (71 per cent) have worried about behaviours in a friend’s relationship. Nine in 10 then actively spoke to their friend to try to help.

Young people said toxic, coercive and controlling behaviours are so common that they are considered normal, and are confused with socially accepted ideas of love, care and protection. Dating someone older brings status but comes with an increased risk of coercion, especially in first relationships.

 Young people, across all age groups, reported commonly receiving disclosures from their friends, but without feeling empowered or informed enough to manage them. Fear of damaging the friendship (83 per cent), self-doubt (45 per cent) and not finding suitable information (60 per cent) would stop them talking to their friend about a toxic relationship.

We’re on a mission to upskill young people so they know what’s not OK and how to escalate it. This is the time to do it – young women victimised in adolescent relationships are significantly more likely to experience domestic abuse in adulthood. If we reach enough girls now, we can stop this cycle.

(Everyone) can help young people in their area by supporting the #FriendsCanTell campaign (on Twitter), launching in February. Through films, podcasts and social media – a campaign designed by young people – we will start a conversation, helping them feel more certain about what’s not OK and what to do about it.

For further information see the SafeLives Twitter page or visit safelives.org.uk/  .

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