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Sexual violence and young people

Young people are surrounded by ideas and images in the media and wider culture which send strong and harmful messages about how we should look and behave when it comes to sex. Research shows that young people are experiencing sexual violence at an alarming rate, and often may lack the knowledge or tools to identify it and seek help:

  • 40% of teenage girls were coerced into sex acts by boyfriends, with 1 in 5 experiencing physical violence from a boyfriend (NSPCC, 2015). This parallels earlier research by the agency which found that 1 in 3 young women experience violence or abuse from an intimate partner (NSPCC, 2009).
  • 1 in 5 women in Britain experience unwanted sexual contact in or around school as girls (Plan UK, 2016), and 75% of girls aged 11-21 say anxiety about experiencing sexual harassment is negatively affecting their lives (GGUK, 2015).
  • Of young people surveyed by LGBT Youth Scotland, 52% had experienced abuse from a partner, however only 37% were able to recognise this behaviour as abusive.

Further, young people are exposed to dangerous messages about sex and relationships in the media and porn industry:

  • 67% of young women believe that popular culture tells boys they are entitled to coerce or abuse their girlfriends (GirlGuiding UK, 2015)
  • 60% of students surveyed by NUS UK said they watch pornography to gain information about sex. 74% of 11 – 18 year olds said that porn should be discussed in sex ed (NSPCC, 2015).
  • There is evidence to suggest young people are being sent worrying messages about what to expect when it comes to sex from pornography. Over 88% of the most popular porn films featured violence and aggression directed towards women (Bridges et al 2010). Yet, 53% of boys surveyed by NSPCC felt that porn was a realistic depiction of sex (2015).
  • “I’m always watching porn and some of it is quite aggressive. I didn’t think it was affecting me at first but I’ve started to view girls a bit differently recently and it’s making me worries.” – Young Man, 12 – 15, NSPCC 2015.

Despite the strong need for it, many young people feel that they are not getting enough sex education, or that the sex education they do receive doesn’t cover all the issues they need it to (NUS UK 2015, Scottish Young People Create Change 2015).

Our prevention work is ideally placed to help tackle and challenge the concerns outlined above, and help support young people’s learning on issues to do with sexual violence with a view to preventing and changing attitudes towards it; informing young people of their rights, the law and where to get support.

“Our aim is to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls, creating a strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and respected, and where women and girls live free from such abuse – and the attitudes that perpetuate it” 

Equally Safe: Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls, Scottish Government.  


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