Relationships - Teens trapped in bad romances turn to their teachers

15th November 2013 at 00:00
Staff need training to combat problem of abuse, union says

Research has revealed a disturbing picture of the level of violence among teenage couples, leading a union to call for teachers to be given special training in how to deal with it.

A new study, which follows a steep rise in calls to a children's helpline about the issue, shows that one in four teachers has been approached for help by students caught in abusive relationships. However, only 8 per cent of schools offer guidance to staff on tackling the issue, it says.

The study was undertaken in England by children's charity the NSPCC and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), after the charity's ChildLine service experienced a 68 per cent rise in calls for help with abusive relationships in 2012-13. The charity said it was also planning to carry out research into whether online pornography may be making the problem worse.

The survey of more than 1,400 teachers and students shows that around 40 per cent of girls aged 11-18 who have been in a relationship have suffered some sort of abuse from their partner. It also reveals that almost half of teachers think they would be unable to spot the signs if one of their students became trapped in an abusive relationship.

It follows extensive research in the US, where studies of the problem among young people have been ongoing since the mid-1990s.

Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - part of the US Department of Health - surveyed what it terms "teen dating violence". The results revealed that nearly one in 10 high-school students had been hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.

The public body describes dating violence as a "serious problem" in the US. It says that among adult victims of rape, physical violence or stalking, 22 per cent of women and 15 per cent of men first encountered some sort of partner violence between the ages of 11 and 17.

Pam Miller, a senior analyst at the NSPCC who led the English research, said that as young people were still developing it was often harder for them to keep their emotions in check, which could lead to unhealthy relationships. Too often they accepted such relationships as normal, she added.

"Quite often, young people are still trying to figure out what a healthy relationship actually looks like, and they may not have the model of a healthy relationship to look to," Ms Miller said. "And, as we are talking about young people, their brains are still developing, so they don't have the same types of controls as adults should have."

Ms Miller said that abuse among young couples came in many forms and was often similar to that seen in adult relationships, from psychological and verbal abuse to "coercive control" and physical and sexual violence.

Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL union, said her members were all too aware of the risks inherent in abusive relationships and "the patterns they can create".

"They are concerned about the damage done to young people in abusive relationships and want to support them," Dr Bousted added. "However, they also need training on how to spot the signs and where they should point young people to, so that they can get the appropriate level of help."

Both the union and the NSPCC have produced resources to help teachers and students deal with the issue, and have called on schools to introduce a separate policy on the problem. The children's charity has also created useful information packs for students, which have been introduced successfully in the US.

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