It’s vital that we listen to young women like ‘Alice’ (who says she was in an abusive relationship with Russell Brand when she was a 16-year-old schoolgirl and he was 30) about how they’ve been failed by adults and systems, so that we can ensure they’re equipped to enjoy safe and healthy relationships.
We know that the power imbalance between a young woman under 18 and an older adult enables controlling and manipulative behaviour, sexual violence and domestic abuse, and can make the woman feel unable to give or withdraw consent.
Young women and girls under 25 are disproportionately affected by domestic abuse, with those under 19 at the highest risk of being victims in their own intimate relationship (Crime Survey ONS).
Our report surveying young women and girls about their early sexual experiences and relationships found that:
- 74% feel they should have waited longer before having sex
- 57% agree or strongly agree that they’ve been pressured into having sex with a romantic and/or intimate partner
- 73% say they had consensual sex before the age of 16 – however we know that legally this isn’t consensual sex, and that the average age of their partners at the time was 23
- 73% feel they should have known more about consent and how to say no when they started having sexual experiences
- 91% believe their past relationships have impacted their mental health, with controlling and unhealthy relationships cited in many cases
Young women and girls need safe spaces and trusted adult mentors so that they can talk about healthy sexual and intimate relationships, what consent actually means and how to get support when they aren’t safe. These issues should be discussed within communities and with both young women and young men, beyond the classroom.
Wider conversations about what informed consent looks like and how it is given are also urgently needed. These conversations must include how significant age gaps in relationships can create power imbalances that manifest into abuse. This is currently considered regarding people in ‘official’ positions of power, such as teachers, doctors and caregivers, but should also be looked at in a broader context.
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- Advance’s vision is a world in which women and children lead safe, equal, violence-free lives so that they can flourish and actively contribute to society. The charity works with women who experience domestic abuse to be safe and take control of their lives, and women who have committed crime or are at risk of offending to break the cycle.
- Women must be referred to Advance, via statutory services or the charity’s self-referral scheme. For more information about who Advance is able to support, please visit Get Help
- For facts and statistics about domestic abuse and women in the criminal justice system, as well as Advance’s work, please visit Our Impact