Consultation of 2,700 teenagers reveals extent of coercive and controlling behaviours faced by young people in relationships

New research carried out by the Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice and the Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner has revealed the extent of which children and teenagers are having to cope with abusive behaviours within intimate relationships, three months after ‘Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an intimate or family relationship’ became a criminal offence under the Serious Crime Act.

A survey of nearly 3,000 10-18 year olds across Northamptonshire revealed that 42% of young people have been subjected to a partner constantly checking up on them, while over half of those questioned (54%) said that they faced jealousy issues from their boyfriend or girlfriend when spending time with friends.

A third of young people have been made fun of by a boyfriend or girlfriend in front of other people in a way that made them feel uncomfortable and 21% of 16-18 year-olds (14% of 10-18 year-olds) have been pressured in to doing something they didn’t want to by a partner. One in 20 teenagers have been physically forced into doing something they didn’t want to do – the equivalent of more than one child in every school classroom.

The consultation also revealed a worrying trend in the reluctance of young people to speak with authority figures when facing abuse within intimate relationships. Only 5% would tell a member of school staff, 3% the police and 2% a youth worker. The most popular form of support for young people is to tell their friends (40%), while only a quarter of people would reach out to parents (24%).

The Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice and Northants PCC surveyed 2,712 students across 19 mainstream schools, including four Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Special Educational Needs and Mental Health (SENMH) schools in the county to gather the information.

The Office of the Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner also commissioned a drama presentation through the Core in Corby, in partnership with Highly Sprung, which helped to depict how a relationship can become unhealthy. Students were assisted further through a workshop delivered by local youth service, Service Six and taught tools and techniques to help safeguard themselves in current or future relationships.

In response to the findings, Adam Simmonds, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire, has called on the government to introduce compulsory Sex and Relationships education to the national curriculum and update its guidance – which was last published 16 years ago in 2000 – as part of 12 recommendations across the areas of awareness and education, information and support and partner activity, in order to protect and support young people.

Laura Knight, Director of the Institute for Public Safety, Crime and Justice, who produced the consultation report, said:

“The results of this analysis highlights how government, law enforcement and support agencies need to be listening to the experiences of young people and designing appropriate support networks around qualitative research in response to what young people are actually experiencing, rather than what we presume they are experiencing.

“Young people are simply not reporting crimes of this nature, and therefore efforts need to be made to ensure there is help available for people suffering from controlling behaviours in intimate relationships, and that young people know where to find support.

“Police forces across England and Wales are also not ready to deal with an influx of these crimes, so all agencies need to come together to provide a platform for young people who are suffering significant levels of abuse in relationships that are being entered in to at younger and younger ages.”

Adam Simmonds, Northamptonshire Police and Crime Commissioner, added:

“What we are seeing in this research is a changing of the landscape in terms of the pressures that young people are having to deal with as they grow up and the fact that many are suffering forms of mental – and at times physical – abuse while in relationships.

“We must therefore educate children to identify these types of coercive and controlling behaviours, to teach children what behaviours are not acceptable and the negative impact they can have, and strengthen the support and advice available for those who are victims of emotional abuse.

“I will be writing to the government to urge them to publish updated Sex and Relationships Education Guidance – with the current version being 16 years-old – to ensure it is relevant and up to date, and at the same time recommending the introduction of compulsory Sex and Relationships Education, which is currently optional for all free schools, academies and independent schools.

“However, the delivery of Sex and Relationships Education isn’t only the responsibility of Schools, and could ultimately be delivered by commissioned services alongside specialist counselling support in order to help our young people in the very best ways possible.”