The Normalisation of Interpersonal Violence: How do we combat it?

Natalie Denny, Education & Training Manager, Brook

Sarah Champion MP and Shadow Minister for preventing abuse and domestic violence, has conducted research with young people about their relationships, revealing a normalisation of violence across the country.

This type of violence is called Interpersonal Violence. The World Health organsiation states ‘Interpersonal violence is defined to include violence between family members and intimate partners and violence between acquaintances and strangers that is not intended to further the aims of any formally defined group or cause.’

Research from the NSPCC and GirlGuiding has shown:

  • Approximately 50,500 children in the UK are known to be at risk of abuse
  • A third of girls in relationships aged 13-17 have experienced sexual violence in relationships, while one in 16 of this group reported experiencing rape
  • 75% of girls and young women aged 11 to 21 say anxiety about potentially experiencing sexual harassment affects their lives in some way
  • Only 40% of young women aged 13 to 21 agree with the statement “I believe we can change society to be free from violence against women and girls in the future

So how do we begin to explore and combat the normalization of interpersonal violence?

  1. The C word.

At Brook we believe it’s important for young people to enjoy their sexuality without harm. We think consent is one of the most important things when relationships and sex are concerned.

So what do we mean when we talk about consent? For us it’s the freedom and capacity to make an informed choice. So if you’ve drank too much and you can’t see straight then you don’t have the capacity to consent. If you feel coerced or threatened into having sex you don’t have the freedom to consent. An informed choice can only be made when you understand what you are doing, are aware of other options and feel that you can make a decision without fear of the repercussions if you say no. Other factors also affect consent are age.

There is also the culture of assumption in our society. For example the idea that if you’ve had sex with someone once or you’ve gone back to their house then you should expect to have sex. These sorts of attitudes have to be challenged in order to stop the normalization of interpersonal violence. Consent should be sought at all times and assumptions shouldn’t be made. No one is entitled to someone else’s body regardless of the situation or relationship and it is ok to say no at any time.

  1. Gender stereotypes and Toxic Masculinity

‘Boys will be boys’ is often the line used as a way to explain or dismiss  inappropriate behavior from young males especially to do with catcalling and sexualized behavior towards females. This is problematic as it suggests young men aren’t able to control their own impulses and females should just accept harmful behavior which isn’t ok. From being a child we are told if the boy pushes or hits the girl on the playground then he is expressing that he likes her. Violence isn’t representative of healthy relationships and this attitude sets us up to think that it is. This can further feed misogynistic views of women as objects and normalize violence from a very young age, even suggesting it’s a natural way to engage with females.

In the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45. Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) , the leading charity for men’s health believe that a common factor of suicide is men feeling unable to ask for and find help when they need it; if they could, hundreds of male suicides could be prevented. The charity states that there’s a cultural barrier preventing men from seeking help, as they are expected to be in control at all times; any failure to do so is deemed as a weakness and loss of masculinity. This can put intense pressure on males and hinder the process of dealing with their emotions in healthy ways within their relationships.

Offering males safe spaces to talk, challenging ideas of masculinity, celebrating positive role models and engaging males as partners in fighting interpersonal violence is a positive step forward.

  1. Pornography

Pornography can display violent and misogynistic behavior and young people watching it may think that is what their partners want, or that that behavior is normal. Everything is scripted in these films from the lighting to the storyline, positions and costumes. Pornography doesn’t often represent healthy consensual sexual activity and is easy accessible via mobile phones. For young people who haven’t had any sexual experiences or good relationship and sex education it can be difficult to determine what is ‘planet earth’ and what is ‘planet porn’.

  1. Media influences

We live in a society that is saturated in sex. ‘Sex sells’ is the common phrase and we use it in yoghurt adverts to shampoo campaigns to market products. Music videos are increasingly sexualized and young people are encouraged to aspire to unobtainable beauty standards.  Women are often objectified by the media which is dangerous. Reducing a human being to an object can be the first steps in dehumanization process which makes it easier to abuse them. It allows women to be seen as ‘things’ and not people and desenstises feelings of remorse or guilt which can make interpersonal violence appear justified.

Some of the top grossing films and bestselling books of the last few years have had an abusive male as its lead character, romanticizing interpersonal violence and presenting it as love.  How do we tackle all of the above? That brings me to my next important point…

  1. Relationships and Sex Education

A survey of almost 22,000 children and young people by the UK Youth Parliament found that 40% of respondents described their SRE as either poor or very poor and a further 33% thought it was average. Brook believes that all children and young people have the right to relationships and sex education which equips them with the information and skills they need to form healthy and positive sexual relationships.We believe it should start in primary school and be age appropriate

A positive step would be to support statuary relationship and sex education in the curriculum that covers issues like body confidence, how to avoid peer pressure to have sex, love and how to behave in a relationships and sexual attraction and not just biology and reproduction.

We live in an increasingly sexualized society with a negative attitude around sex and young people. Young people are exposed to a sexualised environment but aren’t supported to develop the skills to navigate it. We must support young people to have high expectations for themselves and the relationships and sex they choose. Relationships and sex education must set out our hopes for children and young people to help them develop confidently with a positive attitude to sex and sexuality.

In order for us to challenge interpersonal violence we require a societal and cultural shift in the way we view relationships and gender norms. This can be done through campaigns to start conversations, working in partnership with parents, carers, young people, schools and the community to spread positive messages around relationships and sex. Finally we must invest in education for our young people and support them to talk open and honestly to help find a solution.

Find out more information about the work Brook does here.