40% of teenage girls pressured into having sex

Physical violence and abuse also a factor in 20% of relationships,
new research finds

Teenage couple.Research published today reveals that more than 4 in 10 teenage schoolgirls in England* have experienced sexual coercion. Most were pressured to have sex or other sexual activity, but some cases included rape.

Controlling online behaviour by partners, through constant checking of their social network activity, sending threatening messages or telling them who they could be ‘friends’ with was closely associated with young people experiencing violence or abuse from their partner offline.

Pornography influencing teen attitudes to sex
and relationships

The researchers found that a high proportion of teenage boys regularly viewed pornography and 1 in 5 harboured extremely negative attitudes towards women.

Almost 4 in 10 (39%) boys in England aged 14-17 admitted they regularly watched pornography and around one-fifth (18%) strongly agreed with statements such as:

"It is sometimes acceptable for a man to hit a woman if she has been unfaithful."

"Women lead men on sexually and then complain about the attention they get."

Pressure to send sexual images

England had the highest rate for children exchanging sexual images and messages with a partner among the countries surveyed.

More than 4 in 10 (44%) girls and just under a third (32%) of boys in England had sent them to their boyfriend or girlfriend. Just over 40% of girls who sent them said they had been shared by a partner with others.

Teenage girl on mobile.

Just under half of girls and boys in England had received them. Around a quarter (27%) of girls sent messages and images because they felt pressurised by a partner to do so.

Young people who reported violence and abuse in their relationships were at least twice as likely to have sent a sexual image or text compared to those who had not.

Girls who took part in survey said:

"I've had relationships where I wouldn't be able to go out with my friends because they'd get angry with me. I have been raped and other things like that."

"He breathed down my neck 24/7, it was horrible."

Sex education urgently needs updating

We are calling on the government to take action to ensure teenagers get a clearer message about healthy relationships.

Claire Lilley, head of child safety online said:
“The levels of victimisation revealed by this research shows action is urgently needed by the government to make updated sex and relationship education a statutory right for every child and young person. There needs to be a greater focus in schools on topics such as sexual exploitation and violence against girls and young women, as part of a balanced curriculum.

“The high rates of sexual coercion discovered need to be addressed through education and awareness raising that challenges attitudes and helps change behaviour. We need to nurture children to have positive relationships based on mutual respect.”

"The high rates of sexual coercion discovered need to be addressed through education and awareness raising that challenges attitudes and helps change behaviour. We need to nurture children to have positive relationships based on mutual respect."
Claire Lilley / head of child safety online

The highest rates of sexual coercion were reported by teenage girls in England. Around 1 in 5 (22%) also said they had suffered physical violence or intimidation from boyfriends, including slapping, punching, strangling and being beaten with an object. In interviews with 100 of the children, many said the pressure to have sex was so great it almost became ‘normal’ and in some cases rape was not recognised.

The research in England was undertaken between 2013-2015 by a team of researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Central Lancashire led by NSPCC Senior Research Fellow, Dr Christine Barter.

The study was also carried out in Norway, Italy, Bulgaria and Cyprus, as well as England.  It is one of the biggest of its kind ever undertaken in Europe, involving a school-based survey of 4,500 children and 100 interviews with young people.

Lead author Dr Barter, who is based at Bristol’s School for Policy Studies, said:
“Our research findings show that across Europe violence and abuse, both offline and online, in young people’s relationships constitutes a major problem, yet in most countries it remains unrecognised leaving young people with little support or appropriate services.”

Nicky Stanley, Professor of Social Work at the University of Central Lancashire and co-author, commented:
“Teenage girls reported serious distress and harm following abusive behaviour from boyfriends. Education and campaigns need to challenge stereotypical behaviour and attitudes in boys and the law in this area should be clearly communicated to young people, their parents and teachers.”

The research was funded by the Daphne III European Commission.

 *1001 young people were surveyed in England

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