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Groups unite in bid to tackle sex abuse and promote healthy relationships


Pioneering approach to support teen girls

Three organisations have joined to work with teenaged girls in Dundee to promote healthy relationships and tackle peer sexual abuse.

NSPCC Scotland, YWCA Scotland – the Young Women’s Movement and Dundee City Council are working together to create a campaign to help young woman and girls understand what a healthy relationship looks like and where to go if they need advice or support.

The resources for the campaign will be designed and created by young women, and the partnership is currently recruiting 16 to 18 year olds from across the city to form this group.

The project, Young Women Know, was set up following an investigation into sexual harassment in Scottish schools carried out by the YWCA’s Young Women Lead committee in 2018.  It found that young people were most likely to turn to the internet or their friends for advice on sex and relationships and almost half of students and teaching staff surveyed said the current curriculum did not adequately cover the issue of consent. 

In the same year, the NSPCC published a report on peer sexual abuse, which looked at contacts to its helplines. It revealed that Childline had held more than 3,000 counselling sessions with young people across the UK about this issue in the previous year, with more than 95 per cent of the contacts being aged 12 and over. They talked about it happening in school, in parks, at parties and other people’s houses, as well as online.

Elena Soper was part of the YWCA’s Young Women Lead committee which produced the report on sexual harassment in Scottish schools.

Soper, who now works as Programmes Coordinator (National) for YWCA Scotland, said: “I thought it was such an important subject to look into. I had my own personal experience of sexual harassment when I was at school and have heard stories from other young women who never reported what had happened or even knew there was a process in which to do so.

“I was 12 when it happened to me and I had no idea about boundaries and whether it was just normal behaviour.

“It is so important that we raise awareness that this is happening, and then look at how we can deal with it and help young people understand what a healthy relationship is and what is unacceptable.

“I believe the best way we can do this is to have young women and girls design a campaign themselves to get the message out there.”

Carla Malseed, NSPCC Scotland campaigns manager, said: “Our Childline counsellors are regularly contacted by young people, especially girls, who have experienced peer sexual abuse. Often, the young people are confused by what has happened to them and do not recognise that they have been abused.

“Experiencing peer sexual abuse can have a long-lasting impact on someone’s life, and so it is vital that children understand what a healthy relationship is, what is meant by consent and their right to say no and where to turn if something happens that makes them feel uncomfortable.”

Dundee City Council’s Depute Convener of the Children and Families Service Roisin Smith said: “This work gives our young women and girls in Dundee a unique opportunity to shape this incredibly important campaign. 

“It is vital that we give a voice to our young people as we work as a city to promote what a healthy relationship is and tackle peer sexual abuse.  

“We are committed to working together to make Dundee the best place for our young girls to grow up and understand their value.”

A 14-year-old girl, who contacted Childline, said: “I met up with a boy that I knew in a park. I thought we were just hanging out as friends, but he forced me to do things and touch him in ways that I didn’t want to. I’m really shocked about it all, I feel awful. I’m scared to go anywhere on my own now and I’m terrified about seeing him again, even though he thinks everything is fine and texted me saying he had a good time. I feel like telling the police but what could they do? If he denies what happened then there’s no proof, and they’ll probably just think that it could have been worse. Plus, they’ll just blame me because I agreed to meet with him in the first place, even though I had no idea that any of this was going to happen.”

A 15-year-old girl told a counsellor: “I’m confused about the bad experience I had in my last relationship. My ex made me perform sexual acts that I didn’t want to do; he threatened he would hurt me if I didn’t have sex with him, he would call me names and then tell me he loved me. I thought I was in love with him as it was my first relationship. I thought it was normal behaviour at the time, but on reflection, I don’t think it was. I still have bad dreams about what happened. I’m so confused and just don’t know what to do.”

The Young Women’s Advisory Group will start working together next month and produce an information leaflet for young women and girls, posters and social media content for the campaign, which will launch next year. The project will also explore resources for school staff and parents on how they can best support young people to have healthy relationships based on consent and respect. 

The opportunity to join the Young Women’s Advisory Group is open to any 16 to 18-year-old self-identifying woman who lives in the Dundee City Council area. No previous experience of campaigning is needed, just a requirement to show a passion for making Scotland a safer place for young women and girls.



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