Research exposes link between online content and youth views on domestic abuse

National domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid has published a “first-of-its-kind” report into what influences children and young people’s attitudes towards domestic abuse, proving a direct link between the viewing of harmful misogynist content online and the normalisation of unhealthy behaviours in relationships.

The research explores children and young people’s understanding of gender roles, relationships and sex, with the goal of informing Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE) in schools. The research shows a link between misogynistic online content and unhealthy views on relationships, which Women’s Aid know underpin domestic abuse.

For example, those who have viewed such content, including from influencers like Andrew Tate, are five times more likely to view hurting someone physically as acceptable if you say sorry afterwards. The report also finds that worrying behaviours indicative of controlling behaviour, including “love bombing”, stalking and the giving of unwanted gifts, are normalised by those who have been exposed to harmful content online.

The research also explores children and young people’s views on the current RSHE curriculum and identifies some significant gaps that need to be urgently improved, by working in collaboration with specialist organisations, like Women’s Aid. For example, while the biological aspect of sex education has been covered extensively, with 75% of those surveyed saying that they learnt about it in secondary school, education around domestic abuse, healthy relationships and controlling behaviours was found to be lacking, with a third of those surveyed saying that they recalled no education about these topics covered at school.

Additionally, the report found that girls had a significantly better understanding of healthy relationships, controlling behaviour and asking permission than boys, suggesting that the curriculum needs to go further to engage boys.

What’s more, while 70% of children and young people said they would seek support if they needed it, 61% of them were unsure about what support would be available to them, or where to seek it.

Farah Nazeer, chief executive at Women’s Aid, commented:

“The findings in this first-of-its-kind report are incredibly important – understanding and engaging with the next generation is key to creating a society where domestic abuse is not tolerated and women and girls are safe. While the report has revealed some worrying influences on the attitudes of children and young people, including the significant impact that misogynistic content online can have on the understanding of what is and isn’t healthy in relationships, it has also provided us with tangible next steps.

Changes must be made to the curriculum to encourage and support young people to think critically. The curriculum must be rooted in the understanding that domestic abuse and violence against women and girls are part of the unequal gendered power dynamics in wider society and seek to address them. We must also take a ‘whole school’ approach to educating children and young people, going beyond the classroom and engaging at all levels to affect true change.

It is also crucial that online platforms are held responsible for the dangerous views they perpetuate – they have a unique position in preventing and tackling violence against women and girls, and must capitalise on this now to prevent further harm.”

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