Barnet Post

Barnet Post

Young people speak out about sexual violence

1 in 3 young people under the age of 25 in Barnet have experienced abuse from a partner

Hero for Young people speak out about sexual violence
Credit: Batu Gezer/Unsplash

Youth Realities is a youth-led organisation based in Barnet, working directly with the survivors of violence and abuse. Relationship abuse is often considered an ‘adult’ issue – one that young people are too young to understand, let alone experience – we are here to challenge that narrative by centring survivors’ voices.

In April, British schools came under fire after the website Everyone’s Invited published school girls’ testimonies of peer-peer sexual assault, much experienced on school grounds, and, some, naming Barnet-based schools. Off the back of the movement, Ofsted commissioned a report investigating sexual assault in schools. Published in June, the report highlighted that sexual harassment is something that young people are all too familiar with. The results of the movement have thrown into sharp relief the ways misogynistic behaviour sustains patriarchal power dynamics.

The year is 2021, but boys are still taught that they are entitled to a woman’s body, and girls, that they are not valued past the point of being sexual objects. This is not inherent behaviour but learned, embedded in society’s supportive structures and encoded in the sub- liminal messaging, from advertising to social media.

Social media allows young people to cross boundaries, often in an anonymous or detached way, with little consideration for the consequences or depth of their actions. We saw this throughout the Covid-19 lockdown, as we witnessed rises in all forms of relationship abuse. The normalisation of these behaviours, both on and off the screen, also leaves young women more vulnerable to abuse in their adult lives.

Youth Realities is here to help young people unlearn this behaviour. We do this through having important, accountable but judgement-free conversations about consent, boundaries and respect – both for self and others, online and offline.

Research we produced in 2018 found that an astonishing 1 in 3 young people under the age of 25 in Barnet have experienced abuse from a partner, with 68% stating they did not seek any support for their experiences and 55% that it had a significant impact on their access to education and employment. We’ve had members from as young as 12 years old speaking about the dynamics of a romantic relationship that would even shock adult services. Society needs to wake up to the realities of our youth’s experience.

We not only support young women who are currently in abusive relationships, but also those who need support in other aspects of their lives. Young young women who feel fulfilled in all areas of their lives have a better chance at identifying unhealthy

behaviours in the people around them. We also acknowledge the long-term impact on mental health, so we offer continued emotional support and guidance for survivors who have already left their abusive relationships and need some help to rebuild their lives, reclaim ownership and feel a real sense of freedom. We do this through workshops, activities and programmes, all offering participants a constant reminder of their worth as young women.

We believe that a survivor-centred approach is the best way to create an environment where young women can open up and ask for help. We also work within schools by running youth-led workshops surrounding healthy relationships, including friendships, with the hopes of changing a culture of sexism that fuels the harassment girls experience at school.

We call on everybody to step up and push for more inclusive and accessible education. By centring the experiences of young survivors in our conversations we can go some way to unlearning the toxic behaviours that encourage abuse.

Poem by a young survivor, then aged 16: 

Point of view: my ex-partner.

“You were my baby, my baby from the start

I am so sorry that I played you, and tore your heart apart 

My life has been so lonely, since you left my side

I wish I treated you differently, so you could had been my one and only bride

Now looking back on the past

I see how my obsession, slowly turned into aggression

Which resulted in your depression

I wanted you all for my own

But instead, all I did would beat you to the bone

Never did I think, you’d pick up the phone, and leave me the message

‘Sorry, I’m gone.’” 

For more information: Visit Call 07551 022 824