A campaign launched last month by the UK charity Young Abuse Support highlights the alarming number of 13-19 year-olds who have suffered abuse in an intimate relationship in the UK.
As part of their campaign, the charity has launched a petition for relevant training to be given to all secondary school counselors to better support students and create an open dialogue surrounding the many facets of domestic abuse.
I spoke to Molly Lawrenson, founder of the charity who was in an abusive relationship when she was a teenager. She shared why she founded the charity.
“The building blocks of it started around summertime last year. I was talking to a couple of friends who have had similar experiences to me and I thought “this is really not right, why is this such a thing?”
So I started to do research into RSE (Relationships and Sex Education that is rolled out in secondary schools across the UK) and I saw that it was going compulsory, which I thought was interesting.
But I also wondered if teachers were now being trained in healthy relationships or are counselors being trained. And then around November, I started getting a survey together because my friends said “you should find out if this is actually a problem” ”.
When Molly received the results from the survey, she realized that this is an issue that needed to be addressed urgently. She put together a team of people to help be a part of Young Abuse Support who were all survivors and dedicated to the cause. “I respond best to survivor-led organizations and that’s what I really wanted. I thought that was super important.”
What does the younger generation need?
I asked Molly what kind of help the younger generation needs when they suffer abuse in an intimate relationship.
“I think it’s important to have a whole-school approach. When you’re younger and when you’re a teenager, and also when you’re older and you go to university, school and education is the place where you spend the majority of your time, it’s where your social circle is formed. It’s because of that, schools have a really big opportunity in shaping how kids are in their social circles, not just in education.”
Molly explained that schools need to understand that students won’t put their hand up in an RSE class and ask their teacher for advice about their relationship.
“We spoke to one of the researchers on the NSPCC project”, Molly says, “she said that a third-party mentor is the most important thing for young people. Most young people aren’t going to want to go to somebody who is in a position of power in their lives, like a teacher or a parent.”
A parent or teacher may have the best intentions to protect, but their actions may do little to shield a young person from further harm.
“If your first response is to report the abuser, you need to keep in mind these young people usually go to school with their abuser, and are in the same social circles as their abuser. It’s all well and good saying that you should report the abuser, but what’s that going to mean when you’re in school?
Counselors, if they’re trained in the appropriate way, can put a safety plan in place as well. They can make sure that, for example, the victim and their abuser aren’t in the same classes anymore, and they can make sure that they’re as separate as they can be.”
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Molly warned that young people are more likely to go to their friends for advice if they can’t turn to trained counselors for help. She recalled an incident from when she opened up to her friends.
“I hinted at the abuse I was experiencing, and my friends laughed it off and said “it’s fine, they’ll get over it” or “they’re just having a bad day”. I think that’s really damaging.”
Molly reflected on why her abuse, and that of a great many young people, wasn’t considered as abuse by peers, people in positions of power, and even herself.
“Everyone likes to downplay it and say it’s just toxic or a bad relationship. A lot of people don’t recognize it as abuse either because of people’s vision of abuse. I struggled with this for ages. I was in a lesbian relationship, but the idea of abuse in my head was a kind of 20 to 30-year-old couple, straight, they maybe had a child, lived together – and that just wasn’t me. That just wasn’t my situation.”
She stressed the importance of having counselors in a school setting to help set the record straight for young people. “Students can turn to these counselors for advice, and have a third party tell them “that’s normal in a relationship” and “no, that’s not normal” ”.
Young people reaching out
I asked Molly whether more people reached out about their experiences to her and her team since launching their campaign.
“So many more than I kind of thought. It’s been really heartbreaking. We’ve had loads of stories and I’ve had a lot of DMs personally from people who I haven’t spoken to in years saying “this happened to me”. I actually even had my ex’s ex-partner message me as well. That was quite shocking. I feel very proud that our team has provided a platform for people to speak out.”
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Building crucial links
Since launching the campaign, the charity has built crucial links with the UK’s Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs, who has the power to advise UK schools, Members of Parliament, and Members of the House of Lords.
“Everyone’s been so supportive of it”, Molly says, “it’s honestly quite amazing because we talk to them, and they say “oh that sounds like a really good idea!”, and we say “yes, why has it taken this long?” But that’s kind of been like the common response.”
The charity is currently building links with UK city Leeds, with the hope of 21 schools in Leeds having fully trained counselors in place to support students suffering from abuse.
Help is out there
Molly wanted to end our interview on this note for people who are reading this and looking for help. “For people who are suffering from abuse, just remember that there is help out there. It is difficult to find it at the moment and I’m sorry for that, but there is help out there and no matter what somebody tells you, you do deserve better than this.
I’ve been out of my abusive relationship for two and a half years now, and I can honestly say that with mental health support and with moving away and resetting my life, I’m a completely different person and I’m so much better of a person than I was before the abuse.
Once you get over the initial hurdles, it does get better.”
Sign the petition
Young Abuse Support has set up a petition on providing teenage partner abuse training to secondary school counselors. This will be a massive step forward in rolling out fundamental support for young people. Sign and share the petition today.
• love is respect – Helpline: 1-866-331-9474. Texting Service: Text “loveis” to 22522.
• Glow – Texting service for domestic abuse victims – 07451 288 150 (10 am-10 pm, 7 days)
• Broken Rainbow – For Young, Queer People (Leeds-based) – 08452 604460
• The Market Place – They offer face-to-face drop-in sessions or video call/ phone calls for 11-25 year olds on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. (Leeds based)
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