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The evidence on gender-based violence and young people

A substantial body of research from Scotland and the UK highlights the prevalence of gender-based violence affecting young people, in all areas of their lives including at school.

In their 2018 report on sexual harassment in schools, the Young Women Lead Committee summarises:

“The impact of sexual harassment on girls is significant and can be long-lasting. It can negatively impact everything from their mental health to their relationships and career choices. That this damage takes place in an environment where young women are meant to have space to learn about the world around them and their place in it, is fundamentally wrong and action must be taken to put an end to it.” (Young Women Lead 2018) Young Women Lead Committee (2018), Report on Sexual Harassment in Schools

As awareness of gender-based violence and its impacts increases, there is increasing recognition of the need for whole school approaches to prevent gender-based violence from happening in the first place, and for equipping schools to feel more confident supporting young people affected by gender-based violence.

Click on the headings to find out more.

The prevalence of Gender-based Violence affecting young people

  • almost a third (29%) of 16-18 year old girls say they have experienced unwanted sexual touching at school (Women and Equalities Committee, 2016) Women and Equalities Committee (2016), The scale and impact of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools
  • nearly three-quarters (71%) of all 16-18 year old boys and girls say they hear terms such as "slut" or "slag" used towards girls at schools on a regular basis (Women and Equalities Committee, 2016) Women and Equalities Committee (2016), The scale and impact of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools
  • 59% of girls and young women aged 13-21 said in 2014 that they had faced some form of sexual harassment at school or college in the past year (Women and Equalities Committee, 2016) Women and Equalities Committee (2016), The scale and impact of sexual harassment and sexual violence in schools
  • In 2017 64% of girls aged 13-21 said they had experienced sexual harassment at school in the past year compared to 59% in 2014 (Girlguiding UK, 2017) Girlguiding UK (2017) Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2017
  • 50% of girls aged 11 to 21 had experienced street harassment (Girlguiding UK, 2017) Girlguiding UK (2017) Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2017
  • 12.7 % women aged 16 to 24 age group reported experiencing stalking (Scottish Government, 2014-5) Scottish Government (2015), Scottish Crime and Justice survey

Recorded crime figures show young people as overrepresented both as victims and perpetrators of some sexual crimes;

  • At least 40% of sexual crimes reported to Police Scotland in 2017-18 related to a victim under the age of 18
  • Analysis of ‘Other sexual crimes’ (‘Communicating indecently’ and ‘Cause to view sexual activity or images’) between 2013-4 and 2016-7 demonstrated that crimes of these types which are cyber-enabled and more likely to have younger victims and younger perpetrators. (Scottish Government, 2018) Scottish Government (2018), Recorded crime in Scotland 2017-2018

Research in Scotland by Dr Nancy Lombard

Researcher Dr. Nancy Lombard has undertaken substantial research examining how young people’s position within childhood directly impacts on how they conceive of, construct and understand violence.

Young people use gender but also space, childhood, temporality and age to frame their understandings of violence. Her research pushes theoretical boundaries providing an innovative contribution to the understandings of a global issue and has demonstrable impact.

Her findings have led to policy change and investment in gender equality programmes across health, education and the voluntary sector. Her earlier research supported the premise that gender based violence is a consequence of gender inequality. It went further however in demonstrating the need for a Whole Schools Approach (WSA) to both violence and gender equality in terms of how education can be used to challenge attitudes towards gender based violence. It formed the evidence base for Early Years Centre guidance and also underpinned the training for the Gender Friendly Nursery Awards offered by the NHS Scotland and currently being piloted in schools.

You can read about how young people in her research understood and made sense of violence in relation to gender here.

You can read about how she explored justifications of men’s violence against women here.

You can view her full list of publications here.

The ‘normalisation’ of violence, abuse and sexism

Studies also demonstrate the normalisation of coercion in sexual relationships, primarily of young women by young men, and the gendered nature of coercive behaviour (Marston and Lewis, 2014) Marston, C., and Lewis, R. (2014), Anal heterosex among young people and implications for health promotion: a qualitative study in the UK (Coy et al., 2013) Coy, M. (2013), Children, Childhood and Sexualised Popular Culture in J.Wild (Ed)Exploiting Childhood: How Fast Food, Material Obsession and Porn Culture are Creating New Forms of Child Abuse including in practices around the sharing of sexually explicit images. (Ringrose et al. 2013) Ringrose, J., Harvey, L,. Gill, R., Livingstone, S. (2013), Teen girls, sexual double standards and ‘sexting’: Gendered value in digital image exchange In addition, research into sexualisation (Papadopoulos 2010) Papadopoulos, L. (2010), Sexualisation of Young People Review and exposure to pornography (Horvath et al., 2013) Horvath, M.A.H., Alys, L., Massey, K., Pina, A., Scally, M. and Adler, J.R. (2013), Basically ... porn is everywhere: a rapid evidence assessment on the effects that access and exposure to pornography has on children and young people found that exposure to gender stereotypes and sexualised and violent imagery affects young people and contributes to sexist attitudes and beliefs, and to perpetration of gendered violence. Further, an NSPCC report on the impacts of exposure to online pornography noted that ‘attention needs to be paid to the messages that boys take from pornography, and what their expectations are for the girls with whom they subsequently interact’ (Martellozzo et al. 2016) Martellozzo, E., Monaghan, A., Adler, J., Davidson J., Leyva, R., Horvath, M. (2016) “I Wasn’t Sure it was normal to watch it…” A Quantitative and Qualitative Examination of The Impact of Legal Pornography on the Values, Attitudes, Beliefs and Behaviours of Children and Young People..

Young people’s perspectives

  • 54% of school students did not feel protected from sexual harassment in schools, with 26% feeling “extremely vulnerable” (Young Women Lead, 2018) Young Women Lead Committee (2018), Report on Sexual Harassment in Schools
  • 49% were not confident an incident of sexual harassment would be well handled by the school, with 51% believing their school would be “ineffective” (Young Women Lead, 2018) Young Women Lead Committee (2018), Report on Sexual Harassment in Schools
  • 56% of girls and young women aged between 11-21 said that schools should do more to tackle gender stereotypes (Girlguiding, 2020) Girlguiding (2020), Girls Attitudes Survey 2020

As well as highlighting these issues, young people are also keen to be at the forefront of working with schools to tackle gender-based violence. A key recommendation from the young people involved in the Everyday Heroes consultation for the Equally Safe Delivery Plan was that ‘the Education system should work alongside children and young people to address Gender Inequality and Gender-Based Violence’. They wanted schools to develop approaches with young people to educate and campaign against gender inequality and violence, and had ideas for approaches to education and campaigning. They wanted to work alongside teachers to make approaches effective, and some had already taken action, for example, one group had created primary school books promoting gender equality and another had delivered training to teachers based on findings of their peer survey into sexual harassment.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People

LGBT people may experience gender-based violence that is linked to their actual or perceived gender identity and/or sexual orientation. It is important to recognise that abuse targeted at young LGBT people can often be perpetrated as a means of reinforcing or trying to make someone conform to society’s gender norms. In this way, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are intrinsically linked to gender-based violence. By encouraging young people to challenge gender stereotypes and supporting them to understand the causes and consequences of gender-based violence, we can help to prevent homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in schools and have a positive impact on LGBT students’ wellbeing and attainment.

  • 80% of trans people experience some form of abusive behaviour from a partner or ex-partner. (LGBT Youth Scotland and the Scottish Trans Alliance (2010) Out of Sight Out of Mind, Transgender People's Experience of Domestic Abuse).
  • 33% of LGBT young people feel unsafe on public transport (LGBT Youth Scotland (2020) Life for LGBT Young People in Dumfries and Galloway)
  • 61% of LGBT young people have experienced some form of abuse in their families/home.
  • 82% of transgender pupils experienced bullying on the grounds of trans identity. Many of the behaviours covered by the term “bullying” can also be considered forms of gender-based violence. (LGBT Youth Scotland and the Scottish Trans Alliance (2010) Out of Sight Out of Mind, Transgender People's Experience of Domestic Abuse.)
The LGBT Domestic Abuse project works across Scotland to raise awareness of LGBT people's experiences of domestic abuse and improve service responses to LGBT people who experience domestic abuse and other forms of gender based violence - find out more here.

Women and Girls from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) backgrounds

Young women from BME backgrounds may experience gender-based violence that also has a racist and/or Islamophobic aspect to it. This could involve a young woman having her hijab pulled off (see for example this report), a young Black woman having sexualised comments made about her body, or a young Asian women having assumptions being made about her sexual character. Additionally, young BME women may be vulnerable to particular forms of violence such as female genital mutilation, forced marriage or so-called ‘honour based violence’. It is therefore essential that any work to address and prevent gender-based violence also seeks to understand how it interacts with racism and Islamophobia.

34% of pupils and 33% of staff reported a racial element to sexual harassment. (Young Women Lead, 2018) Young Women Lead Committee (2018), Report on Sexual Harassment in Schools

Disabled Women and Girls

Disabled women and girls experience gender-based violence at disproportionately high levels and their experiences of violence are often compounded by discrimination related to disability. They may be targeted because they are disabled, and/or the violence may involve disablist language and behaviour. Further, disabled young people are often excluded from education on sex and relationships, which can increase their vulnerability to it.

  • disabled women and girls are twice as likely to experience violence than non-disabled women and girls. (Engender, 2017) Engender (2017) Gender Matters in Disability Briefing
  • Research into disabled children and young people’s experiences of sexual violence (for example Taylor et al., 2015) Taylor, J., Cameron, A., Jones, C., Franklin, A. Stalker, K., Fry, D. (2015) Deaf and disabled children talking about child protection has identified a number of factors which contribute to increased levels of sexual violence and discourage disabled children from disclosing – such as being excluded from social experiences and opportunities to develop social skills and self-confidence, lack of awareness of their own sexuality and of what is inappropriate sexual treatment due in part to inadequate access to sexual health education and dependency on others for personal care, which perpetrators may abuse.

Boys and men

While women, girls and the trans community experience higher levels of gender-based violence, men and boys can also be affected and should have access to support. Boys may experience sexual violence in childhood, grow up with domestic abuse and/or experience sexual violence from peers such as being made to look at pornography, being pressured to have sexual relationships or having intimate images circulated without their consent – most often perpetrated by other boys or men.

Whilst it is difficult to estimate prevalence, an NSPCC study of young adults aged 18-24 found that 5.1% of men (compared with 17.8% of women) reported experiencing contact sexual abuse before the age of 18 (Radford et al 2011) Radford, L., Corral, S., Bradley, C., Fisher, H., Bassett, C., Howat N., and Collishaw, S. (2011) Child abuse and neglect in the UK today and the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey found than 0.8% of men (compared with 6.2% of women) in Scotland have experienced at least one type of serious sexual assault since the age of 16. (Scottish Government 2019) Scottish Government (2019) Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2017/8: Main Findings

Boys and men are also impacted by harmful gender stereotypes and expectations around masculinity. For example being made to feel under pressure to be both physically and emotionally strong, to be financially successful, as well as to be heterosexual. Challenging gender stereotypes and addressing gender-based violence is therefore beneficial to people of all genders.

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