NURSERY children are to be given lessons in healthy relationships and gender equality under plans by a Scots charity.

Glasgow Women’s Aid said it hoped to include the under-fives in a new project, mainly aimed at helping teenage girls recognise abusive relationship “red flags”.

As part of the scheme, outreach workers will go into schools to educate primary and secondary pupils about issues such as consent and coercive control.

The charity says that while teenagers are often well aware of cases where celebrities have disclosed abuse, they don’t always recognise those issues in their own relationships.

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It hopes to include the under-fives in that work, when Covid restrictions permit this, with age-appropriate messages about respectful relationships and gender equality.

Ruth McMillan, an outreach worker for the charity, said:”There is a culture of young people not recognising issues are abuse and that’s what we want to address.

“What we were finding was that we were supporting young people who were living in families with domestic abuse, and it became very evident that they were in their own abusive relationships, from the age of 14.

“A lot of the language we use such as coercive control is not really recognised by children. So they might recognise, for example, that my boyfriend does call me a bit too much or asks me what I’m wearing or asks me to take pictures.

“We will definitely be going into primary schools and we are actually talking about going into nurseries, pre-five. 

“That is something we are proposing to do because the younger we can target children the better. With a lot of children, violence in the family home is normalised.

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“There has been recognition that prevention requires early intervention. We can do this by working with nurseries and pre-five groups of children, promoting gender equality and challenging gender stereotypes at the earliest opportunity.”

Marianne MacBryde, who is also an outreach worker for the charity, added: “With younger children, it’s about promoting respectful relationships. With some children, violence is normalised.”

She said educating young boys about healthy relationships had been “a bit of a shift” for the charity.

“We know that not all young men are abusive and they can play a massive part in eradicating domestic abuse because it starts at a level of conversation, treating women un-equally.

“Until we start working with young men, we are not going to eradicate it.”

HeraldScotland:

The charity’s new Enough!! project will offer young women aged 13-19, some of whom are mothers, tailored support and education about healthy relationships.

"Workers say they have historically tried to “bust the myth” of the cycle of abuse because it suggests an absence of choice, although research shows children exposed to violence are more likely to abuse partners.

Ms MacMillan said: “We try to promote the idea that abuse is a choice and not this fait accompli that if you have lived with abuse then you are going to be an abuser. But of course, there is a link.”

While she said the global Me Too movement had been useful in promoting discussion around respectful relationships, she said say it exposed inequalities of awareness.

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“Having that conversation on social media is one thing. We have to make sure it’s not just educated people who are talking about it, because we are still seeing people who are not able to articulate themselves.”

A government report published in November found that coronavirus lockdowns led to an “escalation of abuse for some victims” of domestic violence.

While perpetrator behaviours and tactics had “not changed significantly throughout the period of lockdown” they had increased in frequency and intensity.

One service quoted said there had also been an “increase in the severity” of attacks, with “higher levels of risk, increased fear among victims, more severe threats and higher levels of physical and sexual violence.”

Ms MacMillan said: “Covid has had a massive impact on domestic abuse.

“Quite a lot of women get support from families and they haven’t had that through lockdown.”