IT’S impossible to read through the findings of the Rise Report and not arrive at the conclusion that we are failing young women in Scotland.

The report, commissioned by Scottish Women’s Aid in collaboration with YWCA Scotland, found that one in three young women in Scotland have been in an intimate relationship with someone who had harmed them physically or emotionally. It’s a stark reminder of the work that still has to be done to end women’s inequality of safety in Scotland.

Over the last decade, our understanding of domestic abuse has undoubtedly improved. Tired myths that were common in the nineties and noughties are – albeit slowly – starting to be dismantled. Where it was once common for our politicians and police to treat intimate partner abuse as “just a domestic” we are now much better placed to recognise abuse for what it is. But the pace of that progress is glacial.

This report shows that instead of making our country a safer place for our daughters than it was for our mothers and grandmothers, our burden has now become theirs.

The survey of nearly 500 young women across Scotland discloses realities of our unequal society that make for uncomfortable reading for all those who boldly claim that women have never had it so good. Seventy-four per cent of young women surveyed say they knew somebody who has been in an abusive relationship.

Despite this, the report also shows that schools aren’t doing enough to teach young people about healthy relationships. Not one respondent said she felt supported to learn about relationships in school; rather, they had to learn through their own (often negative) experiences or gather information from social media.

Whenever the topic of comprehensive sex and relationships education in school comes up, it provokes a furious response. Pearls are clutched, knee-jerk statements are issued, and we end up exactly where we started: a place where young people don’t have the information and support they need to navigate the formative years of their lives.

It seems that when it comes to education, any deviation from reading, writing and maths is deemed a snowflaky waste of time. Like the girls who took part in the Rise Report survey, I wasn’t taught about healthy relationships in school, either. We did, however, receive sermons on (among other things) firework safety; bicycle safety and first aid, as well as the dangers of smoking, drugs and sex outside of marriage.

Schools have always made time to cover subjects that are never going to come up in exams. They talk through issues that theoretically should be a parent’s domain when they consider them important enough to do so.

Despite this, some parents still resent the idea of schools being in any way involved in the emotional and social development of children. They say they would prefer to have these conversations with their offspring themselves so that only information that is relevant or ‘age-appropriate’ is given. If human beings lived in self-contained bubbles and never came into contact with others of their species, that might be a good argument. But for the good of everybody in society, we urgently need these types of lessons in schools as a standard, not an optional extra.

In 2020-21, there were 62,251 recorded incidents of domestic abuse. The overwhelming majority involved a female victim and male perpetrator. Despite all the campaigns, all the pledges and all the policies that have been put in place to try and tackle the scourge of domestic violence: it was the fifth year in a row that the number of recorded incidents increased.

Add into that horrifying mix the fact that conviction rates for violent crimes against women remain stubbornly low, and it’s abundantly clear that things are getting worse, not better.

When discovering the first flushes of attraction and love, young women shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves. They shouldn’t have to search for information about whether what is happening to them within that relationship is normal and healthy, or whether it’s something that should be a cause for concern.

If there are any young Scots women who aren’t sure whether controlling and coercive behaviour, unwanted sexual acts or violence is a normal part of a healthy relationship, then we’ve failed.

We owe it to boys too. Lad culture, pornography and peer-pressure are all powerful influences on young minds.

One young contributor to the report summed it up perfectly. She said “I think we need to be investing more time in teaching young people how to navigate emotionally difficult and complex situations so they have the resources and capacity to be able to articulate when stuff that isn’t okay is happening.”.

One of the recommendations in the report is that education about domestic abuse and unhealthy relationships should be part of the curriculum, or brought into schools by external expert organisations, such as Scottish Women’s Aid. That seems to me to be an entirely proportionate and sensible proposal, given the scale of the problem. All children deserve this information and support, not just those with parents willing to offer it.

The #MeToo movement was heralded as a watershed moment for women’s safety from men’s violence. The theory was sound. It was thought that if enough women shared their experiences, society as a whole would understand the scale of the problem and rally around any and all potential solutions. That didn’t happen.

Instead, we’ve seen stagnation. We talk a good talk when it comes to supporting survivors but when it comes to concrete action in violence prevention and access to justice, we’re still squeamish about doing what needs to be done.

As part of its Equally Safe strategy, the Scottish Government is funding a pilot project aimed at tackling sexual harassment in schools. It has also promised an independent review in this parliamentary term to look into best practice and says it will consider whether further action is needed beyond that which is already planned, including guidance for schools.

Not a moment too soon. As this report shows, it’s not easy being a young woman in Scotland today. We should at least try to make it a little less hard.


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