We all know about violence against women. Two women are killed per week by their partner, one in four women will experience domestic violence..stats like these and their accompanying horror stories are never far from the headlines. But teenage girls being beaten by their boyfriends..this, we hear less about.
And yet, it is so prevalent, and such a particular problem in Lambeth, that the council is one of the first in the UK to develop a Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy and the first to provide VAWG services that also address a younger age range HOW YOUNG?, which was previously not represented.
As the borough ranks top in the Met Police’s gun and knife crime statistics, so Lambeth has the most reported serious violence against women, and registers the highest volume of calls to its Dometic Violence helpline. But gauging the scale of violence against girls remains difficult, as so much of it is hidden, says Lambeth’s Cabinet Member for Safer and Stronger Neighbourhoods, Jack Hopkins.
“Lambeth is a very violent borough. We know it’s a big issue and we’re very conscious of it,” Cllr Hopkins said. “A lot of it is learned behaviour. If young boys have grown up seeing violence at home or in the streets they have an acceptance of being part of a violent world, and it’s the same for girls; their views of what’s acceptable is completely skewed and that’s really scary.”
A lack of male role models is another factor he links to Lambeth’s high rate of violence against girls. “A lot of these lads don’t grow up with positive male role models and don’t have people they can go to,” he explains.
Lambeth’s Gaia Centre was taken over by Refuge, the country’s largest support service for women and children experiencing domestic violence, in January 2012 and since then has had 70 young women aged between thirteen and seventeen years through its doors. Most of the girls they take in are victims of domestic violence, sexual violence and sexual exploitation, says Gaia youth worker *Emily WHY IS SHE ANONYMOUS IF WE’RE NOT TELLING HER STORY?. “They are also often victims of stalking, being harassed via text messages, manipulation. It covers a broad spectrum and often they’re overlapping,” she explains.
Shockingly, she says that perpetrators are often other children. “The most sexual abuse is conducted by children. There’s a shift in thinking about who the risk comes from. There is a lot of exploitation of girls from older boyfriends or men, but very often it is from peers or people around the same age.”
Violence and emotional violence is ‘normalised’ to some extent in the media, which is another reason young people can perceive certain behaviour as acceptable. “A lot of media presents controlled behaviour as romantic. From this, girls often think that a jealous boyfriend committing violence on them is a good thing,” Emily said. “It’s so important that adults send a clear message about what is appropriate and what isn’t. We need to set examples; schools need to send appropriate messages about female and male roles. High profile campaigns are needed so that when young people are navigating these things for the first time, they know what is acceptable.”
Lambeth council has been active in raising awareness and educating professionals, like teachers, Emily continues. “It’s really important we train professionals who work with young people because teachers or mentors are often the people that young girls would approach when they’re experiencing problems,” she says. “Young people don’t tend to report to authorities, they’re more likely to talk to friends or someone in an informal context.”
And of course, since the advent of the internet things have got more complicated. Social media hasn’t created new issues, however there are now new ways to harass or bully people with rapidly evolving technology, Emily says. “Relationship structures are changing. There are new ways to keep tabs on someone, control them, access their private information.” Many will remember the horrifying case of Chevonea Kendall-Brown from Battersea, who jumped out of her tower block window after a boy refused to delete video from his phone showing her being forced to give two boys oral sex.
“Often adults don’t understand these kinds of technology but this is the way that young people communicate and it actually allows us much greater access to them,” she adds.
Jack Hopkins agrees. “We need parents to be educated in social media because that’s where their kids are communicating a lot of the time.”
Parents need to be responsible for monitoring their children, whether online or in real life, he continues. “A number of the solutions to our problems come from the community. We don’t need to go into lockdown but there is a community responsibility. Know where your daughter is,” he says.
Lambeth’s Police and Community Consultative Group (CPCG) has made tackling violence against women and girls a priority. At a recent forum, chair Anna Tapsell discussed the high volume of underage violence against girls, particularly within gang culture. “There’s a lot of this happening in Lambeth and it’s well known to agencies but generally not acknowledged,” she says. “It’s extremely difficult for these young women to make themselves heard -particularly in cases of rape- when they don’t just have their perpetrator to be frightened of but also a whole larger group of friends, even if they’re not formally a gang.”
The picture looks bleak and yet, as with most social issues, acknowledging the problem is surely the first step towards dealing with it. And here Lambeth may well be leading the pack.