The Seriously Awkward topic of teenage domestic abuse.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

What do you imagine when you think of domestic abuse? A middle-aged woman trapped in a marriage with two kids, escaping to a refuge?

I did. That was my initial view of what 'domestic abuse' looked like. Even after I had left an abusive relationship as a teenager. I figured that I was one of the only ones, the rare unlucky ones whose first relationship turned sour.

Which makes the above statistic incredibly shocking to me.

Young people aged 16-19 are more likely to experience abuse from their partners than any other age group.

Domestic abuse is horrific and shocking no matter how old you are. Experiencing it as a teenager was a shock. I felt totally unprepared for it, not at all warned about it. I didn't know the signs. Had I known, maybe I would have had the drive to escape long before it turned particularly nasty.

But I didn't. I don't remember their being one single discussion at school about violent or abusive relationships. I don't remember receiving any leaflets from PSH-C-whatever lessons about it. I don't remember seeing the issue tackled on TV.

When I went hurtling into domestic abuse, then, I didn't really understand it for what it was.

Did you know that when a child turns sixteen they lose their right to protection from children's services? This isn't just in the area of domestic abuse, either. Young people aged 16-17 are more likely to go missing or become victims of violent crime than any other age. They are also at high risk of domestic violence and sexual exploitation. Yet, they are the least protected by law from abuse or neglect. Teenagers that need intensive support do not receive it - simply because they are slightly too old to qualify for it.

I look back on myself at that age and feel a mixture of emotions: pride at how far I've come, sadness at my naivety, a little bit of regret at my silly decisions. I truly believe that teenagers now are under more pressure than ever before, and I can see that in my past self. I wonder what adults thought of me as I wandered the streets with my then-boyfriend, wearing an outfit I felt uncomfortable with but pressured into wearing, putting on a show of confidence and arrogance that I didn't really feel.

Do you remember how you felt as a teenager? Did you feel like I did - like I knew everything there was to know and nobody could tell you otherwise? It is scarily easy to lose your way at that age, even with a loving, supportive family.

If you have an uncaring, even abusive, family? Then you're even more lost. Especially when you turn sixteen.

Because when you turn sixteen, you can't be protected from neglect by child cruelty laws. You can't always get the same mental health support as younger teens. You can't be fully protected from sexual exploitation by predatory adults. There is a serious lack of consideration for older teenagers by the people who set these laws.

This is wrong.

The scars of my own abusive relationship took an incredibly long time to heal, and I will always feel a bit of regret for the person I used to be, and for the pain and heartbreak I felt at that vulnerable age, suspended between childhood and adulthood, life altered for the worse by one wrong decision, trapped in a situation that I had no idea how to escape from. I don't want to go into detail because it would be unfair on others, but I can't express this enough: domestic abuse can have a huge, devastating impact on a person.

The thing is, you might see a group of teenagers and think badly of them because of the way they dress or the way they speak. You might feel threatened by them. Why? Because they're just acting like teenagers? There's a chance that those teenagers fall into that age group, and there's a chance that they are suffering in some way and are unable to receive help for it, and there is a chance that they feel more stressed and anxious than you do.

In the end, I was able to escape the situation. I am now happy. I have a wonderful marriage and a gorgeous daughter. It worked out well for me, in an almost unbelievable happily-ever-after sort of way.

It doesn't work out that well for others. There are young people trapped, in domestic abuse, in a neglectful family situation, and they are not supported adequately in terms of law.

I am happy to be a campaign ambassador for The Children's Society, whose Seriously Awkward campaign hopes to highlight the glaring lack of protection by law for 16-17 year olds. I hope to blog more about this in the future, and to continue to lend my support for them (I'm even hoping to dig out some Seriously Awkward photographs of my teenage self for your enjoyment...)

In the meantime, I ask that you would sign their petition. The Children's Society are aiming for the government to conduct a full review of relevant legislation, and ensure that vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds are protected from risk of harm and exploitation.

I can't really tell you how much this means to me. It would really mean a lot if you could sign and share the petition.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to blogging more about this soon!


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