‘Can someone please open the curtains’?
Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs;
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes;
He’s learned about love through the great poets and books of the time. Today teenagers learn from social media, friends, Anne-Marie, Ed Sheeran, Skepta, Drake, and Arianna Grande. Not as reassuring is it? In fact, in a quote about Anne-Marie’s success, it is her ‘infectious songs about her messy breakups’ that have made her one of the biggest stars in the UK. Rehashing the depressingly macabre reality that painful love is profitable. Are we really a nation addicted to pain and violence? Or was Shakespeare really a visionary. Did he already understand our proclivity for melancholy? And is this why Romeo is still the most romantic and tragic protagonist of the last century?
In juxtaposition to all the beauty, passion and romanticism are Shakespeare’s elixir, tragedy and violence. Many critics have shunned the idea that Romeo and Juliet has a moral, that it is merely a story of youthful love running counter to a family feud and ending in disaster. But working in domestic violence and seeing the surge of teen relationships ending in fatal tragedy, is Shakespeare shining a torch on the pernicious aftermath of love with no boundaries?
‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea’
Families caught up in conflict and violence, is all too common a narrative in the lives of young people who fall into abusive relationships. The context of Romeo and Juliet is not centuries apart from the circumstances young people experience in 2019. Entering an adult world with unprecedented naivety, vulnerability, family conflict, divided communities, unrealistic expectations, and an overwhelming feeling of fear, isolation, and violence pervading society. This provides a deadly concoction of risk factors to manifest in young relationships and for the abuse to remain hidden behind the curtains.
Civil blood, makes civil hand unclean
In 2016 two serious case reviews were published in the UK due to the deaths of two teenage girls. The young girls were murdered by their partners, and the reports highlighted significant levels of coercive control. They were both also pregnant at the time. In the wake of these tragedies, statutory services need to open up vital pathways of communication. We need to collaborate with young people so we can engage in discussions about teen domestic violence at the source. As Dr. Christine Barton puts it,
‘We can’t simply dictate to young people what to do, they have had enough of that from their abusive partners. We need to collaborate with young survivors overtime to break down the barriers their partners have erected around them by supporting survivors to realise this is not normal’ or their fault and by providing new routes to self-esteem away from their harmful relationships’.
A recent study conducted by Dr. Christine Barton highlights the magnitude of the problem.
- Half of all young people (irrespective of gender) reported emotional abuse, most often being shouted at and/or called names.
- One-fifth (irrespective of gender) reported physical violence – although a greater proportion of females report severe physical violence.
- A third of adolescent girls and a quarter of boys reported sexual violence through pressure or physical force – higher rates for girls if only physical force is included in the definition.
- Between 50-70% of all young people, reported experiencing abuse through new technologies most often controlling behaviour and surveillance through messaging or social networking sites – although pressured sexting was most commonly reported by girls.
Domestic violence happens in stages, gradually growing in size like a tumour. Abuse in relationships doesn’t start with sexual abuse, maybe in very rare cases, but in most abuse starts with a trickle of coercive control. This usually comes after a period of excessively romanticised behaviours. Those behaviours are the foundations which the victim can’t let go of and the perpetrator uses as leverage.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things
The serious case reviews provide insight into the lives of Lucy and Jayden and like many teenagers in the UK they experienced additional vulnerabilities and challenges. What’s more terrifying is that statutory services failed to view the two girls as two young girls in desperate need of protection and support, rather they were viewed as two ‘difficult’ girls, entirely responsible for coping with the range of risk factors manifesting in their lives.
The serious case reviews provide insight into the lives of Lucy and Jayden and like many teenagers in the UK they experienced additional vulnerabilities and challenges. What’s more terrifying is that statutory services failed to view the two girls in desperate need of protection and support, rather they were viewed as two ‘difficult’ girls, entirely responsible for coping with the range of risk factors manifesting in their lives.
Those risk factors, which can increase the prevalence of relationship abuse can be; ‘Domestic violence and child abuse; attitudes which normalise violence including gender roles; anti-social peers; psychological factors – including low self-esteem; bullying; early sex, and alcohol and drug use’
Furthermore, research shows that young girls who have experienced abuse in adolescent relationships are at higher risk of experiencing domestic violence in adulthood. Surely, this identifies the need for more preventative interventions to be available at primary schools. Statutory services need to recognise and disseminate best practice with other agencies on the impact of risk factors. We need to dismantle the current narrative and change beliefs and attitudes, so we understand that being in a controlling and abusive relationship can distort a young woman’s ability to recognise abuse, and affect her life choices and decision making. The real tragedy, however, is that Lucy and Jayden’s fears were not unfounded, they knew they were in danger and felt powerless to do anything about it. Due to their age and vulnerabilities, their calls for help were silenced, and their needs remained unmet. How many young girls’ lives need to be ruined or cut tragically short before drastic measure are put in place to repair the damage? In the UK alone 2 women a week are murdered a by their partners or ex-partners. We desperately need a call to action and to throw the curtains wide open. In cases where the domestic violence has resulted in homicide, 80% of those victims were in the first 3 months of leaving their partner. Leaving abusive relationships places women and girls at higher risk, which is all too hauntingly familiar in Lucy and Jayden’s stories. The results from Dr. Christine Barton’s research reveals the inequalities that reinforce the crippling impact of coercive control on girls.
‘In our interviews with young people, girls repeatedly reported feeling too scared either to challenge the control and abuse or to end the relationship due to the possible repercussions (Barter et al 2009; Wood et al 2010; barter et al 2015.). What could the potential outcome be in let’s say, 6 months’ time if Chloe feels too scared to assert herself, is battling a number of other risk factors in her life and doesn’t realise that what she is experiencing is abuse?
Statutory services are not entirely to blame here. We all have a role to play in challenging the risk factors that contribute to the smear left by domestic abuse on our society. What EdShift wants to achieve is quality drama based learning workshops in schools across the nation, particularly in areas where the contributing risk factors are more prevalent. We believe that by providing a safe space to open up conversations with young people will give us the platform to offer a different narrative. We want to challenge beliefs of gender through a whole school approach involving parents, teachers and the local community so that everyone feels empowered to change the current paradigm. Our workshops focus on victim empathy, educating young people on the lifelong impact of abuse. We aim to dismantle the narrative that love equates to pain. We want to give young people fresh routes into self-esteem by giving them a whole new script that redefines love as compassionate, kind, vulnerable, accepting, respectful and equal. Furthermore, we want to advocate that a healthy relationship is a right and not a privilege.
And as the great William Shakespeare proclaimed we want all young people to understand the power of this mantra;
“Don’t waste your love on somebody, who doesn’t value it.”
#shakespeare #tragedy #teendomesticviolence #drama #EdShift