Trigger Warning – discusses r*pe and sexual assault research findings.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Equally Ours, the human rights organisation, carried out some research into the public’s attitudes and understanding of rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) and how communication around these topics can be improved to ensure understanding grows.
3,000 people in the UK were surveyed on their attitude to RASSO with a key focus on current public assumptions and misconceptions and then assessed effective communication about rape with a focus on reframing narratives.
- Public’s accurate understanding of rape is outweighed by false beliefs, misunderstanding, lack of knowledge and underlying stereotypes;
- One prevalent misconception is that ‘stranger rape involving physical violence’ was a strong stereotype, as well as the incorrect belief that ‘women often make up rape allegations’;
- Worryingly, the highest levels of misconception occur in the 18-24 age group with more of this age group supporting assumptions and misconceptions than other age groups;
- 47% of 18 to 24 year olds believe ‘rape is only a crime if victims fight back’;
- 49% of 18 to 24 year olds admitted they didn’t understand the issue of consent and therefore widespread confusion over the legal definition of the crime;
- 46% recognised that if a man has been drinking or taking drugs he is still responsible if he rapes someone (so 54% of respondents think he’s not or less responsible);
- Only 42% recognised that consent is not assumed within a relationship or marriage (compared to 87% of those 65 years old and above);
- 40% recognised that even if no physical force is involved, a person might not be free and able to consent to sex (compared to 62% respondents overall).
Baroness Newlove – the Victims Commissioner for England and Wales said: “this powerful report echoes what survivors tell me: that harmful myths and misconceptions persist in our justice system with serious consequences for survivors and justice”.
Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition said: “We’re particularly worried to see such a stark regression in attitudes among young people compared to older generations. The blurring of our online and offline (real) lives has not only created new forms of sexual violence but new ways to blame victims based on our behaviour online”.
For anyone who works in schools or with young people delivering PSHE or RSE this research will sadly back up many of the emerging attitudes we may have seen as educators. For some time young people have been influenced by online characters and the pernicious influence of adult materials being freely available on many platforms used by children.
There have been a number of research reports which have spoken about the issues with adult content, sexist and misogynistic influencers, the prevalence of sexualised content and behaviours amongst young people and the way coercive and controlling behaviour is growing amongst young people – often tacitly or openly espoused by online ‘relationship coaches’ or influencers.
Recent reports by the Schools Commissioner and Ofsted into sexual assaults in schools have highlighted the increases in offences in schools or amongst young poeple.
This report found pornography had frequently been seen by children as young as 11 and that 79% of 18 year olds had watched violent porn.
This Women’s Aid research found numerous examples of young people’s attitudes to relationships being influenced negatively by what they consume online – such as 31% thought there should be a ‘dominant person in a relationship’ and very concerningly that 23% of 18-25 year olds disagreed – or strongly disagreed with the statement ‘you should always have consent from your partner to have sex when you’re in a relationship’.
This research also found that 21% believed that ‘men show their love through jealousy’
and that 22% of participants thought that controlling behaviours related to ‘love-bombing’ were ‘caring or romantic’.
These last two findings, combined with the CPS research shows how normalised controlling behaviours have become and that these unhealthy aspects are now being seen not as part of controlling relationships but as acceptable or possibly expected.
Finally, the CPS findings, when paired with the Queens Uni Belfast and Uni of Ulster research into coercive control amongst young people should be really concerning. QUB and UU found that fewer than 1 in 6 teenagers (of the 2000 surveyed in 2022/3) knew what coercive control was and what it was called. This is especially worrying as Coercive Control has been against the law in England and Wales since 2015 and in NI since 2022.
Coercive Control underpins virtually all unhealthy relationships and yet, as the findings from all these research reports show, there is widespread confusion about what it is and what it means. Fuelled by adult content which rarely shows consent, influencers who often espouse controlling tactics such as the ‘Lover Boy’ method of attracting girls and advising men to obtain passwords, control what ‘their’ woman wears and who they speak to, young people are being led into unhealthy relationship behaviours without necessarily knowing it.
Yes, this should be part of the role of parents and older relatives but what if they’re ignorant of these influences?
Schools are the universal service for young people, and as such – under the statutory guidance for PSHE and RSE – it’s on us to help young people see what healthy relationships look and feel like and be a sounding board for the unhealthy and coercive tactics they may see online and around them.
If you need help with any of this – for students, INSET / CPD sessions and parent workshops – please let me know.
My Speaker Page with details of my masculinity, coercive control, testicular cancer and careers workshops and talks is HERE.