The Care vs Control report, based on research by ChildWise, reveals that just 23 per cent of girls and young women are fully aware of the definition of abusive behaviour, while many misinterpret jealous and controlling behaviour as genuine concern for their welfare.
The report, launched by Girlguiding in conjunction with Women’s Aid, also reveals that two-fifths of girls and young women believe it is acceptable for a partner to demand to know where you are all the time, while one-fifth said it was acceptable for a partner to call them names and tell them what they can and cannot wear.
Girls and young women blamed social media websites and chat apps for encouraging controlling and abusive behaviour from partners.
The report also reveals that girls and young women would only turn to their parents, teachers or social workers if they felt their situation had become “extreme” and that they prefer to speak to girls their own age.
In response to the findings of the report, Girlguiding is working with Women’s Aid and Against Violence & Abuse to release a peer education pack called Healthy Relationships. The aim of the pack is to help girls and young women understand what constitutes a healthy relationship and how to deal with signs of abusive and controlling behaviour in the future.
Commenting on the findings of the report, Becky Hewitt, director of Girlguiding, said: “Without the right support to interpret and examine their experiences, it is all too easy for early relationships to form unhealthy patterns of behaviour that they can take with them into adulthood.
“We have a responsibility to help young people to recognise unhealthy and controlling behaviour in their early relationships – helping them to establish positive relationship patterns for the future.”
Polly Neate, chief executive at Women’s Aid, added: “If we are ever going to reduce domestic violence in future generations we need to provide young people with the tools to know what a healthy relationship looks like, and let them know what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable.
“Two women are being killed by a current or former partner every week in England and Wales, and it is vital that we act now to ensure that teenagers recognise the signs of abuse and know where they can access help and support if they are affected.”
Last year, the government broadened the official definition of domestic violence to include coercive behaviour and for the scope to cover 16- and 17-year olds.