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Teens tell of peer group violence

Teenagers from disadvantaged backgrounds are much more likely to be abused by their boyfriends or girlfriends than their better-off counterparts, new research has revealed.

The study, carried out by the NSPCC and the University of Bristol, suggests violence in teenage relationships may be much higher than previously thought and comes as the Government launches the second phase of its advertising campaign to challenge teenagers' attitudes to violence and abuse in relationships.

For the study, Standing On My Own Two Feet, researchers interviewed 82 boys and girls aged 13-18 from a range of agencies and organisations across the south west of England.

It is the first time there has been an in-depth look at violence in the intimate relationships of disadvantaged teenagers who are not in mainstream education - some were permanently excluded from school, young offenders or teenage mothers. The research follows a similar study on violence in relationships among those in mainstream education.

Although the new study does not claim to be representative of the UK population, it suggests levels of violence in teenage relationships may be much higher than previously assumed.

More than half of the girls involved said they had been in a sexually-violent relationship before they were 18 and more than half reported they had been a victim of physical violence in at least one of their intimate relationships. A quarter of boys who responded said they had dated physically-aggressive partners.

Many of the young people who took part in the study appeared to accept violence as a normal, though unwanted, aspect of being in a relationship. Some suffered black eyes, lost teeth or were head-butted.

Christine Barter from Bristol University, who led the research, said: "The Government and those working with young people need to recognise that teenage partner violence is an even more profound child welfare issue for disadvantaged young people. This will help professionals assess the possibility of partner violence and challenge young people's beliefs that this abuse is a normal part of teenage relationships."

NSPCC chief executive Andrew Flanagan said: "It's appalling that violence in these relationships seems to be just part of daily life. These findings underline how important it is for children to be educated about abusive behaviour and for them to feel able to seek help to prevent it happening.

Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone said: "We need to challenge the attitudes and behaviours that foster an acceptance of abusive relationships by intervening as early as possible. Bringing the issue out in the open will help teenagers feel confident to challenge abusive behaviour when they experience it or see it."

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