Young People experiencing intimate partner violence and abuse

The Home Office definition of domestic abuse includes victims aged 16 and over. In practice, however, young people below the age of 16 will present with issues relating to intimate partner violence. Meeting this need and assuring a safe response right poses a significant challenge for both statutory and specialist agencies.

Partner violence is often thought of as an 'adult' issue, something that happens between adults who are in, or have been in, an intimate relationship. Whilst research has traditionally focussed more on these relationships, new learning suggests that young people experience similar levels of domestic abuse as adults.

Domestic abuse is a hidden issue in our society and especially so for young people. This is exacerbated by the fact that young people may be less likely to challenge abusive behaviours

Violence and abuse within dating relationships can be influenced by how young people look at themselves and others. People of all ages are influenced by media portrayals of how they should look and behave; however, young people may have fewer defences and life experiences with which to balance such messages.

During the teenage years, young people are influenced by a huge array of factors, which can increase vulnerability and risk. These can include: puberty and hormonal changes, wanting increased autonomy from family, peer pressure, body image and self-esteem issues, the influence of the media, an increased capacity for making and trying out new choices.

These can all influence the types of relationships young people may get into. For instance, if a young person has grown up in a home where domestic abuse occurs between adults in the household, this may mean the young person is even more likely to seek 'alternative family' with their peers. If they are already vulnerable, this could lead to someone being at risk of exploitation. (See Child Sexual Exploitation).

How might a young person experiencing domestic abuse present?

  • Fearful & withdrawn, depressed & weepy, jumpy & anxious
  • Uncharacteristically aggressive or argumentative
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Boyfriend/girlfriend gets angry when they spend time with friends - often cancelling plans last minute
  • Missing school or college
  • Boyfriend/girlfriend humiliates them in front of others (including sexual humiliation)
  • Receiving constant texts and calls
  • Their boyfriend/girlfriend insists on access to private mobile phones/social media accounts
  • They are afraid of making their boyfriend/girlfriend angry
  • Making excuses for boyfriend/girlfriend's behaviour
  • Unsafe sex or being pressured to have sex

How should professionals respond to disclosures or concerns about a young person experiencing intimate partner violence?

Just as within adult relationships, domestic abuse in teenage relationships is about power and control. However, learning from serious cases involving young people has shown that risk can escalate very swiftly.

It is also important to provide a proactive response to the young person using violence and control, to minimise harm and to avoid longer term risks. This is currently an area of development in Leicestershire.

Where a young person discloses they are experiencing domestic abuse or this is suspected, the initial response should be to limit harm to the young person. The following response is recommended:

  1. Referral to Children and Family Services - whose role will be to determine the nature/scale of risk and trigger appropriate referrals/support packages
  2. Referral to local specialist domestic abuse services via your area's local domestic abuse helpline. This will facilitate communication and maximise opportunities for joint working between agencies
  3. Where trained, it is advisable to complete a Young Person's DASH risk assessment as soon as practicable. However, this must always be completed by a trained person who is in skilled working and communicating with young people. Local Authority Children and Family Services and specialist domestic abuse services have staff trained to complete this assessment.
  4. Where it is identified that a young person is at immediate risk of serious harm, options will include referral to the MARAC, in communication with local specialist domestic abuse support services

For further resources and guidance see: