On average, two women a week are killed by an abusive current or ex-partner and at least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence. It ruins lives, destroys families and has a lasting, damaging impact on victims' lives.
However, despite efforts to protect these victims and raise awareness of this pernicious crime, a generation of young men are still growing up to be perpetrators.
The Boys To Men project, which is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, concludes a three-year study examining why some men are abusive and others not, and what can be done to reduce numbers.
Conducted in three phases, it first surveyed 1,203 schoolchildren aged 13 to 14, followed by 69 young people aged 13 to 19, concluding with life history interviews with 30 young men aged 16-21. Many of the participants in the research project had various social disadvantages, including poor mental health, histories of institutional care and alcohol and substance abuse. Some students were attending an anger management programme, and many had witnessed violence at home.
The key findings reveal the widespread nature of domestic abuse.
• More than half of 13-14 year old respondents had experienced domestic abuse and one-quarter of boys and girls who had been on a date reported carrying out abusive behaviour
• Boys were more likely than girls to justify hitting a partner in certain circumstances
• Most young people think it is wrong to hit a partner but there are exceptions, such as being hit first or cheated on. Boys are more likely than girls to endorse this.
• Many young men worry about betrayal and understand why this fear generates controlling behaviour.
• There are subtle gender differences in attitudes towards domestic abuse. Many young men are unprepared to 'lose' a fight which can result in assault.
• Although most young people agreed that abuse in relationships is wrong, many participants justified controlling behaviour where there was a lack of trust.
Researchers concluded that relationship education programmes can change attitudes and therefore, it should be mandatory in schools, and young people need to be made aware of the danger of 'hitting back'. It is vital to engage those who have been excluded as they are potential perpetrators,but many young men – whether a victim or perpetrator – were reluctant to seek professional help.
Those who have grown up in care homes are often distrustful of social workers, and many younger boys in trouble at school would not confide in a teacher. As a result, there needs to be more appropriate service providers for young men.
Download the findings at www.boystomenproject.com