Bristol research transforming national understanding of, and response to, violence in young people’s intimate relationships
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Bristol
Unit of AssessmentSocial Work and Social Policy
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Medical and Health Sciences: Public Health and Health Services
Summary of the impact
Research conducted in the School for Policy Studies at the University of
Bristol from 2006 inspired the Government to commission a series of
carefully targeted awareness campaigns on sexual coercion and violence in
teenage relationships. These campaigns ran between 2010 and 2013 and
reached millions of young people. The research has also underpinned
developments in government policy as well as a range of practical
interventions by agencies in England and Scotland. In addition, the
extensive media coverage of the research has substantially increased
public awareness of teenage partner violence and related issues.
The University of Bristol's research on violence in teenage relationships
was conducted by Ms Christine Barter (Senior Research Fellow
2005-present), Professor David Berridge (Professor 2005-present), Dr
Melanie McCarry (Research Associate/Lecturer 2004-2013), Ms Marsha Wood
(Research Associate 2003-present) and Ms Kathy Evans (Research Associate
The initial research project undertaken at Bristol between 2006 and 2009
[1, 6] on partner exploitation and violence in teenage relationships was
the first large-scale UK research to address this form of intimate
violence. The findings clearly show that physical, sexual and emotional
forms of teenage partner violence constitute a major child welfare issue.
The work also challenges some of the assumptions held in US `dating'
violence research, especially in relation to the impact of gender on
experiences of intimate violence in young relationships.
The research used two approaches. A confidential survey was completed by
1,350 people aged between 13 and 17 years from eight schools in England,
Scotland and Wales. In-depth interviews were undertaken with 91 young
- 25% of girls and 18% of boys reported that they had experienced some
form of physical partner violence.
- Nearly 75% of girls and 50% of boys reported that they had experienced
emotional partner violence, most often controlling behaviours.
- One in three girls and 16% of boys reported sexual partner violence.
- The majority of girls, but only a minority of boys, reported that the
violence had adversely affected their welfare.
- Many of the girls reported that the violence constituted a `normal',
though unwelcome, aspect of relationships.
- The vast majority of young people had not spoken to an adult about the
violence. Those who sought help went to peers.
- Factors that influenced whether young people experienced this kind of
violence included gender, age, having a `much older partner', domestic
violence and peer groups which used intimidation.
A second research project [3, 7] undertaken between 2009 and 2010 focused
on disadvantaged young people and partner violence. It was the first UK
research to examine this issue. Semi-structured interviews were conducted
with 44 boys and 38 girls aged between 13 and 18 years via a range of
agencies and organisations working with disadvantaged young people in
- Disadvantaged young people reported greater levels of violence in
their relationships, in respect of both frequency and severity, compared
to young people in the general population.
- Most participants felt that this was a normal aspect of teenage
- Disadvantaged girls reported greater levels of negative impact on
their welfare than boys.
- Most young people interviewed had some form of professional support,
but only a minority had told an adult about the violence. Most felt
adults would not be interested or would not respond appropriately.
- Two groups were particularly vulnerable: teenage mothers and young
people who had been in care.
The research has been widely disseminated — see references 2, 4 and 5 in
References to the research
 Barter, C. (2009) In the Name of Love: Partner Abuse and Violence in
Teenage Relationships. British Journal of Social Work, 39,
(2), pp. 211-233. DOI: 10.1093/bjsw/bcm127
 Barter, C. (2011) A Thoroughly Gendered Affair: Teenage Partner
Violence and Exploitation and Violence, in Barter, C. and Berridge, D. eds
(2011) Children Behaving Badly? Peer Violence between Children and
Young People. Chichester: Wiley. DOI: 10.1002/9780470976586
 Barter, C. and McCarry, M. (2013) Love, Power and Control: Girls'
Experiences of Relationship Exploitation and Violence, in Lombard, N. and
McMillan, L. (eds) Research Highlights in Social Work (56): Violence
Against Women, Jessica Kingsley ISBN: 9781849051323, (available on
 C. Barter (2006-2009) Safeguarding young people from
exploitation and violence in their dating relationships, The Big Lottery
 C. Barter (2009-2010) Disadvantaged young people and partner
violence, NSPCC, £68,000.
Details of the impact
The Government directly responded to the first research findings  by
commissioning a £1.8 million public awareness media campaign on the issue
of teenage partner violence. Barter and Berridge acted as expert
consultants on the campaign, which ran in February 2010. It included a
commissioned short film on teenage relationship abuse which was shown on
all major terrestrial and cable TV channels and in cinemas.
Awareness-raising advertisements were also placed in a range of teenage
magazines and posted in public toilets and schools. A website — `this is
abuse' — was launched, aimed at raising awareness of this issue for 13 to
19 year-olds. The current Government repeated the campaign (£1.5 million)
in 2011-2012 and commissioned a new awareness campaign on teenage sexual
violence which ran in 2012 and 2013. The total governmental financial
commitment to raising awareness around this issue is £4.5 million to date.
Barter has acted as an expert consultant on all the campaigns. A quote
from the Home Office lead in this area directly acknowledges the research
"In 2009 Home Office Communication and Violent Crime Unit colleagues were
working together to consider the need for a Domestic Violence campaign.
The NSPCC research `Teen partner violence' published in 2009 backed up the
Home Office findings but also found that the attitudes of teenagers were
shockingly tolerant of violence in relationships but that many of them had
also experienced violence themselves. It was these revealing findings
that influenced the Home Office to target teenagers about relationship
abuse with the intention of challenging these attitudes and to
engage and educate teens before controlling, violent or coercive
behaviours became entrenched. The Home Office contacted Dr Christine
Barter from Bristol University... to agree to work together to develop a
longer term X-Government campaign strategy to this end. The campaign has
now been running for 4 years and a Teen Rape prevention campaign was also
developed alongside. Dr Barter has consulted with the Home Office on these
two campaigns since 2009 and continues to do so" [a].
The Home Office evaluation [b] of the first `this is abuse' campaign in
2011 showed it reached 2.9 million young people — equating to 60% of the
13 to 19 year-old target group. The online advertisements were displayed
120 million times and over 397,000 young people clicked on the online
adverts to access information. Click-through to campaign content from
online ads was very high at 33%. The parents' advertisements reached 10.2
million people, 47% of the target audience. Over 90% of young people
polled felt the campaign had made them think about the issue and/or
encouraged them to challenge abuse in their own or friends' relationships.
The domestic violence charity Refuge noticed an increase in the number of
calls from young women from the time the campaign started (increasing from
an average of 46 per week pre-campaign to 71 per week in the period 15
February to 31 March 2010). Anecdotally, during this time the number of
calls to the charity Respect rose and Women's Aid reported a substantial
increase in traffic on their `Hideout' message board aimed at young
The Home Office evaluation of the second campaign [c] showed that 540,000
web users accessed further information or help during the 2012 activity,
providing evidence that — according to the Home Office assessment — `the
campaign has been effective in delivering intermediate behavioural
change'. The website had more hits than any other domestic violence
campaign. In 2012, Yahoo had 1,286 question threads relating to the
campaign and associated issues.
The previous Government's review on the sexualisation of girls and women
[d] drew heavily on the research. A section was included specifically on
teenage partner violence (chapter 7) and highlighted the research findings
and their importance. Barter, who gave evidence to the review, was
directly quoted in the report. A statement from the Home Office lead
explains the direct impact of the research findings: "In 2009, I was the
Home Office policy lead on the Sexualisation of Young People Review,
conducted by Dr Linda Papadopoulos. As part of the research for this
review I became aware of the research that the NSPCC (Barter et al 2009)
had commissioned on the impact of teenage relationship abuse. Following
evidence hearing sessions to discuss this research, a recommendation
was...included in the government strategy, Together we can end
violence against women and girls (2009). The recommendation was to
run a campaign aimed at challenging the attitudes and perceptions that
lead to violence within teenage relationships as the first phase in a
broader cross-government communications strategy/campaign" [e].
In response, the Department for Children, Schools and Families Violence
against Women and Girls Advisory Group Recommendations and Strategy [f]
and Response [g] clearly identified teenage relationship violence as a
Keir Starmer QC [h], Director of Public Prosecutions, in a speech on the
Crown Prosecution Service and domestic violence, quoted the research to
highlight the importance of recognising the problem of intimate violence
in young people's relationships. In 2012, the age at which domestic
violence can be officially recorded by the Police was reduced from 18 to
16 years old. The research findings were widely referenced in the
accompanying consultation [i].
The Scottish Government commissioned the film Crush in response
to the research findings. The film has been shown in schools in Scotland
since January 2011, targeting 16 to 18 year-olds. Since August 2011
Domestic Abuse Resources and Training for Schools in Scotland (DARTSS) has
been including the film in a teaching pack as part of an educational
programme for all Scottish schools. Shona Bruce from the Scottish
Government, who oversaw all aspects of the programme, stated:
"In the Reduce Abuse Project we have used both research reports [1, 3],
to influence practice. We carry out work with staff and young people to
challenge attitudes and address violence against women, to improve
outcomes for local children and young people. We have built the research
findings into training of teachers and multi-agency staff on teen
relationship abuse, and were recently delivering training to staff in the
Looked After and Accommodated Children's (LAAC) field, and were able to
use findings from 'Standing on my own two feet'  to raise
awareness of issues specific to disadvantaged young people." [j]
A wide range of regional initiatives have been developed in response to
the research. For example, in Bristol the Personal, Social and Health
Education (PSHE) curriculum manual has been rewritten in the light of the
research projects and the Domestic Violence Strategy has identified
violence in teenage relationships as a policy and practice priority.
Barter has worked alongside a number of young people's organisations to
develop resources on the issue.
The research findings have generated significant media interest. The
initial findings (1/9/2009-3/09/2009) were widely reported. There were
articles in five tabloids (average coverage 365 words) and four
broadsheets (average coverage 455 words) — the total number of `first'
readerships for the national news outlets was 6,850,000. 36 national and
international media websites ran the story, and BBC Online News reported
it as the `most read' story. Four international news agencies covered the
story. Six national television channels aired it, with a total of 18
repeated news items/bulletins. 12 national radio stations broadcast a
total of 42 related news bulletins. In addition, there was regional
coverage by 47 local radio stations and 79 local newspapers. Barter has
undertaken a wide range of radio interviews, including three BBC Radio 4
half-hour interviews aimed at raising awareness of the issue for parents
There has been substantial additional media coverage following the second
report, and the research has been quoted in more than ten subsequent
national press stories.
In terms of the wider media impact, Barter acted as a consultant for the
BBC series Casualty — which included a four-episode story on a
teenage girl's abusive relationship with her boyfriend — and for a BBC3
and BBC Education training pack on teenage partner violence in 2012 aimed
at young people. She is currently advising on a one-hour film for the BBC
aimed at raising young people's awareness of the problem. She is also
acting as a consultant for the Home Office awareness unit, which is
currently preparing new resources to accompany the next campaign planned
for 2013. This work includes developing a storyline for the TV soap opera
Sources to corroborate the impact
[a] Personal email correspondence: Home Office statements of impact April
[b] Personal email correspondence: Home Office Evaluation of the `This is
Abuse' campaign. 17 August 2011
[c] Personal email correspondence: Home Office Evaluation of the second
[d] Papadopoulos, L (2011) Sexualisation of Young People Review,
[e] Personal email correspondence: Home Office statements of
impact April 2013.
[f] Department for Children, Schools and Families (2010a]) Violence
against Women and Girls (VAWG) Advisory Group final report and
[g] Department for Children, Schools and Families, (2010) Response to
the Violence against Women and Girls Advisory Group's Recommendations.
[h] Keir Starmer QC, (12/04/2011http://www.cps.gov.uk/news/articles/domestic_violence_-_the_facts_the_issues_the_future/
[i] Cross-Governmental Definition of Domestic Violence: A Consultation,
Summary of Responses (2012), Home Office.
[j] Personal email correspondence: 11 January 2012.