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A new report, which investigated teenage relationships, indicates that as many as two in five teenage girls, some as young as 13, have experienced some form of sexual violence from their partner.

These shocking figures that came out the new research, led by academics at the University of Bristol and University of Central Lancashire, also showed one in five of the girls aged between 13 and 17 in England suffered at least some physical violence from their boyfriend.

The study surveyed 1,001 teenagers in England and primarily focused on violent incidents and attitudes to abuse through school-based questionnaires. The questionnaires were handed out to 3,500 young people in Norway, Bulgaria, Cyprus and Italy. Rates of interpersonal violence and abuse were found to be higher for girls in England than in the other European nations; the exception to this was the reported instances of emotional abuse in Italy. The abuse figures appear to be largely one sided, at least in England, with English teenage boys reporting the lowest rates of interpersonal violence or abuse overall. This figure is tempered however by 14% of the boys that were interviewed saying that they had suffered sexual abuse from a partner.

Almost half, 48%, of girls reported emotional or online abuse within their relationship and instances of sexting occur at a far higher rate in England than any of the other countries subject to this study. 48% of women admitted to having received messages of a sexual nature, with two in five admitting to sending them, of those girls, 27% said it was because they felt pressured to do so.

Lead author Dr Christine Barter, who is based at the University of Bristol’s School for Policy Studies, stated, “Our research findings show that across Europe violence and abuse, both offline and online, in young people’s relationships constitutes a major problem, yet in most countries it remains unrecognised, leaving young people with little support or appropriate services.”

This research has led the NSPCC to call for new government intervention in the classroom so that teenagers can be taught about how a healthy relationship is supposed to function. Claire Lilley, head of child safety online at the charity, said, “The high rates of sexual coercion discovered need to be addressed through education and awareness raising that challenges attitudes and helps change behaviour. We need to nurture children to have positive relationships based on mutual respect.”

She would continue to say, “The levels of victimisation revealed by this research shows action is urgently needed by the government to make updated sex and relationship education a statutory right for every child and young person. There needs to be a greater focus in schools on topics such as sexual exploitation and violence against girls and young women, as part of a balanced curriculum.”

The response, from at least one part of the government, was swift with Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, saying urgent action was needed to address the “shocking levels of violence and coercion” which were shown in the report. Mrs Cooper would continue by saying, “For over two years now the Labour Party has called on the Government to introduce compulsory sex and relationships education in all primary and secondary schools. This should have zero tolerance to violence at its core and teach young people about the importance of sexual consent and respect in relationships.”

She would finish her statement by saying that, “Compulsory sex and relationship education will be in a Labour manifesto. I hope other parties will also recognise the importance of education in tackling violence against women and girls.”

This report has shown that there appears to be a significant problem with how relationships early in life are conducted and that issue needs to be addressed. Whether that is through the classroom, showing a healthy relationship at home or even a more active interest in teenagers lives the issue of violence and sexual violence should not be swept under the rug. A comprehensive change has to come and come soon. Teenagers need to be taught about effective and healthy relationships in the classroom if they cannot figure it out for themselves.