Toxic relationships - 13 - 24 year olds asked: what will keep you safe?

12th July 2021

This July, a coalition of 11 charities and digital organisations is asking all girls, women and non-binary people aged 13-24 in England and Wales what will help them avoid “toxic relationships” – or what adults call “domestic abuse”.

In the last year, 14% of 16 to 19 year old women reported experiencing domestic abuse[1] and 71% say they’d go to their best friend for advice[2] rather than to formal support services.

I've like been in a situation where my best friend has gone out with someone, and she drifted away from us completely... he used to comment on her body as well about how it was fat and that. But like, I can just remember that I was so helpless, I couldn't do anything because I think we were only about like fourteen. I, I didn't have any knowledge, I didn't have any education on how to, on where to go if someone's going through a really unhealthy relationship and that. (Young person, 17-19 years)

Like your instincts are telling you that there’s something wrong but…maybe you’ve never experienced love before and you’re, no, this is what people have been talking about, this is what love is meant to feel like. (Young person, 20-24 years)

‘Your Best Friend’ is a new project that aims to resolve the conflict faced by all those best friends out there, caught between wanting to honour their friend’s confidentiality and needing to keep them safe with information and help. Together with young people, Your Best Friend will give them the knowledge, confidence, and tools to keep themselves and their friends safe in their intimate relationships1.

In the last two months, groups of young people from across England and Wales have been telling Your Best Friend expert partners about the problems they face around toxic relationships, and what they need to keep them safe.

Now, domestic abuse charity SafeLives and its partners are asking all 13-24 year old girls, women and non-binary people to tell them about how they talk to their best friends about relationship concerns and what solutions they want to see, through their Your Best Friend - #WhatWillWork survey. All feedback and ideas are welcome, from online solutions to real-life projects, and will be developed to help tens of thousands of young people, through peer resources, groups and networks across England and Wales.

SafeLives have teamed up with digital experts and organisations who work every day with young people from all backgrounds and identities across England and Wales.  The consortium is made up of SafeLives, The Mix, Hafan Cymru, Llamau, Super Being Labs, Galop, PODS, YANA, Lancashire BME Network, Muslim Youth Helpline and On Our Radar, and is funded by the DCMS’s Tampon Tax Fund, which supports projects that improve the lives of disadvantaged women and girls.

Suzanne Jacob, OBE, Chief Executive of SafeLives said:

“The only people who knew what was going on in my relationships when I was younger were my friends and vice versa. Adults didn’t ask us and didn’t give us any tools to act on what we were seeing around us. But we didn’t know what to do. Through this new project, we want to hear the real story of what’s happening for young people now, and then equip those same young people to play the role their friend is going to ask them to, one day”. 

The survey opens on Monday 12 July and closes midnight on Monday 2 August. The results will be used to help the Your Best Friend team identify opportunities to develop peer-to-peer support, including grants for grassroots organisations or projects, training for young people and youth workers, policy development and more. 

I had a friend who never really had a proper relationship and felt that they had to send nudes...to people who they were dating online, and it was quite scary having to be on the end, having to persuade them not to do it, because it can be a really, really damaging thing. (Young person, 13-16 years)

Notes to editors

  • For more information and interviews contact louisa.comber@safelives.org.uk in the first instance or hannah.mian@safelives.org.uk
  • The survey will run from 12 July - 2 August at: https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/YBF2021/
  • More details about YBF on website: https://yourbestfriend.org.uk/
  • Your Best Friend partners:
    • Lead: SafeLives
    • Strategic partners in Wales: Llamau and Hafan Cymru
    • Creative partners: The Mix and Super Being Labs
    • Specialist delivery partners with expert understanding: On Our Radar, Galop, PODS, YANA, Lancashire BME Network, Muslim Youth Helpline Your Best Friend is funded by the DCMS Tampon Tax fund which is designed to allocate funds generated from the VAT on sanitary products to projects that improve the lives of disadvantaged women and girls. 
  • In 2020, a joint project with On Our Radar My Story Matters / Talk about Toxic Discovery report underlined how the language of “domestic abuse” doesn’t work for children and young people aged 13-18. They don’t use the phrase to describe their own relationships and don’t always feel domestic abuse services are for them. They also don’t always know what is and isn’t acceptable relationship behaviour.  The report told us:  
    • 69% of teens use toxic” to describe harmful relationships 
    • 66% (71% of girls) would go to their best friend for relationship advice  
    • 51% would want support to understand what behaviour is not OK 
    • 18% want to know how to support a friend who’s being harmed in a relationship.

 About SafeLives: 

We are SafeLives, the UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, for everyone and for good.

We work with organisations across the UK to transform the response to domestic abuse. We want what you would want for your best friend. We listen to survivors, putting their voices at the heart of our thinking. We look at the whole picture for each individual and family to get the right help at the right time to make families everywhere safe and well. And we challenge perpetrators to change, asking ‘why doesn’t he stop?’ rather than ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ This applies whatever the gender of the victim or perpetrator and whatever the nature of their relationship. 

Last year alone, nearly 13,500 professionals received our training. Over 70,000 adults at risk of serious harm or murder and more than 85,000 children received support through dedicated multi-agency support designed by us and delivered with partners. In the last four years, over 2,000 perpetrators have been challenged and supported to change by interventions we created with partners, and that’s just the start. 

Together we can end domestic abuse. Forever. For everyone.

[1] Crime Survey, England and Wales https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/articles/domesticabusevictimcharacteristicsenglandandwales/yearendingmarch2020

[2] On Our Radar My Story Matters / Talk about Toxic Discovery report: Talk about toxic survey results Report.pdf (safelives.org.uk)