One in three young women in abusive relationships, YWCA Scotland and Scottish Women's Aid report finds

There are calls for the Scottish Government to take action on relationship education in schools as a report reveals the extent of abusive partnerships involving young women in Scotland.

Briana Pegado, interim chief executive of YWCA Scotland.
Briana Pegado, interim chief executive of YWCA Scotland.

The Rise Report commissioned by Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) for YWCA Scotland – the Young Women’s Movement – found 36 per cent of young women had been in an intimate relationship with someone who harmed them physically or emotionally.

Nearly three quarters of the 479 surveyed (74 per cent) knew someone who had experienced abuse.

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Not one participant in the report described feeling well supported to learn about relationships at school.

The Rise Report found a third of young women had been in an intimate relationship with someone who harmed them physically or emotionally (Photo: Laura Dodsworth).

A total of 57 per cent of respondents said they did not learn about unhealthy relationships or domestic abuse in school.

Briana Pegado, interim chief executive of YWCA Scotland, said the findings of the report were “concerning”, adding: “Even though within the last decade we’ve had a more nuanced conversation about abuse and we’re shifting the narrative from victim-blaming to taking responsibility around consent, we’re still not in a position in Scotland where young women and girls and young people of marginalised genders are being supported.”

Ms Pegado, who faced domestic abuse aged 20, said: “Having knowledge and language wasn’t something within my group of friends and community we could identify.

“It was only later on in my life that I realised that was my own experience.

YWCA Scotland recruited 10 women between 16 and 25 years old (some of whom have lived experience of domestic abuse in their own relationships) from all over Scotland to create an advisory panel that helped design a national research project around these issues called Young Women Rise.

“So many young people say they don’t get this sort of education at school but through their own research, their own peer networks. That should not be the case.”

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The report found those who did learn about unhealthy relationships at school said the coverage was “brief, limited or not very useful.”

One respondent wrote: “We learned we could say no, but we were never taught what to do if they ignored that.”

Rape Crisis Scotland currently provides a national sexual violence prevention programme to secondary schools.

Gabrielle Blackburn, service development coordinator at Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “The Women’s Aid network will use this research to improve how we promote our services to young women and girls, so that they know Women’s Aid are here for them and so they understand how to reach out to us when they feel ready.”

The report makes a number of recommendations for how specialist support services can better meet the needs of young women experiencing abuse.

Ms Pegado said the Scottish Government must invest “money, time and expertise” into specialist support services as well as redesigning the curriculum to make sure healthy relationship and consent-based education is available in all schools.

The chief executive added: “We’ll live in a happier, healthier, safer society if we all know what abuse and a health relationship looks like.”

The Scottish Government is currently developing a national framework for schools to help tackle sexual harassment and gender based violence.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are determined to ensure children and young people receive high-quality relationships, sexual health and parenthood education in schools.

“This includes age appropriate learning about consent, including sexual consent, that abuse is wrong and sexual harassment.”

Scotland’s Domestic Abuse Helpline is available 24/7 for anyone, of any gender or sexuality, who wants to talk on: 0800 027 1234 or email and web chat at


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