One in five teenagers is a gender violence denialist

Save the Children warns of the normalisation of abusive behaviour among young people, especially on social networks

3 min
Phone to the table

Barcelona"Where are you? Share your location with me live". "Who is this guy who gives you so many likes on your photos?" "If you don't get back with me, I'll send your masturbation video to the whole world". These are three examples of domination, control and threats to partners or ex-partners through phones and social networks. These tools have long been of concern due to their role in spreading psychological, emotional and sexual violence among teenage couples. With the outbreak of the pandemic, which has further digitised the relationships of young people, this abuse and harassment at a distance has hugely increased. But it is often consented to by the victim herself, who does not recognise the abuse. In fact, the study Perception of Gender Violence in Adolescence and Youth published this September found that only a third of young men aged 15 to 29 identifies these practices of digital submission as violence, while another third considered attempting to control their partners schedules, preventing them from contacting family or friends or telling them what they can or cannot do "inevitable or acceptable". About 20% of respondents directly deny the existence of gender violence and say it is an "ideological invention".

Despite the sensitisation and awareness of recent years, male violence survives and adapts to new generations. The NGO Save the Children denounces in its latest report It is not love that teenagers repeat sexist patterns and roles in their relationships and normalise abusive behaviour. The study finds that minors are left out of campaigns and resources against gender violence and are more invisible because physical aggression, the most common trigger for reporting to the police, is anecdotal

On the other hand, aggressions and abuses that come from the use of technology have increased and occur in different ways, starting with the obligation to share personal information (passwords of social networks, for example) or to activate the GPS location at all times, and even forcing them to send intimate photographs and videos –or reusing some which the victim sent of their own accord at an earlier stage– to make malicious use of it, such as revenge porn. "These risky uses of technology put many girls in situations of vulnerability to new types of violence, which is no longer conditioned to the physical presence of the aggressor, but can be exercised at a distance and in a much more constant way over time," says the director of the entity, Andrés Conde.

Save the Children warns that at this age we must take into account that in general relationships are shorter or with less commitment, but they are lived with great intensity, which makes it impossible to recognise abusive behaviours or denounce them. In addition, love can be misunderstood: jealousy and suffering are exalted as a demonstration of love and a pattern of control is established that sometimes the victim, far from being dissuaded, feels encouraged to reproduce. And social networks favour it.

Retrograde but still valid ideas

The NGO estimates that one in four girls between 16 and 17 years suffer psychological violence or control, the most difficult to detect, and the most common forms are the control of mobile phones (21.8% of girls have suffered it), the pressure to have sex (20.5%) or control of their activities, even the most day-to-day ones (18.2%). But not all girls who suffer these abuses know how to recognise them or verbalise them. Alba Macías, who was a victim of male violence when she was 15 years old, found out long after breaking up with her ex-partner. She admits that at that time the violent or controlling behaviour "didn't seem like gender violence to her" because whenever she heard about a case in the media "they were older women and always in the form of murder". "And he justified himself by telling me that if he behaved like that it was out of love, to protect me," she recalls.

Few boys identify their machismo because they do not perceive themselves as potential aggressors and are less able to recognise their violent behaviour. In this sense, Save the Children points to gender stereotypes, which assign women a role of submission and men a role of domination. And these retrograde – but still valid – ideas determine adolescents' perceptions of themselves and their partners, and perpetuate violent behaviour.

Although the majority of young people aged 15 to 29 believe that male violence is very serious, 9.3% of girls and 20% of boys believe that it does not exist and that it is an "ideological invention". In addition, 24.4% of boys and 14.7% of girls believe that some kind of violence against a partner is "inevitable and has always existed", or that if it is of low intensity it is not a problem (15.4% of boys and 7.3% of girls). For Conde, the explanation must be sought in the media, where political parties with "denialist" ideas have promoted the idea that gender violence does not exist. "We are concerned about the advancement of this message because young people get caught up in it," warns the director general.

Very few complaints

Only in Catalonia in the last nine years the courts have granted 620 minors a restraining order or precautionary measures against their partner or ex-partner. The year with the most victims was 2017 (83) and last year, due to the pandemic, the figure fell by half (41), to 2013 levels.