A group of young women from Dundee have launched a new campaign promoting healthy relationships and to tackle sexual abuse and harassment.
The campaign was launched on Tuesday with the aim to provide “conversation starter tool-kits” for young girls, teachers and parents, providing materials to help open up the conversation about abuse and toxic relationships.
The girls are working alongside the Dundee Council, NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Scotland) and YWCA Scotland, the Young Woman’s Movement, to raise awareness of peer sexual abuse in schools.
WRASAC (Woman’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre), Woman’s Aid, Girl Guiding and NHS Tayside Public Health have also worked together to support the girls in creating the campaign helping young people recognise the dangers of unhealthy relationships.
‘We deserve so much better’
Ashley Henderson, 16, from Baldragon Academy said at the launch on Tuesday that she decided to get involved in the campaign after seeing it on Twitter.
She said: “I saw the campaign on Twitter and I knew immediately that it was something I wanted to get involved in because this is something that is quite close to my heart.
“Sexual abuse is not something anybody should ever go through and if I can make that better for anybody, in any way, that’s what I want to do.
“We as girls deserve so much better than a lot of us are getting and I hope that this campaign really helps them realise what they’re worth.”
Ashley explained the “tool-kits” are resources for adults to make it easier to start up conversations about unhealthy relationships.
She said: “The tool-kits are basically conversation starters for adults that are involved with children.
“It’s so they can approach the conversation and make this subject less taboo and less uncomfortable to talk about so that girls know what they deserve and they’ve got somewhere safe to go.”
Inside the tool-kits, there are ideas about how to start conversations about relationships, as well as where to find support resources and helplines.
Dundee University student Elena Muñoz, 19, said that she got involved in the campaign after noticing that more women were being sexualised online.
She said: “Over lockdown I had noticed another pandemic happening of young women being so sexualised on the internet and put into situations that I didn’t think they should be put into.
“Especially through media portrayals and TV shows that show teens being hypersexualised and it kind of tied into this whole thing of how that leads into toxic relationships and then peer sexual abuse because these young women are so sexualised.
“When I saw this opportunity I felt it was something I have been talking about for ages: a campaign to talk about it and to spread awareness, that’s why I got involved in the first place.”
Peer sexual abuse
Peer sexual abuse or peer-on-peer abuse is a form of sexual abuse committed by one peer to another between children and can happen particularly within schools.
Elena said: “Peer sexual abuse is really common, you hear sexual abuse and you think it’s going to be scary but even just pressuring for nudes is sexual abuse or sexually harassing comments in the hallway can really affect young women.”
Elena Soper, programmes coordinator for YWCA Scotland – The Young Women’s Movement, said the YWCA originally ran a project in 2018 called ‘Young Women Lead’ involving research into sexual harassment in Scottish schools.
They produced a report to the Scottish Government about how to improve the issue in schools, while the NSPCC had also sent out a report around the same issue.
At the beginning of this year the groups partnered up with Dundee Council to create a programme to tackle sexual harassment in Scottish schools which began the campaign.
Elena Soper said: “It means a lot to me to be a part of this but it has also just been amazing getting to know the girls and because we’ve done this all virtually so this is the first time today that I’ve ever met any of the girls so that’s been really inspiring as well.”
Depute convener of the council’s children and families committee, Roisin Smith, said: “I think this kind of campaign is really important.
“The campaign has been driven by the young women that are involved and in terms of connecting and spreading that message amongst their peer group it’s really important.
“The connection is there, they already have those links with their peers at school and the wider community and so it’ll have a greater impact.”