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Ending a culture of abusive relationships

24 February 2015

Female students standing outside the Senedd in Cardiff Bay, holding Valentine cards for an anti-abuse campaign
Students holding the Valentine's cards that they presented to assembly members.

A renowned Cardiff University academic, and international expert on children and young people's experiences of inter-personal gender-based and sexual violence, recently attended the Senedd with 40 young people to deliver assembly members with Valentine's cards.

Professor Emma Renold of the University's School of Social Sciences has been working alongside Citizens Cymru to lead the 'Making Healthy Relationships Matter' campaign, as part of a wider project focused on community engagement and policy change. This forms just one aspect of a larger body of research Professor Renold has carried out to inform and re-shape the Welsh Government's Gender-based Violence, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Bill.

She has presented overwhelming evidence to argue that the government needs to make a whole school approach to healthy relationships education mandatory and that any successful intervention needs to reflect and support the realities of children and young people's own experiences of gender and sexual harassment and violence, in school, online and in their communities.

This latest activity saw Professor Renold and school students gift assembly members with individual Valentine's cards, one of which contained a special message for Leighton Andrews, who leads on the aforementioned bill.

"Each card had a handwritten comment from a student collected as part of listening activities as part of the relationship matters campaign and contained the message: 'This valentine's card may be past its sell by date, but it's not too late to make healthy relationships education compulsory for all children in Wales', reiterating the need for an amendment to the bill. The cards were also signed with a kiss to connect to the 'red my lips campaign' – a worldwide campaign to raise awareness of sexual assault" explained Professor Renold.

Additional activities include school assemblies on everyday sexism and sexual harassment and an open letter written with the young people. The latter provided examples of their listening campaign where a number of young people were invited to complete the sentence "I need a healthy relationship education because…" highlighting the reasons why they feel a change to the bill is important.

Professor Renold and the groups she has worked with hope that the recent activities, in addition to research findings from two previous projects which documented children and young people's own experiences of online and offline sexual harassment, will encourage assembly members to vote for the education amendments to be tabled to the bill on Tuesday 24th February.

She continues: "The students I have worked with have been especially vocal in advocating for 'pupil champions' to raise awareness of sexual violence in peer cultures, as well as compulsory teacher training on these issues. The innovative and creative ways in which they have raised awareness of the importance of mandatory healthy relationships education has been inspirational. It demonstrates how pupil champions on these issues can work successfully.

"Without legislative change, children's experiences of coercion, control and harassment in their pre-teen and teen relationship cultures will remain hidden and inevitably continue. We need a mandatory whole school approach informed by a gender equalities and human rights framework in which young people are involved directly from design to delivery".

Assembly members will have the chance to legislate for a whole school approach to relationships education (3-16), mandatory teacher training on gender equalities and violence against women and girls and associated pupil champions when the bill goes to a vote on Tuesday 3 March 2015.