Below we share final project conference speech given by Ugne Litvinaite, researcher and policy analyst in the field of equal opportunities and gender inequality. Ugne reflects on why conclusion of the project should only be the beginning of further activities towards teenhood, relationships and society free of violence.
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It is my pleasure to be here today and represent the jury of the contest “Teens against dating violence” within the Children First project – as it was my pleasure to sit in the jury and have an opportunity to discover how young people around Europe and even beyond it interpret the topic of violence in relationships through the various forms of art.
According to the most recent Fundamental Rights agency’s survey (2019) on crime and safety, young people aged 16–29 years old were found to be at the highest risk of physical violence, compared with people from other age groups, and also compared with other socio-demographic characteristics that the survey examined. While nearly one in 10 people (9 %) in the EU-27 experienced physical violence in the five years before the survey, close to one in four people (23 %) aged 16–29 years experienced it (FRA, 2021).
Experiencing homophobia, biphobia, or transphobia-motivated physical or sexual attack is also most common among young adults. Among respondents aged 18 to 24 in the 2020 FRA survey on LGBTI, 14 % experienced such an attack in the 5 years before the survey, compared to 7 % among respondents who are 55+. (FRA, 2020).
Incidents of physical violence against men most often take place in public settings (39 %), such as streets, parks or other public places. Incidents of physical violence against women most often take place in their own home (37 %) (FRA, 2021). Women experience physical violence from the closest people to whom they should turn for unconditional love and support, intimacy, and care, and above all, from whom they should not expect abuse or harm.
The crimes that happen behind the closed doors of the home are harder to track, report and justly examine. In addition, being young is linked to higher rates of victimisation across all EU countries. It is an experience that can be as violent as the incidents of violence themselves: when young women find courage in themselves to report violence, they face claims that for what had happened to them, they can and should blame only themselves.
When asked if any of the physical violence involved incidents of a sexual nature, slightly more women (13 %) than men (10 %) said yes, with 34 % of these women saying that they experienced psychological consequences as a result (compared to 9 % of the men in the respective group) (FRA, 2021).
In the EU, one in three women has experienced some form of physical and/or sexual assault since the age of 15 (FRA, 2014).
One in 10 women has experienced some form of sexual violence (FRA, 2014).
On many measures of violence, the highest prevalence rates, again, are observed in the youngest age group, women who are 18–29 years old (FRA, 2014).
From my experience in women’s rights advocacy, analysis and policy making, quite often this data is treated with mistrust, arguments being that women overstate their experiences, that surveys are methodologically flawed, that low rates of reporting to police show that the problems are not that significant (the double victimisation is not seen as responsible for this), and, regarding the young, that they are “too sensitive” and overstate the harm of other people’s acts.
But what figures can’t tell, maybe emotions, expressed through art, can.
To me, the artworks in this contest showed that young people experience all kinds of violence – psychological, physical, and sexual – and that shatters their worldviews, personalities, relationships with their friends, families, people in close and distant environments, and most importantly, themselves.
I have to say I did cry while watching some of the short movies and reading the writings of such young souls harmed to the core already. The level of detail, of sensibility, of strength and authenticity and at the same time universality of the emotions that burden survivors of violence in some artworks showed clearly to me that the creation comes from experience, sometimes the most terrible experience of violence I could imagine, and deep reflection.
We know from psychologists’ research that sexual violence, including and particularly intimate partner violence, is profoundly damaging in many respects and does leave an imprint on people’s lives. Beyond psychological distress and health problems potentially staying with survivors for the lifetime, in the young age, it interrupts and potentially negatively impacts identity formation processes (e.g. Truskauskaite-Kuneviciene et al., 2020). During the period when young people should be searching for themselves, diving into the topics that interest them, actively searching for new areas where they have a potential, discovering themselves and other people, building relationships, networks, organisations – freely, passionately and without fear – some youngsters, mostly girls, are deprived of the very sense that they are full persons who matter in this world, consequently holding them back from what this life has to offer of good to them.
Even if young women do not experience violence, they are subject to sexual harassment. Every two women in the EU experienced one or more forms of the sexual harassment since the age of 15. Young women aged between 18 and 29 years are most vulnerable to sexual harassment (FRA, 2014).
If the girl accidentally falls into the lucky half of the womanhood in Europe that does not experience violence or harassment, she is likely to be always aware and afraid of it. Surveys show that younger women are generally more worried than older women or men about the threat of physical or sexual assault by both strangers and non-strangers. This has daily material consequences: they take more risk avoidance measures by avoiding certain situations or places, planning where and when they can and cannot be, every day (FRA, 2014).
This has to change.
And I have to say I also did cry while watching videos and looking through the images in which I saw how alert to unfairness of these experiences the young people are, how intolerant to violence they are and how they strive the society to change and to be free of violence, how attentive they are to their posttraumatic growth both personally and within healthy relationships, and, most importantly, how support and solidarity in friends’ networks play a key role in their artworks, giving me hope it mirrors their real friendships. I was amazed by the symbols of solidarity between women used in the poster “The Hands of Truth”, by the depiction of care and support given by girlfriends to the one trapped in psychologically abusive relationships in the winner video in the respective category, and, finally, I did, I have to admit, burst into tears in the end of the winning video, when boys who played a role of abusers in the short story in the end came out with a strong message:
“If I love a girl, I want her to be free. […]
I am young, I still do not know what love is, but inside of me, I know that it is not violent.”
My voice breaks reading those lines as I remember the boy who read them in front of the camera and his peers, courageously and authentically, and I feel that this not only should empower his peers and everyone who sees the artwork, but signals a profound change in how we see gender-based violence and who fights against it.
This contest hurt me in many ways, again and again making me see that the violent nature of relationships does not fade as generations change. I experienced violence in intimate relationships when I was still at school, and today I read the experiences of young girls (and boys!) as if they were giving words to my experiences quite many years ago.
But this contest also gave me hope, seeing how alert to violence, how supportive of each other’s efforts to go out of violent relationships and how solidary in their fight for the cause to end all kinds of violence girls and boys were, as depicted in the artworks, hopefully supposing that this is something taken as a norm or at least an ideal among today’s adolescents.
It also gives me inspiration to continue working towards comprehensive sexual education in schools, towards awareness raising in the wider society and all its sectors – families, schools, communities, institutions responsible for preventive measures, as well as safety and justice, and continue reflecting on and building positive and healthy relationships – intimate, familial, communal, – filled with respect for every one person, and full respect to those with whom we create intimate relationships.
Continue until we achieve, and as soon as possible, that not one person finds herself or himself in violent relationships or violent situations, and not one young soul is shattered to pieces by terrible experiences that some of our contestants wrote about.
And if our young generation is more alert to violence, more able to identify it and call it out, than any other generation before, this is for the better. This is the start.
I hope that everyone who has been involved in this project will take the message that the contest conveys to us – violence is still with us but it will no longer define us – with the sense of responsibility and inspiration. I hope we will continue developing what Children First has started. Building on produced educational tools, the discussion that the project launched and the networks it has formed, I hope we will continue to reach out to schools, families, communities, and society as a whole to empower everyone to reflect on their relationships and what they want them to be.
Huge thank you to everyone who has been developing this project. The educational material and the discussion started by the project is the great base for all of us to continue making a positive impact.
FRA (2021). Crime, safety and victims’ rights.
FRA (2020). A long way to go for LGBTI equality.
FRA (2014). Violence against women: an EU-wide survey Main results.
Truskauskaite-Kuneviciene, I., Brailovskaia, J., Kamite, Y., Petrauskaite, G., Margraf, J. and Kazlauskas, E. (2020). “Does Trauma Shape Identity? Exploring the Links Between Lifetime Trauma Exposure and Identity Status in Emerging Adulthood”. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7522346/
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Congratulations to winners of the contest!
“It hurts – What hurts during dating” – Akvilė V., 18 years old – Lithuania
“Giò’s story” – collective video made by Milena B., Andrea C., Lucia D., Emma F., Paris G., Alessia G., Aurora M., Asia M., Eduardo M., Giorgia M., Chiara P., Iolanda P., Ciro S., Giulia S., Mattia T., Diego T., Andrea Z., Nicolo G., Beatrice F., Andrea C., Linda B., Biancia A., Eduardo B. – Italy
“You” – Mason Turbard, 17 years old – United Kingdom
Please be warned that some artworks contain emotionally disturbing content.