The words from 1 Corinthians 13 of the Bible are most likely being spoken at a wedding somewhere just now. Those words declare that “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs”, that “it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres”. Those words describe a kind of love which is beautiful and attractive but, unfortunately, one that is so far removed from the experience of so many young people.
According to a recent ChildLine Scotland study, ‘dating violence’ in the forms of physical and sexual abuse was reported in increasing number by 12-18 year olds. Similarly, an online study found that 42% of young people knew girls whose’ boyfriends had hit them’ and 40% knew girls whose boyfriends had ‘coerced them to have sex’ (EVAW 2006). Recent local police records have shown a significant rise in reports of domestic abuse amongst 16-19 year olds. The reality is that Aberdeen’s young people are growing up in a local and global culture which encourages gender inequality and subsequently gender violence.
“16 Days of Activism” is a United Nations initiative raising awareness and combating gender violence. The sixteen days fall between the UN Day of Elimination of Violence against Women (25th Nov) and International Human Rights Day (10th Dec). As part of a programme to prevent unhealthy relationships and violence Choices spent a week of lunchtimes in St Machar Academy encouraging pupils to think about what positive relationships look like. With statistics and facts about abuse and the effects of physical and emotional violence in relationships scrolling on a powerpoint presentation, the team encouraged reflection on positive relationships. Pupils were invited to think and write about their own hopes for any future relationships before hanging them on a portable tree. To initially attract a crowd, the prize of two cinema tickets with food included (the classic teenage date) were advertised for all participants.
This activity based intervention invited the young people to engage with us on their own terms, which proved to be very successful and provided opportunity for remarkable conversation with the youth workers. Young people’s conception of a truly positive relationship really grew as they bounced ideas back and forth with friends and the team, and for others who apparently struggled to articulate their hopes the writing element of the activity proved key. A number of the young people found it much easier to identify what they wanted to avoid than what they wanted to aim for.
While we are aware of the vulnerabilities and often low expectations of the young people we work with we see here a deep and real desire for something closer to the love described in Corinthians 13 and we see our work as to help awaken it. Have a look at what they wrote…