What it feels like for a girl

This week on The Teens' Speech, we're talking about relationships. A subject that might initially conjure sweet reminiscences of first kisses and bittersweet pangs of romantic yearning, but upon closer scrutiny, reveals an altogether darker, more complex issue.

Research published in September 2009 revealed a third of teenage girls in a relationship suffer unwanted sexual acts and a quarter physical violence.

And according to a study of 14- to 21-year-olds by the women's rights group Engender, one in three girls and one in two boys thought there were circumstances in which it could be acceptable to hit a woman or force her to have sex.

Professor David Berridge, Professor of Child and Family Welfare at Bristol University, recently commented: "The high rate and harmful impact of violence in teenagers' intimate relationships, especially for girls, is appalling. It was shocking to find that exploitation and violence in relationships starts so young. This is a serious issue that must be given higher priority by policy makers and professionals."

Too right, mate. It definitely needs looking at. But, the unanswered question that overshadows this whole problem is 'why?'.

Why do young boys think that violence is an acceptable means to getting what they want? Who told them it was ok? Perhaps, more pertinently, who told them it wasn't?

A study by the Department for Children, Schools and Families' in 2006 found three-quarters of 11-to- 14-year-olds wished it was easier to talk to their parents about sex. But, more than half of parents (55%) held back from talking about sex, the survey suggests, because of embarrassment about how to start.

Is it really possible that a personal sense of embarrassment in talking about sex is contributing to the suffering of young girls? Do our closest interpersonal relationships really have a direct effect on the overall well-being of the nation?

We can't be expected to take responsibility for the welfare of all children - can we?