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A young person's guide to escaping the trap of harmful, toxic and hurtful relationships.

Escape the TRAP: Teenage Relationship Abuse Programme

Programme rationale

Escape the Trap (Teenage Relationship Abuse Programme, TRAP) has been developed in acknowledgement of the rising numbers of young people identified as being vulnerable to intimate relationship abuse. The statistics on the prevalence of teenage relationship abuse and its’ impact on the wellbeing and mental health of young people who find themselves victims of such coercion and control, do not make for happy reading.

Within society, there is a common misapprehension that any person being abused has some understanding of what has happened to them. However, we know this is simply not the case. More commonly, anyone being subjected to abuse feels that they are in the middle of a very confusing mess and that it is somehow their fault.

Escape the Trap, is a simple, straightforward and above all accessible programme that can be used in any setting with young people, whether working with groups or one to one. It is designed to support young people to learn about the dynamics of grooming, coercion and power & control at a much earlier stage in their experience of intimate relationships.

Part of the learning about coercive and controlling behaviours and sexual coercion and abuse throughout the programme, will be achieved by exploring gender inequalities and how such inequality impacts and shapes our beliefs, behaviours and barriers to seeking help. This learning will apply equally to the societal expectations of males and females in heterosexual and LGBTQ+ relationships.

It is widely acknowledged that domestic & sexual violence and abuse is undoubtedly a gender issue, experienced disproportionately by females. However, it is clear, that growing numbers of young people are using coercive and controlling behaviours including sexual coercion in their early relationships, compounded by access to digital technology, social media and porn.

Programme structure

How does Escape the TRAP work?

Over eight weeks the core part of the programme addresses:

  • young peoples’ expectations of their intimate relationships
  • the behaviours and beliefs of those who treat them badly
  • identifying the things abusive partners may say and do to them
  • the experience of coercive control & bullying
  • the switching of tactics
  • emotional abuse
  • sexual coercion and abuse
  • how this behaviour impacts the way young people might feel about themselves, their mental health and emotional well‑being
  • feeling isolated and alone, guilty and to blame for what is happening to them
  • how to identify such behaviour early on in a new relationship
Escape the Trap encourages participants to consider how they interpret what is happening to them and the context of their experience and how such thinking can be re-enforced by the wider community and society at large. The programme also focuses on how being treated with respect, care and love might be experienced.
The programme can be delivered in any school, youth setting, children’s centre, youth service or specialist agency by trained, experienced facilitators, in groups or 1:1.

Escape the Trap is aimed primarily at 13 – 16 yr olds. However, trained facilitators are also using it with 12+, teenage mothers, college/university students and young adults up to 25yrs.

There will be significant differences in the maturity and life experience of each young person doing the programme. The choice of exercises reflects this, ensuring, that as well as the core part of each weekly session, there are suggested exercises and research, designed to illustrate the learning. Facilitators can choose exercises to meet the specific needs of the young people in their groups.
Escape the Trap is designed to work over a 1.5hr or 2hr session, as session times will vary group to group, depending on where the group is run, either in school, other youth settings or children’s centres. For example, lesson times vary from school to school, so facilitators can use their discretion in choosing which of the exercises will work best in the time they have. There are exercises to be completed each week involving working individually, in pairs or as a whole group. The programme has an accompanying workbook.

Young people’s feedback

The group really worked well for me because I realised I’m not alone and the only person who has experienced issues. I have got closer to someone who understands and would say go for it and take it seriously.

(14yrs)

I would say the programme helps teenage girls to identify abuse and that the programme helps you to speak out

(13yrs)

The best course I have ever done. It open’s your eyes.

(15yrs)

Most of us had experienced different types of abuse, and different situations. I would say do Escape the Trap, it’s really helpful

(14yrs)

The programme was eye opening, surprising, interesting and worth doing. I think the programme should be done in PHSE lessons and on the curriculum. We have some sex education but nothing about abusive relationships, plus considering a lot of it is teenage relationships, teenagers go to high school.

(13yrs)

In response to week 5 of the programme – the Taker – ‘Write a poem or lyrics for a song’:

When I wake up, I cover the pain with make up, from your names, and your games, bit by bit, with every horrible hit, you slowly, kill me.

(15yrs)

The programme has made me aware that anyone can be in an abusive relationship and that 80% of abused girls carry on dating their abuser. I’m not the only one who has been in that situation.

(15yrs)

Attending group is like a place you go to find out about relationships and how to be in a happy position without pushing anyone away – It’s helpful and easy to get an understanding about abuse.

(13yrs)

The group really helped me understand why the abuse happened to me. It is very informative and helpful.

(14yrs)

The group helped me to express my feelings and emotions. The programme is really good and I would advise anyone who has been though domestic abuse to attend the programme.

(14yrs)

Weekly outline

Each week of the programme consists of:

  • Objectives
  • Discussion based exercises
  • Creative activities
  • Self-reflection
  • Research
  • Outcomes

Week 1: The Partner

Objectives

  • To introduce the young people to the purpose, structure and overview of the programme.
  • To encourage a collaborative approach in developing the Group Agreement.
  • To explore and discuss what we consider our ideal partner to be like and how that compares to the ‘Partner’.

Week 2: The Controller

Objectives

  • ​To explore our ideal partner in contrast to a partner using coercive and controlling behaviours.
  • To explore why some young people hurt and abuse their partners.
  • To identify the tactics and behaviours used by controlling partners and the impact on us.
  • To address common myths about teenage relationship abuse.

Week 3: The Charmer

Objectives

  • To explore the tactics, behaviours and beliefs of a partner who uses charm and persuasion to control their partner and how to identify such behaviour in the early stages of an intimate relationship.
  • To understand how being charmed, coerced and lied to impacts us both emotionally and psychologically, and how we interpret such feelings.
  • To examine the qualities of a person who accepts us and treats us well in our intimate relationships.

Week 4: The Bully

Objectives

  • To explore the tactics, behaviours and beliefs of a partner who uses bullying to control their partner and how bullies introduce such behaviour in the early stages of an intimate relationship.
  • To understand how bullying impacts a person both emotionally and psychologically, and how such feelings are interpreted.
  • To examine what qualities a person might have who does not bully or use controlling behaviour in their relationships.

Week 5: The Mindmixer

Objectives

  • To explore the tactics, behaviours and beliefs of a partner who ‘mindmixes’ their partner and how to identify such behaviour in the early stages of an intimate relationship.
  • To understand how being ‘mindmixed’ impacts us both emotionally and psychologically and how we interpret such feelings.
  • To examine the qualities of a person who is supportive and treats us well in our intimate relationships.

Week 6: The Taker

Objectives

  • To explore the tactics, behaviours and beliefs of a partner who tries to sexually coerce and control their partner and how to identify such behaviour in the early stages of an intimate relationship.
  • To understand how being coerced sexually impacts us both emotionally and psychologically and how we interpret such feelings.
  • To examine the qualities of a person who treats us well in our intimate relationships.

Week 7: The Keeper

Objectives

  • To explore the tactics, behaviours and beliefs of a partner who tries to socially isolate and control their partner and how to identify such behaviour in the early stages of an intimate relationship.
  • To understand how being socially isolated impacts on us both emotionally and psychologically and how we interpret such feelings.
  • To examine the qualities of a person who treats us well in our intimate relationships.

Week 8: How to Spot the Controller

Objectives

  • To explore the tactics, behaviours and beliefs of the Controller in the early stages of an intimate relationship.
  • Young people will explore their options around what to do and where to get help if they find themselves in an abusive relationship.