YouTube and Twitter are usually prime places for youngsters to mock ministers, whip up dissent and do battle with the government. So why have a range of social media's brightest stars just joined forces with it?
Charlie McDonnell, Jamal Edwards, Mandem on the Wall and Twist and Pulse (who have many millions of impressionable subscribers between them) have each produced their own video on the subject of sexual consent and abuse within relationships. It is a new phase of the Home Office's This Is Abuse campaign, this time specifically targeting male teenagers online to prevent domestic violence in adulthood.
The project sits against a backdrop of quite astonishing levels of abuse – and ignorance – among British children. A third of girls and 16 per cent of boys have experienced sexual violence from a boyfriend or girlfriend, according to the NSPCC, and when it comes to emotional violence from a partner, three quarters of girls and half of boys have been victims.
Almost a third of young people say they did not learn about consent in sex education lessons, according to a survey by the National Children's Bureau. And research by the Office of the Children's Commissioner found that "the notion of actively seeking consent is largely alien to young people", for whom sexual violence and coercion perpetrated by other youngsters has become "normalised". Only one in 12 of those interviewed said young people would be likely to report sexual crimes or even speak to a friend.
The films, which went live yesterday, are designed to reach boys in language and on platforms that they will relate to, as part of an ongoing Home Office drive (which has included slots on MTV and ads that tied into a Hollyoaks storyline). For their part, the new media mavens say they see it as their duty to raise serious issues with their audiences – and perhaps also provide a counterbalance in an age of sexting and popstars who garner number one hits celebrating "Blurred Lines".
Mandem on the Wall is an online comedy series starring three young actors and writers, whose first episode broached the London riots. Weren't they hesitant about teaming up with an arm of the state? Dee Kartier, one of the trio, says: "That's something a lot of people are afraid of, because you think you're going to lose that cool factor if you do. But we've built up a nice relationship with our fans. They understand us." His co-star, Percelle Ascott, 20, adds: "We have a massive influence on the younger generation, but we take great privilege in that."
"As a young man, it's hard to admit that you're wrong sometimes," says 26-year-old Kartier. "When I was growing up, the status of being a man in society was about being tough and having an exterior. I felt that showing that part of you was almost too sensitive sometimes. The main thing is, we want people to talk."
However, while the Coalition thinks discussion of these issues is important, it seems that this only stretches as far as YouTube – and not the classroom. At exactly the same time as the Home Office is promoting pre-emptive messages, the Department for Education is steadfastly rejecting calls (from Mumsnet and Women's Aid, among others) for teaching about relationships to be made compulsory in all schools. So much for joined-up Government.
Crime prevention minister Norman Baker tells The Independent that his team takes the agenda seriously because: "We have a duty to minimise harm to young people in particular. Women have generally been treated pretty badly by men for centuries, really. There's that historic legacy to deal with."
And his explanation for the contradiction across departments: "I don't think it's a Tory/ Lib Dem thing," he insists. "I think these things come down to philosophy and personality as much as anything else."
Holly Dustin, of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, heaps praise on the Home Office for "really leading the way". But she describes Education Secretary Michael Gove's position as "a bit baffling". "It's disappointing. It means that a really good policy and campaign won't have the impact it should."Reuse content