'I experienced domestic violence at 16'

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Media captionTaylah Douglas describes how her relationship became violent

Teenage girls are the group most at risk from violent relationships, according to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

But teenagers experiencing abuse often get little help, slipping through the cracks between child protection and domestic violence services.

One girl who experienced this first hand, Taylah Douglas, has spoken to BBC Newsnight about what happened.

"When I first met him it was good, he was my first proper boyfriend and it was kind of like a movie," Taylah says of the boyfriend she met when they were both 16 years old.

Within a short space of time, still aged 16, she moved in with him and his family.

"He properly turned into a different person about two or three months into the relationship," she says. "He would call me fat and ugly and he would call me a slut.

"He started to push me and pull me. He would burn me with lighters, then it got onto hitting, punching and slapping."

The boy told her that she could not return to her own family home and confiscated her mobile phone. Without the money for a train ticket and in the face of further violence, Taylah says she felt isolated and alone.

The abuse worsened with him hitting her harder and harder until, Taylah says, she came to a sudden realisation that she had to leave.

"I just woke up one day and I felt different, I knew that if I didn't leave it was going to end up in a really bad way. I didn't know if he was going to kill me or what was going to happen."

Taylah fled the house, leaving all of her belongings behind, and sought help from the council.

"When they first offered me housing they offered me a bed and breakfast which is on the same road as my ex-boyfriend's house," she recalls.

Like many victims of domestic violence, Taylah found that leaving her partner was not the end of the problem.

According to leading domestic abuse charity Women's Aid, the most dangerous time for a victim is when they break from their partner.

Figures focused on domestic violence homicide in London show that 76% of killings happen after the victim leaves.

Taylah was forced to move a total of seven times, but on each occasion her ex-boyfriend tracked her down.

"In one of my hostels he showed up, he forced his way in and he threw a microwave at my head," she recalls.

"I went unconscious for a few minutes, probably not for a very long time, but long enough that I woke up and found myself on the other side of the room and he was stamping all over me - on my head, on my body."

One of Taylah's neighbours phoned an ambulance and she was taken to hospital. A nurse called the police, but when the officers went to her ex-boyfriend's house he was not there and he remained free.

Taylah admits that despite the severity of the assault, she told the nurse not to call the police.

She says that she had contacted the police many times in the past seeking protection from her ex-boyfriend, but had found it a largely fruitless exercise.

"I called the police about 20 times, but he was only arrested once and he was held overnight in a cell, but then he was released the next morning and since then nothing has happened," she says.

Taylah also says that sometimes the police would ask her in front of her ex-boyfriend whether she wanted to press charges or not.

"I didn't want to say anything in front of my boyfriend because obviously it is a really awkward situation," she says.

Now aged 18, Taylah says that at the time she was being victimised by her ex-boyfriend she had no idea how common her experience was.

At no point was she told about support or counselling by the police or offered a place in a refuge for victims of domestic violence.

"I didn't even know what a refuge was," she says.

Such facilities are already overstretched, however; according to Women's Aid, on a typical day 320 women are turned away from refuges in England because of lack of space.

The authorities are waking up to the issue of domestic violence in teenage relationships. In 2010, a £2m government-funded TV, radio, internet and poster campaign was unveiled.

Image caption After leaving her abusive partner, Taylah Douglas was forced to move seven times

The adverts targeted boys and girls aged 13 to 18, urging them not to use violence against their girlfriends.

Chief Constable Carmel Napier, the police's national lead of domestic abuse, says that police forces across England and Wales are setting up a training programme which draws on the experience of people like Taylah to help officers understand the impact that their actions have when they turn up to an incident.

And she says that other strategies to help tackle the issue are planned.

"We are doing work with the Home Office to alter the definition of domestic abuse to also include young people right down to the age of age of 16," she says.

"We are piloting a scheme called 'domestic violence protection orders' which removes the individual, the perpetrator, from the home, which enables proper safety planning and for the victim to make choices over a period of time."

However, Chief Constable Napier accepts that there needs to be greater understanding from officers.

"We've got an awful lot of work to do in relation to getting police officers to understand that actually young people are in relationships at a much younger age and to understand that this is not acceptable whatever the age."

Watch Newsnight's full report on domestic violence in teenage relationships on Tuesday 24 April 2012 at 10.30pm on BBC Two, then afterwards on the BBC iPlayer and Newsnight website.

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