Ending Violence Against Women and Children

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Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

1 December 2016

The 16 days of activism against gender-based violence always provide us with an opportunity to debate violence against women.

Although we have debates over the year on different aspects of violence against women, we have the opportunity to use this debate to highlight gaps in services and ideas for improved support and service provision.

I have campaigned for some time on access to domestic abuse courts in the Highlands and Islands.

We have seen how they have worked well in other places, allowed practitioners to build up knowledge and understanding and allowed services to be put in place to support victims on the day.

A court can be daunting enough for anybody, but especially if they are to come face to face with someone who leaves them afraid and diminished.

We need that level of support to be available to every victim. In our more remote rural areas, we cannot have separate buildings and a separate court, but we can have days set aside to deal with domestic abuse cases.

Our amendment calls for three-year funding.

That is really important for women’s aid groups, whose national and local funding is being cut at a time when we are asking them to do more. If they knew when cases were to be in court, they could use their resources better to support their clients while reaching out to others who have not yet accessed their services.

That would save them money and mean that one support worker could spend a day in court to cover all the cases.

Currently, different support workers may need to be at court on every sitting day, but that is impossible with decreasing resources. It must be incredibly disheartening for support workers to do that often harrowing work while they carry around their redundancy notice.

That happens all too often. Although most workers are used to that annual occurrence, others are not, and they often move to more secure jobs.

If they have experienced the redundancy situation before, they may be used to it, but as funds get tighter, they begin to wonder whether this is the day when redundancy will really happen for them. In the past two years, people have been within days of losing their jobs before the Government announced the budgets.

That needs to stop.

If we add to that the lack of pay rises for many people as budgets are cut, we are asking people to do the most difficult jobs while we mostly take them for granted when it comes to rewards, security and pay rises.

We are all signed up to equally safe.

Tackling every aspect of violence against women is equally important.

We recognise that commercial sexual exploitation is violence against women—that is recognised in “Equally Safe”—but we have no laws to deal with the perpetrators of that form of gender-based violence, and that is simply wrong.

I recently read a book by Kat Banyard in which she says: “The resistance faced by those working to abolish the sex trade can sometimes simply be the quiet brute force of mass indifference”.

To be frank, that is often what the Parliament feels like.

We know that the sex trade is wrong and we know that it is violence, but the “brute force of mass indifference” means that we do not act.

We must act now.

There was supposed to be a workstream on that in the equally safe approach, but there is no strategy.

Some time ago, I spoke to people from an organisation that had services to help survivors of child sex abuse, which we all take seriously.

When they set up the service, they were quickly struck by the number in their client group who had been involved in prostitution.

The abuse that those people suffered as children carried on into adulthood, which left them with complex problems.

We rightly condemn the abuse of a child, but we seem indifferent to the abuse of an adult, even when they are the same person.

That is not a unique pattern; it is commonly known and recognised.

I hope that the Scottish Government will now act.

It must protect the exploited, whether or not they are trafficked, because they are all abused.

I make a final plea with regard to parental access when there has been a history of domestic abuse. Far too often, the courts allow children to be used as weapons by an abusive partner.

Surely an abuser should automatically lose all their parental rights because of their abuse.

They have damaged the children already, and that damage will be with the children for the rest of their days.

Parental rights should be returned only when the person can prove that they are a fit and proper parent—nothing else will do.

We have come a long way in the Parliament on dealing with violence against women.

Sadly, we have some distance yet to travel before we eliminate it altogether, but I hope that we are all ready to finish that journey.

Let us see mass action on violence against women rather than mass indifference.