In the Chamber: 27th November – Violence against Women.

Rhoda’s speech in the Scottish Parliament debate
The debate has become an annual occurrence to mark the 16 days of activism against violence against women.
I agree with Annie Wells that we need to have many more such debates throughout the year to work on the issue and to make sure that we eradicate violence against women.
In such debates, we often congratulate ourselves on the work that Parliament has done—from the first committee bill, which was piloted by Maureen Macmillan, that gave greater protection to victims, to the latest bill that legislated to make coercive control an offence.
Sadly, we also debate what still needs to be done—which shows us that although we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.
Violence against women is not a problem with women.
It is a problem with a minority of men, yet they seem to be able to define our society’s norms.
Sexually motivated crime is rising.
Although some of the reporting that we see is historical, the trend is upward, which shows that there is, on the part of some men, a growing sense of entitlement to the right to sex without consent.
Sadly, many of our young people are getting much of their sex education from the internet, which leads to their having that sense. Hard-core pornography influences how young people see sexual relationships and leads to a sense of entitlement and to sexual violence.
In order to counteract that, we have to ensure that children have access to high-quality sex education that includes education on respect and consent. I also welcome the extension to all schools of Rape Crisis Scotland’s prevention programme.
However, the matter is not only for our schools to tackle; it is also for our parents and, indeed, for our society as a whole to tackle.
We need to make hard-core pornography less accessible. In this age of technology, that should not be difficult.
Search engine companies and internet service providers must introduce protection, but so far they have faced no pressure to act.
Will the Government explore how it can bring its influence to bear on such companies in order to make them act?
Secondly, I will speak about commercial sexual exploitation, which was touched on by my colleague, Elaine Smith.
From phone chatlines to prostitution, such exploitation has been recognised as being a form of violence against women since our very first strategy, but little has been done to discourage it.
Indeed, austerity has driven women into commercial sexual exploitation; cuts have had a greater impact on women, and universal credit, the two-child cap and the rape clause all mean that women are struggling to feed their families.
The choice is stark—lose your children or sell sex.
That is simply wrong.
As mentioned by others, Philip Alston, the United Nations’ rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, described our welfare system as something that could have been compiled by
“a group of misogynists in a room”.
Therefore, I appeal to the Scottish Government to use its powers to repeal the two-child cap and, with it, the rape clause, because the inequality in our welfare system breeds inequality in our society.
We cannot have an equal society when women are a commodity to be bought and sold.
That situation encourages trafficking and slavery.
Although it is a crime to buy sex from a person who has been trafficked, we have yet to see anyone being prosecuted for that crime.
Prostitution damages health and it damages society: those who are forced into or resort to prostitution never leave unscathed.
Many women and men in prostitution have been victims of child sex abuse or have been in care.
People who have already been badly let down are then used as commodities rather than being supported.
That is simply wrong: it must be tackled, and we must learn today what the Government is doing to make Scotland a place where buying sex is no longer acceptable.
Much of the focus on violence against women has been on domestic abuse.
We have some of the best legislation in the world on that, but we need to go further.
My casework tells me that abusers will stop at nothing to assert their control.
An obvious target is children.
Too often, we read in the newspapers about children being murdered by a person’s abusive partner, simply as a means of attacking the mother.
Few of us can believe that anyone would go to those lengths, but it happens, and far too often.
However, the use of access arrangements as a route to coercive control and abuse is more common.
Our family courts appear to have little understanding of domestic abuse, and they force abused partners to take part in mediation and grant access to abusive partners.
No abuser should have the right to see their children, but repeatedly women are forced to send their children to an abusive partner and to live in fear of what will happen to the children while they are with that partner.
If they refuse, they are threatened with loss of their access and, in some cases, their liberty.
How cruel is that?
The abusive partner often changes arrangements in order to exercise their control, and uses access to find out information about their victim, thereby creating conflict and stress for the children.
They also find out where their children live and can use that information to perpetrate further abuse.
If a parent is abusive, their parental rights need to be removed until such time as they can prove to their ex-partner and the courts that they are no longer a threat.
The Government is considering that, but we need legislation urgently because children are being damaged now.
The children of an abusive relationship are damaged by that relationship; it affects their mental health and their self-esteem.
Their becoming the vehicle for that abuse makes their situation so much worse: we need to protect them from abuse and to create safe homes for them to grow up in.
We hear of the impact that adverse childhood experiences have on children and how they damage their life chances.
Domestic abuse is an adverse childhood experience, so the state must protect children from it.
I hope that we will reach the day when this annual debate is all about celebrating the end of violence against women.
Until then, we need to use the debate to raise awareness of concerns and to prevail upon the Government to act.
later ….
The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame):
I call Rhoda Grant to close the debate for Labour.
Rhoda :
This has been a really interesting debate.
Everyone has agreed that more must be done to combat violence against women by putting in place a growing list of actions.
Central to the debate has been equality—equality of power, equality of access to finance and equality of esteem. If we do not have that equality, we will never eradicate violence against women, so we need to work continually on things that will put that right.
A lot of the debate has been about sexual harassment.
The #MeToo campaign was mentioned by many members, which is not surprising. Kezia Dugdale gave voice to how we all felt about the anonymous survey that was carried out in Parliament.
We all expected better from this workplace; we should be leading and not allowing the behaviour that was highlighted in the survey to occur.
I declare an interest, as I was one of the people on the sexual harassment working group.
We tried to address some of the issues as part of the work of that group.
Kezia Dugdale talked about anonymous reporting that would trigger an investigation eventually, if a course of conduct—a behaviour—was highlighted.
The responses to the questionnaire suggest that some individuals were constantly abusing their power, and we need to deal with that.
Annie Wells talked about the culture of respect workshops and about how we need to change the bystander culture in Parliament in order to encourage people to come forward and tackle abuse when they see it happening.
An imbalance in power and a male culture cause a lot of the problems, as Maurice Corry pointed out.
However, that is not always the case: we would not say that this Parliament has a male culture, but such behaviour goes on under the radar and we do not pick it up.
Sexual harassment in the workplace equates to sexual exploitation, because it involves a trade of sex for career progression or, at the other end of the spectrum, for any kind of work.
When someone’s boss has control over their zero-hours contract, they are in a very difficult position if their boss wants to abuse their power—ultimately, they might not be able to work.
Violence against women relates to the power imbalance, making work and money tools for harassment and exploitation.
Alison Harris and Kezia Dugdale mentioned the fear of reporting and the impact on individuals who report.
Perpetrators play on that fear, because they know that people will not report.
We need to do something about that to ensure that that fear no longer exists and that we protect those who report harassment.
Several members talked about the justice system, including John Finnie, Sandra White and Angela Constance.
We should give credit to Police Scotland: if its setting up did one thing, it was that it changed the police’s attitude to domestic abuse.
Since its inception, Police Scotland has taken action to deal with domestic abuse.
There are still pockets within the police service that require improvement, but checks and balances have been put in place that make it much easier to report domestic abuse.
We are seeing the benefits of that in the increased level of reporting.
The judicial system has improved, too, but it has a lot further to go.
We must look at our laws to see whether we can make further improvements to help people through that system by assisting them with the making of statements, the court process and the like.
Liam McArthur mentioned forensic medical examinations. It was unacceptable that people from Orkney and Shetland had to go off island to receive such examinations, sometimes—in fact, most of the time—in the clothes that they were wearing when they were attacked.
We must make sure that people have the same access to justice, regardless of where in Scotland they live.
Claudia Beamish talked about the additional issues that women in rural areas face with access not just to justice but to escape routes, transport and finance.
It was moving to listen to Angela Constance talk about her experience as a prison social worker and the work that she did with people who had perpetrated such abuse.
Work to address that behaviour through things such as the Caledonian programme is important, but we must address it much earlier on.
We must ingrain in our young boys and girls that such behaviour is unacceptable.
The media must also send that message, and I welcome the work that is being done through the media to stop the imbalance in reporting.
Often, the reporting of what happens in our society is very sexist.
I am sure that we all agree that the problem of violence against women is the problem of men’s violence against women—that is why the cross-party group on the issue is called the cross-party group on men’s violence against women and children.
It is good to hear that there are men who understand that it is their duty to change the idea that men find it acceptable to abuse women.
Mention has been made of the many organisations that do work in that area, including White Ribbon, Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, Zero Tolerance and the Women’s Support Project.
I join others in congratulating those organisations, and I also congratulate individuals such as the woman who spoke to James Dornan, and Fiona and Germain Drouet, who, despite their own problems and issues, are working to stop other people suffering such abuse.
We must make progress on violence against women, because there is much to do.
We need to build a society that supports and values women and treats them equally.
I make a plea to the Scottish Government to use all its powers to protect women from the excesses of the UK welfare state, which ingrains that inequality.
Rhoda’s speech can also be read at :