Beatrice Wishart challenges media on reporting violence against women and girls

Thursday was White Ribbon Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. At Holyrood MSPs paused for a minutes silence to remember those women murdered by men over this past year.

Later there was a debate on ways to eradicate men’s violence against women. Beatrice Wishart, our MSP for Shetland, who has a long record of helping women who have suffered domestic abuse made a brilliant speech in which she called for a Commission to look at ways of ending men’s violence against women in all its forms. She drew attention to the way the media reports violence against women, often victim shaming and she talked particularly about how they talk about this awful practice of “spiking”, drugging someone’s drink in order to assault them.

You can watch her speech here. The text is below:

I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests. I am a trustee of Shetland Women’s Aid.

I, too, pay tribute to Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and other services and individuals across Scotland for the good work that they do, not just on international day for the elimination of violence against women, but every day. It is worth saying again that 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the global 16 days of activism campaign. It has been 30 years, and, each year, the debate exchanges statistics that are unacceptable and horrific, as Pam Duncan-Glancy stated.

The World Health Organisation estimates that about one in three women worldwide will, in their lifetime, be subjected to

“either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.”

It is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights, and we know that Covid has impacted on women’s equality progress across the globe.

Earlier this year, Jess Phillips MP, the UK shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, read out the names of the 118 women who had been killed in the preceding year and in whose case a man had been convicted or charged as the primary perpetrator. It took her a little over four minutes and the list did not include the names of the women referenced in the motion, who were tragically killed after March this year.

The number of domestic abuse incidents reported by Police Scotland has risen for the fourth year in a row, with one in four women in Scotland experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetime. Domestic violence is a plague that not only affects women but impacts whole households. Children are tragically caught in it, too. It was seeing the lifelong impact of domestic abuse on children and the financial abuse of women that drew me into my voluntary trustee role.

I know that all speakers in the debate are striving to ensure that women and girls across the globe and closer to home can live their lives free from fear. Scottish Liberal Democrats have previously called for—and we do so again—the establishment of the new commission to look at ways of preventing men’s violence against women and girls in all its forms, to ensure a co-ordinated approach across all levels of government. Along with providing increased training for those who work in education and on the front line in public authorities, we can work together to build better public understanding of the drivers behind violence against women and take action to eradicate it.

The media, including social media, has a significant role to play in how it reports violence against women and girls. The subtle—and sometimes not so subtle—headline victim shaming must cease. We have known for too long about drinks being spiked on nights out, but the relatively new phenomenon of needle spiking hit the headlines recently. It is shocking. Rather than lessening its impact by giving it the almost jokey term of “spiking”, let us call it out for what it is: the intention of a perpetrator to render someone incapable so that they can sexually assault and abuse them. It happens predominantly but not exclusively to young women.

As has been mentioned, lockdown forced abusers and the abused to spend most of their time at home, when, previously, there might have been hours of respite. However, work is not always a safe haven. The Close the Gap briefing indicates that three quarters of women who are subjected to domestic abuse are targeted at work. Unsurprisingly, perpetrator tactics such as sabotage, stalking and harassment affect women’s performance at work, levels of absenteeism and job retention.

I was pleased that Shetland Islands Council received a bronze accreditation during the pilot of equally safe at work, and I encourage other employers to participate in that innovative programme, which requires demonstration across six standards and aligns with women’s workplace equality.

The Government’s motion refers to “prioritising prevention”. The equally safe fund is welcome, but it is for a two-year term. I wonder whether the Government would consider extending that term to three years, as that would benefit further prevention work.

There is so much more behind gender-based violence against women and girls, globally and at home, as other members have eloquently voiced and will voice after my speech.

My thoughts are very much with people who are currently experiencing domestic abuse. There is help out there if they are able to reach out.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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