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Safer Lives: Changed Lives: A Shared Approach to Tackling Violence Against Women in Scotland



4.1 Violence Against Women: A Definition

For the purposes of this approach, we define violence against women as actions which harm or cause suffering or indignity to women and children, where those carrying out the actions are mainly men and where women and children are predominantly the victims. The different forms of violence against women - including emotional, psychological, sexual and physical abuse, coercion and constraints - are interlinked. They have their roots in gender inequality and are therefore understood as gender-based violence.

Our approach is informed by the definition developed by the National Group to Address Violence Against Women based on the United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993) which follows:

Gender based violence is a function of gender inequality, and an abuse of male power and privilege. It takes the form of actions that result in physical, sexual and psychological harm or suffering to women and children, or affront to their human dignity, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. It is men who predominantly carry out such violence, and women who are predominantly the victims of such violence. By referring to violence as 'gender based' this definition highlights the need to understand violence within the context of women's and girl's subordinate status in society. Such violence cannot be understood, therefore, in isolation from the norms, social structure and gender roles within the community, which greatly influence women's vulnerability to violence.

Accordingly, violence against women encompasses but is not limited to:

Physical, sexual and psychological violence occurring in the family, within the general community or in institutions, including: domestic abuse, rape, incest and child sexual abuse;

Sexual harassment and intimidation at work and in the public sphere; commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, pornography and trafficking;

Dowry related violence;

Female genital mutilation;

Forced and child marriages;

Honour crimes.

Activities such as pornography, prostitution, stripping, lap dancing, pole dancing and table dancing are forms of commercial sexual exploitation. These activities have been shown to be harmful for the individual women involved and have a negative impact on the position of all women through the objectification of women's bodies. This happens irrespective of whether individual women claim success or empowerment from the activity. It is essential to separate sexual activity from exploitative sexual activity. A sexual activity becomes sexual exploitation if it breaches a person's human right to dignity, equality, respect and physical and mental wellbeing. It becomes commercial sexual exploitation when another person, or group of people, achieves financial gain or advancement through the activity.

In recognising this definition, there is no denying or minimising the fact that women may use violence, including violence against a male or female partner. Although less common this is no less serious and requires to be addressed.

In using the term 'violence against women', it is recognised that this departs from the normal dictionary definition of 'violence', which generally requires some form of exertion of physical force. Inclusion of these behaviours or activities as part of the spectrum of violence against women, and indeed the use of this term itself, is accepted internationally as evidenced by a number of definitions developed by the UN and EU, and, where necessary, we will make clear the distinction between our definition and normal and legal usage of the term 'violence'.

4.2 Violence Against Women: What the evidence tells us

Violence against women affects thousands of women and children every year from all parts of the country and from all backgrounds. Recurring themes in women's descriptions of men's violence include the use of tactics of control, humiliation and degradation, the abdication of responsibility by the male abuser and the attribution of blame to the woman. These are found regardless of the woman's relationship to the perpetrator and regardless of whether or not the experience is a discrete event.

Indeed, significant numbers of women experience repeated victimisation or patterns of abusive behaviour and more than one type of violence over the course of their lives. Factors such as poverty, age and disability may increase a woman's vulnerability as may alcohol and substance misuse.

Violence against women can and does have a significant impact on children and young people. This includes children and young people who are directly or indirectly harmed through domestic abuse of the non-abusing parent, usually the mother. There is significant evidence of links between domestic abuse and emotional, physical and sexual abuse of children. In the context of domestic abuse, the safety and wellbeing of children is closely linked to that of the adult victim.

Children and young people are also significantly affected by forced marriage with 30% of cases reported affecting minors 1. Given the hidden nature of forced marriage it is difficult to capture an accurate picture of the scope of this issue in Scotland; however we know the devastating consequences, with those affected often:

  • becoming estranged from their families and wider communities;
  • losing out on educational opportunities as they are taken prematurely from school;
  • suffering physical and psychological abuse;
  • presenting a high rate of self-harm and suicide rates.

Rape and sexual assault are serious crimes which violate both physically and emotionally and are fundamental breaches of human rights. The majority of rape victims are women and in common with other forms of violence against women, sexual crimes are perpetrated primarily by men known to the victim.

Under Scots law the legal definition of rape as it currently stands only covers crimes perpetrated against women. Police records show that there were 1,053 reported rapes and attempted rapes in 2007/08, however we recognise that many more incidents will have gone unreported. Women from ethnic minority communities, those who are disabled or who are worried about their immigration status as well as women working in the sex industry or homeless women face significant barriers to reporting 2.

For many victims, their experience of rape or sexual assault is not a one-off incident. Some may be assaulted, regularly or periodically, over a long period of time, for example by an abusive partner. Others, such as women trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, may be assaulted by different people at different times in their lives.

Most assaults are carried out by someone known to the victim. This includes sexual partners, casual acquaintances, family members and others. Most rapes are committed indoors, usually in the home. Rape and sexual assault are often part of domestic abuse, alongside physical and emotional abuse. Nearly half (45%) of rapes reported to the 2002 British Crime Survey were committed by perpetrators who were victims' partners at the time of the assault 3. However, many women who experience domestic abuse find the sexual violence the most difficult aspect to speak about.

The trafficking of women for sexual exploitation has gained increasing attention over the last few years, as awareness of this global criminal activity has risen. Again it is extremely difficult to assess accurately the numbers of women involved. The UK Action Plan on Tackling Trafficking 2007 4 estimated that some 4,000 women might be trafficked into and within the UK per annum. In Scotland between September 2007 and March 2008 during the second nationwide police led anti-trafficking operation (Pentameter 2), 59 potential victims were recovered. 15 of those were believed to have been trafficked for sexual exploitation and were all female 5.

4.3 Violence Against Women: Extent of the Problem

  • World Health Organisation Multi-Country study into Women's Health and Domestic Violence Against Women found that between 1 in 2 and 1 in 10 women will experience some form of violence at some point in their lives 6;
  • One in 4 women will experience domestic abuse from a partner in her lifetime 7;
  • There were 49,655 incidents of domestic abuse in Scotland recorded in 2007/08 (an increase of just under 2% on the previous year) 8;
  • 54% of cases reported to the police in 2007/08 involved repeat victimisation 9;
  • Women were the victims in 85% of the reported incidents of domestic abuse in Scotland in 2007/08 10;
  • 83% of rapists are known to the woman they rape 11;
  • There has been a significant increase in the numbers of women giving evidence in rape trials in Scotland who have been asked about their sexual history or character 12;
  • 1,053 rapes or attempted rapes were recorded in 2007/08 in Scotland 13;
  • There were 1,666 incidents of indecent assault in the same period 14;
  • In 53% of homicide cases in Scotland 15 over the last ten years, where a woman aged 16-69 was the victim, the main accused was the woman in question's partner 16;
  • Female homicide victims are most commonly killed in a dwelling with the motive being rage/fight with a partner 17;
  • Teenage mothers seem to be particularly likely to experience domestic abuse. A small American study found that 70% of teenage mothers at one hospital were in a relationship with a violent partner 18;
  • A recent Scottish study involving 1,395 young people aged 14-18 found that a third of young men and a sixth of young women thought that using violence in intimate relationships was acceptable under certain circumstances. The same study found that 17% of young women had experienced violence or abuse in their own relationships with a boyfriend 19.
  • The 'Raising the Issue of Domestic Abuse in School' Study revealed that 32% of pupils in one secondary school in Scotland disclosed anonymously that they were currently experiencing or living with domestic abuse 20.
  • It is difficult to quantify the scale of the problem of Female Genital Mutilation in Scotland. A study in 2007 for England and Wales estimated that nearly 66,000 women aged between 15 and 49 living in the UK had undergone FGM and over 20,000 girls were at risk 21;
  • Although we recognise that the known cases of forced marriage i.e. brought to the attention of the Forced Marriages Unit will be much smaller than the actual number of incidents, 40 cases from Scotland were notified to FMU during the period January to October 2008 22;
  • Between 78% 23 and 86% 24 of stalking victims are female, with between 18% and 31% experiencing sexual violence within the context of stalking behaviour.

It is widely recognised that many incidents of violence and abuse go unreported. Therefore these figures, stark as they are, represent only the tip of the iceberg. Furthermore, many women may experience intimidation, harassment and abuse but do not describe/see it as a crime or an offence or think of reporting to the police. The importance of linking into the evidence which can be collated from the work of voluntary groups and agencies is therefore key. There is however considerable difficulty with data collection and this is an issue which needs to be addressed.

" Whilst clear categories and definitions are important for statistical and research purposes, we must never forget that these are developed for a specific purpose - to count the extent of violence. They do not reflect the experiential reality, which is always more complex…" (Liz Kelly Domestic Violence: Enough is Enough Conference, London 2000)

4.4 Cost of Violence against Women

Violence against women is unacceptable and a violation of human rights, but it is also a major drain on the public purse and the economy. In addition to the human and emotional costs there are costs to the criminal and civil justice system, health service, social services and housing.

Difficult though it is to quantify, a study in 2004 conducted for the UK Government's Women and Equality Unit by Sylvia Walby 25 estimated that the cost of domestic abuse in England and Wales was £23 billion. The cost to the public purse of violence against women is estimated to be almost double this figure at £40 billion (A study by Jarvinen et al in 2008 New Philanthropy Capital Report - Violence against women: Hard knock life). Given the Scottish population is roughly 10% that of England, this indicates that some £2.3 billion could be the cost to the Scottish public purse of domestic abuse and £4 billion the cost of violence against women.

4.5 Violence Against Women: impact on equality groups

There is little available evidence recorded on the experiences of minority ethnic women, lesbians, bisexual and transgender women, disabled women, women of different ages or faiths. What research has been undertaken recognises that there are specific issues which need to be addressed.

In 2007/08 there were 1,084 reported incidents of domestic abuse by same sex partners and ex partners, however it is acknowledged that there is under-reporting. Victims may feel reluctant to come forward for fear of prejudice and vulnerability to threats of being 'outed' from their abusers. Others may not believe that what they are experiencing is something that can be reported. A study in 2006 found that more than a third of respondents said they had experienced domestic abuse from a same sex partner 26. Over time those experiencing such violence have found it difficult to find appropriate support and have recognised that their needs may not be best served by existing provision. The Scottish Government is currently funding a project to improve the response from mainstream service providers to LGBT individuals affected by domestic abuse and to help identify what specific provision/services might be required.

Research suggests minority ethnic women tend to suffer domestic abuse for a longer period before reporting it, with estimates showing that on average, it will take a minority ethnic women ten years to leave a violent partner 27. They may also experience abuse from other family members. The report Policing and the Criminal Justice System - Public Confidence and Perceptions: Findings from the 2004/05 British Crime Survey also highlighted that confidence in the Criminal Justice System is higher amongst those without a disability or illness.

4.6 Men as Victims

Police statistics evidence that year on year there has been an increasing number of men reporting experiencing domestic abuse. 6,165 men reported being abused by a female partner to the police in 2007/08. These figures are small in comparison to the number of incidents where women were the victims and whilst it is recognised that women are more likely to experience repeated abuse and over a longer time, and the severity of the abuse is likely to be greater, it is nevertheless important to address the needs of men appropriately.

In 2002, research 28 was undertaken on male victims to ascertain the nature of the violence they experienced and their particular needs. The evidence did not point to a need for specific provision but suggested that existing services should be more responsive. The Government at the time took action to raise this with authorities.

We recognise however that the evidence base is dated. In the light of increasing numbers of men reporting to the police, there is a need to have robust evidence and greater understanding of what if any specific needs men might have. The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey will provide a fuller picture of the nature and extent of partner abuse, including experience of partner abuse, frequency of abuse, relationship to respondent, reporting to police and reasons for not reporting to the police, physical and emotional effects (including injuries), and who or which organisations the victim informed. This will be available in late 2009 and we will subsequently consider what further work needs to be undertaken.

Men can be the victims of forced marriage and suffer the devastating effect on their lives, however, the statistical information available shows that the majority of those affected are women. Male victims often have more freedom to decide whether or not to consummate the marriage or seek a divorce and are more likely to find their way back into the community and society once they have left a forced relationship. 29