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Alex Fergusson (None)

The next item of business is a debate on violence against women.

We have a little leeway on timing, so members should feel free to take interventions, despite the fact that a speaking time of four minutes is advised. I call on Alex Neil to open the debate. You have roundabout seven minutes, minister.

9:30 am
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Alex Neil (Scottish National Party)

Thank you very much indeed, Presiding Officer. It sounded as if you were saying that I had even more than seven minutes.

I am very pleased to open this important debate. The subject is one that has united the Parliament since its earliest days. I think that we all agree without equivocation that violence against women, in any form, is not acceptable. I am sure that we also all agree that the issue needs to remain a priority, never more so than in the current economic environment.

I know that there has been much speculation about future funding, so I thought it important to inform the Parliament of our plans ahead of the Christmas break. We are simultaneously informing the relevant organisations of the budget decisions that we have taken for next year.

Members will be aware that recently, in answer to an oral question from Malcolm Chisholm, I gave an assurance that the violence against women fund, the children's services Women's Aid fund and the Rape Crisis specific fund would remain a top priority for the Scottish Government. I am therefore pleased to confirm to members that we will continue to fund those three important funds at the same level for 2011-12. The violence against women fund will receive £3.5 million, the children's services fund will receive £4.16 million and the Rape Crisis fund will receive £700,000.

In addition, we will continue our support for a range of activity, including provision of funding to Scottish Women's Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, the national helplines, including the men's helpline, the ASSIST—advice, support, safety and information services together—project and the Caledonian programme. Our investment from the equality budget in 2011-12 will be £11.58 million. That is a tangible illustration of the high priority that this Government continues to attach to tackling domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women.

As we look forward to Christmas and new year, we know that domestic abuse is likely to increase over this period. Indeed, for many, Christmas will not be a happy time—there will be young people who are too frightened to enjoy opening presents and women who nurse injuries as they sit down to their Christmas meal. That is why I particularly welcome the action of Strathclyde Police in issuing global positioning system tracking devices to repeat victims in a bid to protect them over the festive period.

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Trish Godman (Labour)

I am sure that we all sign up to the provision of money to the organisations that the minister mentioned, but he did not mention Routes Out of Prostitution. Will any money be allocated specifically to that organisation?

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Alex Neil (Scottish National Party)

I have no specific announcement to make in that regard this morning, but I will inform the member when we take any additional budget decisions early in the new year.

The GPS pilot will mean that people at risk can activate the tracking devices by touching a button. Satellite technology will give their exact location, so officers could be deployed to help them. The pilot has been designed in consultation with Scottish Women's Aid. Once it has been evaluated, if it proves successful, we hope to roll it out on a permanent basis not just in Strathclyde, but across the country. It could be an extremely useful protection measure for very vulnerable women.

It is not just women who are at risk. Some men are at risk of becoming victims of violence and abuse from their partners. Such abuse is no less unacceptable than violence against women. This Government is the first in Scotland to provide funding for services for male victims. We have been working with Abused Men in Scotland to find out more about the experiences of men and the services that they need and we will continue to do so.

Violence against women is one of the most heinous crimes in our society. It perpetuates gender inequality. The imperative of tackling it is recognised internationally, as well as by the United Kingdom Government and successive Scottish Governments. In particular, the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women—CEDAW—provides clear direction for us all. The next UK report on CEDAW is due by the end of May 2011 and Scotland will have a very positive contribution to make to that report.

As we come to the end of this year, I want to acknowledge a number of anniversaries. First, it is 35 years since Scottish Women's Aid was established. The change that there has been in Scottish society in relation to domestic abuse since then is due in great part to the work of Scottish Women's Aid and local women's aid groups across Scotland. I am sure that members across the chamber will want to join me in offering to Scottish Women's Aid my sincere congratulations on reaching 35 years and our best wishes for the future.

However, another anniversary reminds us that, although much has been achieved, much remains to be done. It is now 10 years since the publication of the "National Strategy to Address Domestic Abuse in Scotland". Of course, that document has now been superseded by "Safer Lives: Changed Lives: A Shared Approach to Tackling Violence Against Women in Scotland", and the expansion of our work to incorporate all forms of violence against women was a very significant development.

Partners such as Scottish Women's Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and the Women's Support Project have made substantial contributions towards developments at local and national level. I am happy to acknowledge the impact of their support and say that I value their role as critical friends.

Another important milestone was the publication in June 2008 of the national domestic abuse delivery plan for children and young people. That three-year programme takes a holistic approach to the needs of all those involved in a family where there is domestic abuse. The delivery plan will be coming to an end next June and we are now working to consolidate its legacy. Work will continue on some of the 13 priorities and it will be mainstreamed into the work of relevant areas of the Scottish Government.

One of the most important elements of the delivery plan is the participation priority. We have a group of young experts, aged between 16 and 23, who have personal experience of domestic abuse and who provide us with advice on implementation of the delivery plan. They are called voice against violence and they regularly meet me, Adam Ingram and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to give their views on progress, particularly in areas where they think that we are not doing enough. The members of the voice against violence group are very much on top of the facts and have clear ideas; they are articulate young people. I am grateful to them for giving up so much of their time to help us in our work. They have made a difference and are a very impressive group of young people.

It was the mothers of members of voice against violence who experienced domestic abuse. We have asked Abused Men in Scotland to help us to explore the views of young people whose fathers have experienced abuse.

Our work with partners is crucial. I thank not only our key external partners, who do so much to support our work in this area, but members across the chamber who consistently demonstrate their commitment to working with us to make Scotland the country that we all want it to be—a Scotland free from domestic abuse and violence against women.

9:38 am
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Johann Lamont (Labour)

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate and I add the Labour Party's congratulations to Scottish Women's Aid on its anniversary—more power to its elbow as the years go on. I reflect on the women who, at the beginning, saw the need for an organisation such as Scottish Women's Aid and who delivered support and compassion at a local level to women who had nowhere to go.

Christmas and new year can be an emotional time for all of us as we reflect, remember Christmases past, think of people who have gone before us, look to the future and think of what might be. It is a time to think of the goodness in people and the hope that we all have for the future.

As the minister reflected, there is something deeply depressing about the gap between the idealised view of the family that we sometimes have, particularly at this time of year, and the all too stark reality for women and children when violence has been brought into their home, where they should be safe, and for women who have to flee their homes and become refugees in their own country.

We understand the terrible pressure that domestic abuse puts on families, but we also recognise that it goes beyond the home. Violence against women is expressed in many ways and forms.

This is a good opportunity to reaffirm our understanding of the experience of women and children who face violence and to recommit ourselves to harnessing the power of government at every level and the talent and energy of women's organisations and the voluntary sector to support women in challenging that violence and educating our children—our boys and our girls—about a better way to live.

I hear what the minister says about male victims of abuse, but when we are talking to our young people we need to reflect on the statistics. If we do not understand that there is a pattern to such abuse, which is overwhelmingly male abuse of women, our boys and girls will not be in a position to challenge it—to have young men challenge the attitudes of other young men and to ensure that girls do not feel the pressure that they sometimes report and do not experience, as all too many young girls do, forms of violence at a very early stage in a relationship.

As we look back on the year, we see that the figures on the reporting of domestic abuse are steady. Some of that is because we are in a culture in which women can come forward, but we know that every one of the figures reflects hidden suffering by individuals and families. We also know that there have been many expressions of the spectrum of violence against women.

We are aware of the persistent reality of violence against women in Scotland, throughout the UK and around the world. We reflect on how tragic the reality is of reports in the papers again and again of women dying at the hands of their partners—women killed because they finally had the courage to leave; killed at the point when they made the decision; or pursued and chased down after they had gone. How terrifying it is to think that, as we read the headlines and shudder, women who are experiencing violence and are thinking about doing something about it, by leaving, turn away from their planned escape because they fear for themselves and their children. When they see the headlines in the papers, they understand that the threat, "I will kill you if you go," is not an idle one.

I welcome what the minister said about the GPS initiative, but what does it say about the perpetrators of violence that to protect women we need to use such technology? It is the same for initiatives to protect women by giving them mobile phones that do not show up on a telephone bill—I have referred to that before. What kind of world are we living in where a woman has to have access to a mobile phone that does not show up on a phone bill because her partner might see it and punish her?

Violence against women is a horrific crime and we need to reaffirm our determination to understand and challenge the violence that women face and the way that it impacts on women's lives. Violence is used as a weapon of war around the world—the 16 days against violence against women is a reflection of that broader international aspect of women's experiences—and it daily shapes the lives of women and young people and destroys their life chances.

I am interested in the information that the minister gave about the voice against violence project, because we know that young people have a great deal to say about their experiences but are all too often silenced by either the perpetrator of the violence or the shame or feeling of isolation that it brings. It is critical that we continue to support such young people in school, where they maybe have someone they can speak to.

We should guard against complacency and it is important to ensure that the policy approach articulated by the minister is delivered on the ground. There ought not to be a separation between our aspiration and how we deliver it, which is why I welcome the commitment to continuing the dedicated funding that was identified. Whatever our views on spending and ending ring fencing, I believe that it is too much of a risk at this stage not to dedicate money to tackling violence against women. We must ensure that services are delivered throughout Scotland to protect women.

I want to raise a number of concerns with the minister, which I hope he will address. In the spirit of Christmas, I will not make them too hard, but there are issues that we must reflect on.

As I have said, I welcome the certainty of funding. That choice shows the power of women's organisations in the debate, because it reflects a strong campaign by women to highlight how important dedicated funding is.

We have to look at the single outcome agreement process. Again, people have different views on that, but there is a concern that the single outcome agreement process does not sufficiently reflect a commitment to tackle violence against women. Scottish Women's Aid highlights concerns that, at a local level, women are stuck in refuges—if they can get a refuge place—and cannot move on because of the unavailability of appropriate housing for them. I would welcome the minister's comments on how he might address that issue.

There is also the issue of women who have no recourse to public funds. It is frightening for women who have come to this country and then want to leave a violent situation but are unable to be supported. Women's aid organisations and Amnesty International have highlighted their plight. I know that it is a matter for the UK Government, but I would welcome an update from the minister on the discussions that he has had with Westminster.

Another issue is prostitution, which Trish Godman will talk about later in the debate. In addressing prostitution and the trafficking of women, it is critical that we tackle the purchaser—the person who creates the demand in the first place. Prostitution underpins an attitude to women and power relationships that must be addressed. To those who say that prostitution will always be with us, I say that such an attitude would mean that children would still be up chimneys. It is a counsel of despair. Trish Godman will say more about that critical issue.

Although there is agreement in the Parliament, there is still hostility on these issues in society. We may have won the argument in here, but we have a long way to go in our broader communities. It is about the power that men have, which is why, in talking about violence against women, we must talk about not just the what but the why. When we understand the why, we will finally be able to eradicate it.

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Alex Fergusson (None)

In an effort to help with the timing of speeches, I advise members that we can have, on average, one minute extra per member. It might be helpful if members take that as a guideline.

9:46 am
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Bill Aitken (Conservative)

The debate is a hardy annual. It probably comes under the heading of debates that we all feel are necessary although we wish that they were not. As the minister said, there has been a remarkable—perhaps unusual—unanimity in the Parliament that we should be doing everything possible to combat violence against women. There is a general recognition that it is far too prevalent in Scottish society.

Both the minister and Johann Lamont have referred to the fact that the debate is taking place somewhat later this year and coincides with Christmas. I will explain why that is particularly evocative for me with a personal anecdote. For many years, the Strathclyde social work department's 24-hour standby service was located diagonally across the road from my house. I frequently had visitors from the social work department, sometimes at all hours of the night, seeking place-of-safety orders. I am sure that Trish Godman would have rejoiced in getting me out of my bed at 3 o'clock in the morning so that I could issue the appropriate order.

The serious aspect is the fact that I noticed a great increase in demand for those orders over the festive period. Cynics might say that, over Christmas and the new year, people are forced into each other's company and there are tensions; however, there is absolutely no excuse for that to spill over into violence, especially when there are children in the house and the effect is not only on the woman—which is bad enough—but on the young children who must be taken into care. I found that one of the most painful duties that I have ever had to perform in my 30-odd years of public service.

As I have said before, we need a mixture of support and enforcement, and I very much welcome the commitment to funding that the minister has made this morning. The organisations to which he referred have become familiar to me over the years. I have been impressed by their evidence to the Justice Committee and by what they do, and I think that the funding will be welcomed by members on all sides of the chamber.

We need to examine the enforcement, however, to see how it is operating. Again, I will provide a personal anecdote. In order to inform myself better about the way in which things are operating, and in connection with the Justice Committee's inquiry into the worthwhile bill that Rhoda Grant has introduced to Parliament, I arranged for the Justice Committee to attend the domestic violence court at Glasgow sheriff court. Unfortunately, as with everything else in life, the weather restricted committee members' attendance; nevertheless, it was an interesting visit.

Is the court working? Yes and no. During the time that I sat there, 20 cases were called, a surprisingly high number of which involved women. There were 17 new appearances and three people who appeared because of a breach of a bail condition. Every new case resulted in a not guilty plea. The fiscal would ask for special conditions of bail to be attached—namely, that the accused should not approach the complainer or go near the address at which the alleged offence took place—and everyone went cheerfully on their way. One of the discouraging aspects of the court was that on the public benches were several complainers who clearly took the view that, that night, it would be business as usual when everyone got back together again.

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Bill Aitken (Conservative)

The domestic violence court has value. However, I am not too convinced that having a separate custody court is workable. I would far rather that the offenders were put in the general custody court and the court freed up to deal with trials, which would ensure a much earlier resolution of cases.

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Alex Neil (Scottish National Party)

This is a genuine question, not a politically motivated one. Does the member think that there is a need for any additional legislation to prevent the scenario that he described of people being released on bail with special conditions and then going home to commit the crime again?

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Bill Aitken (Conservative)

No. I can see why the minister is asking that, but I think that administrative change is all that is necessary. Given the strictures of time, perhaps we can discuss that later. My apologies to Sandra White; I have no time to accept her intervention.

Basically, I think that the debate is a worthwhile one.

9:52 am
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Hugh O'Donnell (Liberal Democrat)

This debate has become something of an annual event. Scotland can be proud of the progress that we have made in this area and there is some comfort to be taken from the figures. I welcome the minister's announcement on funding. The successful work of the various women's organisations has contributed hugely to the impact that we are slowly beginning to make on this issue.

Like other members, I am keen to point out that the subject of the debate is violence against women. In that sense, Scotland has a much wider role to play. Largely as a result of pressure from various quarters, I am pleased to say that the Equal Opportunities Committee, on which I sit, is now taking forward the Forced Marriage etc (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Bill. I will not say too much about that subject because not only is my convener sitting nearby but it might interfere with the process of examining the legislation. However, an issue that has arisen during our evidence-taking sessions on trafficking is that of cultural differences. Scotland has a substantial population of migrants, transitory and permanent. I am interested to know how through our education programmes and, for example, the community voices programme we can ensure that new citizens in our country understand our well-established principles for dealing with the issues that we are discussing and that what might have been socially and culturally acceptable in their communities is not acceptable.

We must also think about how to ensure that victims from different cultural backgrounds understand that they have the protection that our system provides. We must communicate that to them in a language that is familiar to them and in a way that is culturally understandable to them. Some of the information that the Equal Opportunities Committee took during its inquiry into trafficking seems to indicate that there are major challenges in that regard.

It is for women's organisations and the various statutory bodies to sit down and discuss how we ensure that all the women in our community have an opportunity to seek the protection that we perhaps take for granted. Critically, we also need to discuss how to ensure that the men from those communities understand that in our society their behaviour, whether it involves forced marriage, domestic abuse, servitude or any other such matters, is not socially acceptable. The problem is that we have a cultural clash.

It has taken us a lifetime—certainly my lifetime—to begin to recognise that domestic violence, and violence against women in all its forms, is not acceptable. I remind the minister that one of the ways in which we can begin to address the problem is, as Johann Lamont has mentioned, to ensure that our budget process is gender impact assessed and that the decisions that we take on all the expenditure that may have an impact reflect that. Such expenditure stretches beyond police resources and money for Women's Aid and goes into the realm of what we do on refuge housing and various other social policies. I recognise that local authorities have a substantial amount of responsibility for those things, but it is important that the Government lays down a marker and takes the lead in addressing those particular challenges.

I have made some general observations, but fundamentally we need to work towards a shared understanding of what violence against women actually amounts to and a set of guiding principles. At its root, this is a human rights issue and how we deal with it must reflect that. Violence against women manifests itself in a huge range of ways and we must ensure that we pick up on all those ways in order to address the challenges.

9:57 am
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Sandra White (Scottish National Party)

I thank the minister and welcome his announcement of continued funding for the many groups who do fantastic work on behalf of women and children throughout Scotland.

Today's debate coincides with the 20th anniversary of the 16 days of activism against gender violence campaign, which begins on the international day for the elimination of violence against women and ends on international human rights day. That is very telling because, as has been mentioned, the issue is one of human rights.

Before I discuss the issue from a Scottish perspective, I want to draw to members' attention some chilling facts in relation to violence against women on a global scale. One third of women are affected by violence globally, in some cases on a scale that is simply unimaginable.

Violence against women encompasses all forms of violence, not only domestic violence. It is perpetrated, especially in the form of rape, to destroy communities, discourage any form of resistance and—as in the war in Yugoslavia—to conduct ethnic cleansing.

In Liberia, it is estimated that a staggering 75 per cent of women were raped during the conflict. In Rwanda, between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped during the genocide, and a decade later, 67 per cent of the survivors are HIV positive.

A number of members have raised the issue of trafficking, which is another form of violence perpetrated against women in which there has been a huge increase in recent years. The harrowing stories of women who have been trafficked and forced into prostitution and servitude are truly horrific.

Although we are doing something about that, I do not believe that enough is being done to tackle trafficking. We must do more to educate people not only in this country, but in the countries from which the women are trafficked. We must inform society that the trade in human suffering cannot be allowed and is not acceptable.

Violence against women has many different forms and origins, but the perpetrators share a similar perception: that violence against women is in some way acceptable. The aim of many campaigns is to change that perception, and Johann Lamont touched on that in her contribution. If we are to change that perception, we need to have a serious debate about how it is formed in the first place and tackle it at the root, before it manifests itself in violence.

The Scottish Government states in "Safer Lives: Changed Lives" that its approach is informed by the definition that was developed by the national group that was set up after the United Nations declaration on the elimination of violence against women. It defines violence against women as

"a function of gender inequality, and an abuse of male power".

As a result, the definition encompasses

"actions that result in physical, sexual and psychological harm or suffering to women and children, or affront to their human dignity".

Interestingly, the definition includes sexual exploitation through prostitution and pornography and acknowledges that activities such as prostitution, stripping, lap dancing, pole dancing and table dancing are forms of commercial sexual exploitation. I and others have raised those issues time and again in the Parliament and we will continue to do so.

Many believe that such activities do not lead to direct violence against women, but that is not borne out by the facts. In a UK survey of 240 prostitutes in Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh, 50 per cent of those who work outdoors and 26 per cent of those who work indoors reported some form of violence by clients in the six months preceding the survey. It might not be good to say this, but it is the truth. Among prostitutes who work outdoors, 81 per cent had experienced violence by clients. Of those women, 33 had been beaten, 30 per cent had been threatened with a weapon, 25 per cent had been choked, 27 per cent had been raped in a form or manner that I do not want to mention in the chamber, and 9 per cent had been slashed or stabbed. It is horrifying to think of that.

Any debate about the roots of violence against women needs to examine those activities and understand how they contribute to the way in which women are viewed and how that relates to violence against women. The national group's definition goes on to state:

"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."

We must remember that.

I welcome the fact that we are here today to take forward the national strategy to address domestic violence in Scotland and to look at the progress that has been made, but today's debate must also serve as a wake-up call to look more deeply at the reasons behind violence against women and, if necessary, to tackle the issues that we have been reluctant to look at in the past. If we do not have the courage to seriously explore the reasons for violence against women, the cycle will continue.

10:02 am
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Malcolm Chisholm (Labour)

This year's debate on violence against women is perhaps the most important since the Parliament's early efforts set in motion Scotland's approach to tackling the on-going scourge of violence against women. It is especially important because experience consistently shows us that during periods of financial restraint prevention services and support for victims of such violence are frequently the first and hardest hit. I therefore start by welcoming the Scottish Government's commitment to maintaining the dedicated funding streams for the violence against women fund, the Rape Crisis specific fund and the children's services women's aid fund. That sends out an important message at this time.

Gender-based violence is rooted in inequality between women and men in our society, and both must be challenged through the type of preventive work that was highlighted by Jenny Kemp of Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust, which is based in my constituency, and by Detective Chief Superintendent Carnochan, during the Finance Committee's recent inquiry into preventive spending. However, in 21st century Scotland, equality should not be a bonus to be awarded at times of plenty and should not suit a particular public or political mood or agenda. It is a basic human right both morally and in the laws of the country.

That is why it is so vital at this time that we ensure that all policy and budget allocation decisions at national and local levels are subject to rigorous gender impact assessments to ensure that the equality gap is not directly or inadvertently widened, thereby perpetuating and strengthening a cultural attitude that condones violence against women. For example, a recent study of young people's attitudes to gendered violence found that a third of young men and a sixth of young women aged between 14 and 18 believe that using violence in intimate relationships is acceptable in some circumstances.

Another recent report, "Hidden Marks" by the National Union of Students, found that one female student in seven had been the victim of a serious sexual or physical assault while at university or college, but that fewer than 10 per cent had reported the attack from a belief that they were somehow culpable in what had happened to them. The attitudes and commitment that we show today will directly affect the attitudes to and experiences of violence of the generation of tomorrow.

Although I welcome the national announcements that were made today, it is essential that the political commitment that is displayed in the Parliament is directly translated into local planning. Good analysis of single outcome agreements by various organisations, including the Scottish women's budget group, has shown that far too frequently that is not the case. In evidence to the Finance Committee, Zero Tolerance said:

"As far as violence against women is concerned, there is a mismatch between strategising at national level and what happens on the ground. Single outcome agreements do not reflect the priority that has been given politically to tackling violence against women over the past 10 years. Services have been cut and withdrawn. As soon as ring-fenced funding for tackling violence against women is removed, it is one of the easiest things to go."—[Official Report, Finance Committee, 26 October 2010; c 2570.]

I have seen evidence of that in my constituency, where local authority funding for Edinburgh Women's Aid has dropped by £113,000 in the past three years. Further reductions are expected this year. I heard about that serious concern when I attended Edinburgh Women's Aid's recent annual general meeting. At that meeting we heard a moving speech from a woman who has been the victim of domestic abuse over many years and who, as well as emphasising the funding issues, emphasised the need for further action in the realm of protection. Rhoda Grant's Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill will carry that matter forward significantly. The speaker also highlighted problems to do with the Matrimonial Homes (Family Protection) (Scotland) Act 1981, about which I have written to the cabinet secretary.

I am reminded of the old adage about the three Ps that are needed for work to tackle violence against women: provision, which we have talked about; protection, which I mentioned; and prevention, which I mentioned in the context of Zero Tolerance. All three Ps demand our attention and resourcing.

I commend Scottish Women's Aid and GMB Scotland's new together we can stop it campaign, which encourages everyone to take some of the small actions that are needed to fight gender-based violence—actions that can, collectively, have such a powerful effect. I join members in congratulating Scottish Women's Aid on its 35th anniversary and I acknowledge the sterling and invaluable work that it has done over three and a half decades.

I will finish by mentioning a far more recent campaign—white ribbon Scotland. Ultimately, violence against women has to be a men's issue. Until men start challenging other men on how they speak about gender issues, and until men speak out against the gender-based violence that goes on around them, it will be hard to achieve the cultural shift that is necessary to stamp out violence against women for good.

10:07 am
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Anne McLaughlin (Scottish National Party)

Exactly a year ago, on 23 December 2009, petition PE1307, on domestic violence and abuse, was raised. The Parliament's Public Petitions Committee held an evidence session at which two people who had suffered domestic violence came forward to give evidence. They did so only because they could remain anonymous, but were terrified that their identities would be revealed. Not many people relish talking about their personal problems in public, but the two victims had a more compelling reason for wanting to remain anonymous: they were men—male victims of domestic violence—and the petition was calling for greater recognition of the existence of the problem and for better services.

Hearing the two men's stories and knowing how anxious they were to remain anonymous made me realise how far we have come in the context of the public perception of domestic violence against women. The men did not want their friends and colleagues to know what had happened to them, because they feared that they might not be believed or that they might be ridiculed or pitied. I well understand that fear; there remains a perception that men can look after themselves and that violence against men does not matter quite as much. It is still often regarded as acceptable to joke and laugh about male victims of domestic violence.

Of course, this debate is about violence against females, but the evidence session in the Public Petitions Committee demonstrated three things to me. First, violence crucifies and destroys people, whoever they are. Secondly, we have much work to do in recognising and stamping out domestic violence against men. Thirdly—and more positive—attitudes have shifted during the past 20 or so years, perhaps since the start of the zero tolerance campaign in 1992.

I remember that back then it was common to hear the argument that some women asked for violence, or that they exaggerated or even made up their accounts of violence. Much work had to be done to ensure that society understood that a veneer of respectability, charm and gentleness might well hide a violent and abusive side to a man. More work had to be done to convince society that domestic abuse is never acceptable and is never the victim's fault. Yet more work remains to be done to convince women victims of that.

The arguments have moved on and opinions have shifted. We do not yet live in Utopia, so things are not perfect. Notwithstanding the report about the younger generation to which Malcolm Chisholm referred, society on the whole believes women and does not trivialise violence against them. It is also a long time since I heard a so-called joke about the issue.

However, violence against women is still a significant worldwide problem, as Sandra White said. A World Bank study showed that violence against women aged between 15 and 44 causes more deaths and disabilities worldwide than war, cancer, malaria or traffic accidents. That is staggering.

Victims of violence need more than changing attitudes and better statistics; they need help. I warmly welcome the minister's announcement on the funding situation. However, it should not matter who a person is; anyone who is a victim of violence should be entitled to help.

During the recent 16 days of action, I helped to launch a campaign that focuses on asylum-seeking women. That campaign has been promoted by the Govan and Craigton integration network, and was part of the wider Asylum Aid campaign for a women's asylum charter. In a nutshell, the campaign aims to ensure that asylum-seeking women who have been victims of violence are supported in exactly the same way as settled UK citizens would expect to be supported, as a minimum. A community art worker has worked with women at all three drop-ins in Govan and Craigton in Glasgow to design postcards for the campaign. I am happy to share those designs with members.

Recent reports have highlighted the issues that women who seek asylum face. For example, a report from Human Rights Watch says that

"women are held in detention largely for the UK's administrative convenience, have very little time to prepare a legal case, and have only a few days to appeal if refused. But the claims often involve such sensitive and difficult issues as sexual violence, female genital mutilation, trafficking, and domestic abuse."

A report by Debora Singer, who is a policy and research manager at Asylum Aid, quotes a woman in detention, who said:

"I was happy with a lady interviewer but not a male translator ... Because he was a man I felt ashamed. If it was a woman I would have said more."

That should be contrasted with what happens when a woman goes to the police to report a rape. She can ask for a female police officer to be present at her interview, and she will be supported by a specially trained officer.

The Asylum Aid report also mentions a woman called Cecilia, who said:

"I'd prefer, rather than going to a detention centre ... to be in prison for the rest of my life".

She talked about male staff at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre appearing unannounced, entering her room and searching through her possessions, including her underwear. Having experienced rape in Cameroon, that was particularly frightening for her. In prisons, a search is always undertaken by a female prison officer after the woman has been warned that there will be a search.

We all agree that violence against women is abhorrent. Whether the woman is a citizen of this country or of the no man's land that is the home of the asylum seeker, they should have the right to be treated with dignity. Where we have developed a gender-sensitive, rights-based approach to domestic violence, that sensitivity and those rights should be afforded to all women, including asylum seekers.

10:12 am
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Trish Godman (Labour)

I am confident that, if we walked out into the street today and asked people about violence against women, they would say that they abhor it. If we asked them to qualify that, we would come up with the kind of statistics that Malcolm Chisholm talked about: that is, some people would say that it is all right in some instances to be violent to women.

There is a whole spectrum of violence against women, from domestic and sexual abuse to men buying sex from women. Prostitution is a form of violence against women, and acceptance of prostitution perpetuates that violence. If we remain silent on the issue, we will perpetuate the beliefs of men who buy sex that they are entitled to sexual access to women, that they are superior to women, and that they are licensed as sexual aggressors. Men who use women in prostitution strongly endorse such attitudes to women.

Prostitution is a form of violence against women. That is backed up by the facts, of which Sandra White gave many. Some 75 per cent of women in prostitution have become involved in it when they were children. More than half of women in prostitution in the UK have been raped or seriously sexually assaulted in the hands of pimps or others. Up to 95 per cent of women in street prostitution are problematic drug users—hence, my question to the minister. With another hat on, I know that most of those women want to get out of prostitution. Some 68 per cent of women in prostitution meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. That is in the same range as victims of torture who are undergoing treatment.

Members are here today to speak out about violence against women. Members must ask themselves how they view prostitution. If they do not class prostitution as a form of violence against women, how would they describe it? I accept that there are women who freely choose to enter prostitution, but I wonder whether they would make the same choice for their sister or their daughter. I want to be sure that, if women have made that choice but wake up one morning having made a different choice, there is a route out and they know how to access facilities. Criminalising men's demand for prostitution will tackle the related harm that the trade causes.

We can learn from others. In Amsterdam, prostitution is legal, but the Dutch authorities are cleaning up Amsterdam's red light district because it has become a centre for human trafficking and other serious crime. In Australia, where prostitution is decriminalised, the authorities are seriously considering reversing the law to make prostitution illegal. When the law was changed in Australia, authorities carried out inspections of brothels to ensure that, whatever position a woman was in on the bed, she would be able to reach a panic button. What does that tell us about prostitution? The World Health Organization has said that all prostitutes should carry a medical card to prove that they are clean and healthy, but why should men not carry a card? There are no questions being asked about that.

Given that the Parliament has done so much to challenge discrimination against women, it is unacceptable that prostitution remains a blight on our country. Some members who are present have told me that they cannot support my proposed member's bill on prostitution because they do not think that it will work. When I convened the Local Government Committee, I was told that we would not be able to sort out the business of section 28, but we did. I was then told that we would not be able to get rid of warrant sales, but we did. We were all told that the smoking ban would not work, but it does. Our job is to examine proposed legislation, to improve it and to try to make it work and, if we cannot do so, to go back to the drawing board and see where we went wrong.

If members are serious about tackling violence against women, I ask them to consider adding their names in support of my proposed member's bill to criminalise the purchasing of sex. We will not get a serious debate about prostitution as a form of violence against women if my proposal does not make it to the next phase. I ask members to support it.

10:17 am
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Margaret Mitchell (Conservative)

Violence against women and girls is a problem of pandemic proportions. If anyone doubts the veracity of that statement, they should consider the fact that at least one in three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. That statistic becomes all the more frightening when we consider that the perpetrator is usually someone who is known to the victim. Violence against women encompasses but is not limited to physical, sexual and psychological violence, including domestic abuse, rape, incest and child sexual abuse, occurring in the family, the general community or in institutions; 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; and honour crimes.

The issue is complicated, so in the limited time that is available I will focus on two specific aspects. The first is the launch of a five-week campaign against domestic abuse by Strathclyde Police, as part of the force's on-going break the circle of violence campaign, which runs throughout the year and has four phases. The domestic abuse phase has proved to be a successful tool in tackling violence against women in Lanarkshire. The campaign involves a proactive approach to organised crime, antisocial behaviour and—significantly—domestic abuse. A contributory factor to its success is that the campaign has great local support, particularly from the Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser, but also from Asda, North Lanarkshire Council, Scottish Women's Aid and Citizens Advice Scotland, as well as from local politicians of all parties and now the Scottish Prison Service.

One of the most successful aspects of the campaign is its focus on repeat offenders, who can be tracked using a Scottish database and national intelligence. That allows Strathclyde Police not only to identify the usual suspects, but to take steps to ensure that those repeat offenders know that they are being monitored. In turn, that allows the police to target repeat offenders at recognised volatile or trigger times, such as Christmas and new year and before old firm matches, when incidents of domestic violence are known to increase.

Officers contact the most serious offenders to let them know that the police are aware of their past behaviour and, crucially, that the police are monitoring them. That assertive approach has a marked effect that leads to a significant reduction in the numbers of domestic abuse incidents after, for example, old firm games, because the perpetrators know that the police are watching. In areas such as Monklands, which has the highest number of reported domestic abuse incidents in North Lanarkshire, that proactive approach, coupled with the knowledge that the police are determined to tackle the abuse, can serve only to give victims hope. The unpalatable truth is that as we approach the season of goodwill and look forward to spending time with our families, for all too many domestic abuse victims this is not a time of celebration but a time to dread.

The second aspect on which I will touch briefly, for the reasons that Hugh O'Donnell stated, was highlighted during the Equal Opportunities Committee scrutiny of stage 1 of the Forced Marriage etc (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Bill. Scottish Women's Aid stated that it is often when women come to it to seek assistance in relation to domestic abuse that the issue of forced marriage comes to light. It is a simple and abhorrent fact that forced marriage is a form of violence against women. That violence is not merely physical, but can involve verbal abuse and coercion, which are in themselves forms of brutality. One of the most appalling instances of coercion involves the threats and emotional blackmail that are sometimes used when a member of the family—often the victim's mother—threatens to commit suicide if the woman does not enter into the marriage. Self-evidently, that kind of coercion is deeply distressing and is a dramatic example of the type of intimidation that is exerted. It is not surprising, therefore, that many victims of forced marriage and, by extension, domestic abuse suffer from depression and mental health problems.

I hope that today's debate will contribute to raising greater awareness of this vexing and all too prevalent issue.

10:22 am
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Nigel Don (Scottish National Party)

Once again, I note the annual event that is this debate. As is my custom, I will not repeat the things that others have said, but that does not mean that I do not agree with them.

I am surprised that statistics have not yet been picked up on. Violence against women is all about individuals and human rights, so statistics might seem to be slightly irrelevant, but we have some, nevertheless. Just fewer than 54,000 incidents of domestic abuse were reported in 2008-09 and a few under 52,000 in 2009-10. I do not set too much store by those figures, but if awareness is rising and the statistics come from a similar reporting regime, it looks as though things are getting better. That is nothing to be complacent about, but perhaps the statistics offer us some hope.

The statistics also point me in my next direction, which is to encourage the current and successive Governments to ensure that everything they do is evidence based. That is hugely important to our work in the area. It would be easy to spend money on things that seem like good ideas, but unless we are doing evidence-based research and finding out what works, there is a risk that we will ring fence the wrong money.

There are financial effects from the human rights issues that we are talking about. Assaults on women lead directly to homelessness, which the Government and local authorities in particular have to deal with. There are ways and means of encouraging local authorities, for whom tackling such violence is a primary responsibility, to think about where they spend their money. Single outcome agreements are only part of the process of saying to councils, "It would be very much better if you spent your money on prevention rather than cure." If money being spent on looking after women in their homes and reducing violence saves councils from spending money on the consequences of children and women being made homeless afterwards, it is a good way to spend the money.

When I look at existing research, I notice depressingly familiar risk factors—if I may put it in epidemiological terms—including poverty, disability, and the effects of alcohol and drugs. We know about those factors. That should encourage us as a Parliament, a Government and a society to tackle those issues because we know that, on the way through, we will help to tackle violence against women.

I note that the fact has already been mentioned that domestic violence is not directed solely against women; some men suffer it. There is a tension in the statistics. I picked up entirely what Johann Lamont said and I absolutely agree that we must not lose sight of the fact that the majority of the problem is men's violence against women. However, we also must not lose sight of the fact that there is another side to that coin. We must look after those men and ensure that they are not simply ignored because they are statistically the smaller group.

I return to the major issue and congratulate Scottish Women's Aid on its 35 years. Some things are improving. Its work is obviously valuable and I trust that it will carry on.

That brings me to another issue. As a former local councillor—as many other members are—I do not like the idea of ring fencing but, in a policy area such as domestic violence, there is a pretty persuasive case for the Government's saying that we must tackle the issue, that it is setting aside a sum of money one way or another and that, if that money goes through the local authority, it must be put in the direction of domestic violence.

I will comment briefly on Rhoda Grant's Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, which we are considering in the Justice Committee. I do not want to pre-empt anything that the Justice Committee will say about it, but it has three essential measures. One is the idea that we should remove the need for a course of action for a woman to be able to bring a civil action. That makes a great deal of sense.

Secondly, and crucially, the bill proposes that we improve access to legal aid because many women who flee their homes and seek to flee from violence do not come with purses stacked full of money. That is an important issue.

The third point is that making a breach of interdict a criminal offence—and, therefore, something with which the authorities will deal, rather than the victim herself having to deal with it—is another extremely important measure.

Photo of Johann Lamont

Johann Lamont (Labour)

On the point that Nigel Don made about poverty being a factor in domestic violence, there is an issue about women lacking funds, but I am sure that he agrees with Scottish Women's Aid and others that male violence is no respecter of class. In fact, we delude ourselves if we think that it happens only in poor communities.

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Nigel Don (Scottish National Party)

Absolutely. I was not suggesting for a moment that I think that. The statistics merely show that poverty is one of the risk factors.

10:27 am
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Cathy Peattie (Labour)

The debate is important. It easy to say, "Och, we do this every year," but it is important to recognise that we have an opportunity to discuss this important issue. I will try not to echo many of the comments that have already been made. I also welcome the minister's statement on funding. I start with a plug for Scottish Women's Aid's latest campaign. Members can add their names to my motion congratulating Scottish Women's Aid and should not forget to sign the motion on funding, too. I also thank everyone who has been involved in the cross-party group on men's violence against women and children over the past 10 years.

The number of proceedings in domestic abuse cases has increased enormously in recent years, but it is not clear how much that is due to there being more prosecutions and how much it is due to better recording. Central Scotland has shown one of the most marked rises. In 2005-06, there were just eight cases, all of which were successful, with two offenders receiving custodial sentences. By 2008-09, that had risen to 601 cases, with 547 being successful and 60 offenders receiving custodial sentences. It is clear that those figures reflect changes in policing and prosecutions more than changes in prevalence, and the police are to be congratulated on the advances that they have made.

Fortunately, we are no longer in the era of "Life on Mars", when cases were described as being "just a domestic". As we have heard, Strathclyde Police, for example, is offering GPS devices that those at risk can activate by touching a button. Sadly, those devices will probably be more important over Christmas and new year.

The figures for male victims probably also reflect a change in policing, with police more likely to record claim and counterclaim.

It is clear that sexual violence and more serious prolonged cases of physical, psychological and emotional abuse are overwhelmingly gender-based. Women are far more likely to be killed by a man than they are by a woman. On average, two women each week are killed by a partner. Men are most likely to be killed by a man. On average, women are assaulted 35 times before the police are called.

I say to Mr Don that it is difficult to consider statistics because women often do not report violence and, sometimes, it is far too late when they do report.

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Nigel Don (Scottish National Party)

I have no more respect for statistics than Cathy Peattie does, but if they are comparative year-on-year figures, they show us trends—that is all.

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Cathy Peattie (Labour)

Sadly—talking about trends—the matters that I have just mentioned are not taken into account in the British crime survey, which records a maximum of only five crimes per person and therefore excludes an estimated 3 million crimes a year. Sometimes we cannot trust statistics.

A history of domestic and sexual abuse affects a third of women who self-harm or attempt suicide, half of women mental health service users and 70 per cent of women in psychiatric in-patient wards. Thirty per cent of domestic violence starts in pregnancy and it affects 9 per cent of all mothers, for whom domestic violence is identified as the prime cause of miscarriage and stillbirth. Also, 12 per cent of women students are being stalked.

We need more resources, information and awareness raising for all victims, but we cannot tackle the root problem unless we recognise the need for a strategy that addresses the causes of violence against women and children.

It is likely that the recession will have an adverse impact on victims of domestic abuse in a number of ways, not least of which will be the impact on services to help them. Although, as I said previously, I welcome the Scottish Government's statement and funds, I am pleased that they are protected and I hope that they are not siphoned off to set up some kind of new quango. Local authority funding will be under extreme pressure.

We have to recognise that organisations such as Women's Aid and Rape Crisis provide national services through local organisations. Abused women often seek refuge in other areas, so councils that do not provide adequate support are basically leeches on those who do.

We also need to protect ground-breaking projects such as children experiencing domestic abuse recovery, or CEDAR; the advice, support, safety and information services together project, or ASSIST; the domestic abuse courts; and work with perpetrators.

Domestic abuse. Together we can stop it.

10:32 am
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Rhoda Grant (Labour)

I welcome this debate on violence against women, but, like everybody else, I regret that we still need to have it. This horrendous scourge blights our society, and it is concerning that domestic violence in same-sex relationships is on the increase, as is violence against men. The difference is that violence against women covers a wider spectrum than just domestic abuse and tends to be power based.

Any violence in society is unacceptable, but violence by those who are supposed to love and care for their victims is totally unacceptable. My member's bill, the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, seeks to provide greater protection for victims of domestic abuse, regardless of their gender or sexuality. However, from the evidence that I have received and the available statistics, I believe that the bill will predominantly help women—83 per cent of domestic abuse cases involve offences against women.

It is a tragedy that a third of murders of females are committed by a partner or ex-partner and that two women a week are killed by domestic abuse. No legislation can halt a murderer who is intent on killing, but the bill can provide victims with more robust support and the police with the tools that they need to prevent further abuse.

The bill will make non-harassment orders easier to obtain. A victim currently needs to have two incidents of abuse before they can seek such an order: one incident of abuse is too many, therefore two is totally unacceptable. The bill will also make breaching an interdict with powers of arrest a criminal offence, which will make such interdicts much more effective. The interdict itself does not criminalise a person, but if they breach it they should, and will, feel the full force of the law.

In addition, the bill seeks to provide greater access to justice by increasing accessibility to legal aid for those who seek protection. When someone is fleeing, they do not often stop to collect their bank statements or financial information. In many cases they cannot access bank accounts, because statements are mailed to the victim's residence and the ATM trail will enable the abuser to track down the victim, which might lead to further abuse.

My bill is not the last word on domestic abuse—far from it. This is a process. I have been struck by the number of people and organisations that have asked me to broaden my bill to take on other issues. Given that it is a member's bill, the difficulty is how to do that without making it so complex that it endangers the whole. A lot more needs to be done.

When I was in Australia and New Zealand last year, I was struck by the actions that those Governments are taking at a national and state level. In Australia, the police are proactive. They have the power to raise interdicts without the victim's consent. Those interdicts include exclusion orders, which enable the victim and their children to remain in the home while forcing out the perpetrator. In Scotland, it is often the case that the victim is forced to leave their home and possessions and children are forced to leave their friends and home.

The Governments in Australia and New Zealand have carried out a lot of work on the effect of domestic abuse on children. Scottish Women's Aid works with children, but we are a long way behind in recognising the effect that domestic abuse has on young people. Their future prospects and self-esteem are badly damaged. That is why, in New Zealand, a perpetrator is not allowed access to their children until they can show that their behaviour has changed and that they recognise the impact of their actions. I am therefore grateful to the minister for his confirmation that he will keep the funding for Scottish Women's Aid's children's programme. That programme allows young people to access services in their own right, even when their mother is too afraid to seek those services or support.

There are many programmes for perpetrators, some of them in Scotland, but they are new, so there is little information on how successful they are in addressing behaviour. What is clear is that the state needs to take an active role in providing protection and resources to victims, but we also need to provide victims with the ability to protect themselves.

I welcome the debate and look forward to bringing my bill to the Parliament. I hope that it will obtain support.

10:36 am
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Margaret Smith (Liberal Democrat)

As many members have said, the debate is an annual event, and this year it is made even more poignant by being held in Christmas week. Johann Lamont and other members have talked about the difference between the Christmas view of the family that we hold, which is one of peace and goodwill, and the reality in many Scottish homes, which is a reality of fear. That reality is built on inequality between a man and a woman; most often, the perpetrator of the violence is male.

One clear message from today's debate is the continuing, unanimous view across the chamber that domestic abuse is still a major problem that we need to tackle. It is also worth while to reflect on some of the work that the Parliament has done throughout the years of devolution. I am thinking of action from the Governments, committee legislation, petitions that have come before the Parliament and the member's bill that is on-going.

Nigel Don was absolutely right in saying that there are positive messages in some of the most recent statistics. There appears to be a small reduction in the number of recorded cases of domestic abuse. However, when 50,000 such incidents are reported each year, the number of cases is far too high. Clearly, we cannot be complacent. We have heard today about the complexities of domestic abuse. Two women a week are killed, the majority of them by their male partner. The spin-off effects on women and children's lives are wide-ranging. Their mental health can be affected, as Margaret Mitchell mentioned. It can also affect their ability to have a home, which Nigel Don said, and it can take them into prostitution, as Trish Godman mentioned. We also know that such woman are much more likely to end up abusing themselves, through substance abuse and so on.

We have an awful lot of people to thank today who look after the needs of all those women. Rightly, we have focused on Scottish Women's Aid as it celebrates its 35th anniversary—I use the word "celebrate" without any sense that there is much to celebrate, given that it is still needed. We are absolutely right to support the voluntary sector. I very much welcome the minister's funding announcement in that regard.

Cathy Peattie and a number of other members mentioned the police's role. Fundamentally, one of the clearest representations of the difference between how the issue is tackled in Scotland now and how it was tackled 20 or 30 years ago is the way in which our police forces deal with it. My local force, Lothian and Borders Police, is working with the violence reduction unit. The force's website, which I have visited, provides incredibly wide-ranging information on domestic abuse.

That information is not limited to men's violence against women; there is now a helpline for male victims. That development is welcomed by constituents of mine, who, as male victims, feel the shame that Anne McLaughlin captured in her speech. There is also a recognition that domestic violence happens in all sorts of relationships, including same-sex relationships. All of the organisations that are working in the multifaceted area of violence, including violence within relationships, are to be congratulated on and thanked for all of their help.

Malcolm Chisholm was right to say that the problem is rooted in inequality—violence against women is about power and control. We see that most obviously in physical abuse, but all of us know from our experience of life that people are belittled, criticised, kept down, and are not allowed to see their families, to get the support that they might provide, and are not allowed because of cultural issues to seek support. This issue is very complicated.

Rhoda Grant is to be congratulated on introducing her Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill. I wish it well.

10:42 am
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Bill Aitken (Conservative)

A number of interesting speeches have been made in this interesting debate. Sandra White made some particularly interesting points. None of us can be complacent about what is happening in Scotland. However, by introducing the international aspect of the issue, Sandra White indicated just how horrifying things are in certain parts of the world, especially places such as Liberia, Rwanda and Bosnia, where rape against women was used as a weapon, demonstrating a degree of barbarism that few of us can contemplate. The member was right to bring that issue before the chamber today.

Anne McLaughlin dealt with the question of women's violence against men and with an issue that I know is dear to her heart—namely, the difficulties that are experienced by asylum seekers. She, too, highlighted an international dimension. There may be arguments about whether violence against women justifies individual asylum applications, but those are for another day. It can in no way be gainsaid that violence of that type is totally unacceptable.

I found Malcolm Chisholm's speech deeply depressing—not because of the way in which he put it across, but because of its content. He was totally correct to underline once again in the chamber the serious attitudinal problem that so many young people have in relation to violence against women, which is regarded as acceptable. Where I come from, disputes were settled somewhat more often by pugilistic ability than by the ability to articulate an argument particularly clearly. However, in those days in Maryhill, any concept of a man hitting a woman was totally unacceptable; it was simply not on. Assaulting a woman would have brought particular condemnation from other men on to the head of any man who did it. Young people were conscious of that. Malcolm Chisholm was merely quoting from studies that have been carried out, but I find it depressing that the attitude seems to have changed, which is very concerning.

Trish Godman raised the issue of violence against prostitutes and aspects of human trafficking. Although I do not totally agree with her on other aspects of the matter, as she is aware, I can certainly assure her that no one would take a more serious view of violence against any woman than I would. Human trafficking, for any purpose, is totally unacceptable. The courts must react, and everyone is entitled to their protection. That is especially true in the case of many prostitutes, who work in a very vulnerable situation. On that aspect, perhaps I can give the member some reassurance.

Margaret Mitchell dealt with issues about dowries and forced marriage, which I understand the committee that she convenes is dealing with. We understand the issues there. She also highlighted a situation that is all too prevalent in Glasgow and the west of Scotland, where domestic violence is frequently related to the activities at old firm football matches. That is depressing. Those of us who are interested in football—a number of us who are present in the chamber this morning are—like our teams to win, but when that does not happen there is absolutely no justification for returning home and taking it out on one's partner. That is completely out of order.

Nigel Don, in a typically thoughtful speech, raised the issue of homelessness. Local authorities, and indeed the Scottish Government, have taken various steps over the years to ameliorate the particular difficulties that arise when a woman is forced to flee the familial home. There has been some progress, but the minister might wish to review the situation to see whether anything further can be done in that respect, as it is a very real issue.

In her speech, Cathy Peattie showed a healthy disrespect for the veracity of statistics, and she was right to do so, because we do not really know whether there has been any attitudinal change. We have seen the action that the police and the Crown Office have taken, but has that changed what is happening underneath the surface? We do not know.

Rhoda Grant took the opportunity in her speech to canvass support for her bill, and we will see what happens with it, but it is fair to say that the Justice Committee has found much of the evidence on the matter to be of interest.

10:47 am
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Mary Mulligan (Labour)

As other members have said, this is one of those debates in which we might be happy to take part, but we would prefer for it not to have to take place at all. However, it has been valuable, not least because of the thoughtful speeches that we have heard, and also because it makes us take time to review the action that has been taken to combat violence, to consider the many elements of that violence, to note the progress that has been made and, most important, to acknowledge the work that still needs to be done.

Johann Lamont, Cathy Peattie, Nigel Don and Anne McLaughlin all made thoughtful speeches on domestic abuse. Let me be clear: Scottish Labour believes that domestic abuse, whether physical or psychological, is entirely unacceptable, and we abhor violence in all its forms. It is a fact that 83 per cent of recorded cases of domestic abuse involve a male perpetrator and a female victim. Violence against women is rooted in gender inequality, as is particularly clear in the domestic situation.

Since the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament, much progress has been made in raising awareness of domestic abuse and developing services to support victims. The Parliament has played a crucial part by passing legislation. Today, Rhoda Grant outlined a further piece of legislation that she is pursuing—her Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill—which will provide further support for abused women.

We should not think that the matter is just one of legislation; it is also about ensuring that relevant services are provided, and that those services work together. That includes the police, council departments and the voluntary sector. Progress has also been made in that regard, but we can never be complacent.

Trish Godman spoke about her prostitution bill—the proposed criminalisation of the purchase and sale of sex (Scotland) bill—which seeks to criminalise the purchasers of sexual services. She told us that we should not be put off her proposed bill because it might seem hard, and I hope that members throughout the Parliament will give it further consideration.

Bill Aitken told us of his experience at the domestic abuse court. Although he remains sceptical, many others have seen the advantages of that programme, so I ask the minister to think further about whether it could be rolled out across Scotland.

While we are on justice issues, I ask the minister what monitoring of changes to sentencing policy will take place. In 2008-09, 668 people were given custodial sentences in cases involving domestic abuse; for 402 of them, the sentence was less than three months. What will the impact be when the changes to custodial sentences take effect?

Sandra White highlighted exploitation within the entertainment industry. She made her case well when she said how easy it is to overlook the fact that such activity is a form of violence and to accept it just as part of the fabric of our society. However, it is clear that it can bring about attitudes that see violence as acceptable, and as such it must be taken much more seriously.

Domestic abuse was raised during a meeting that I had with the police just last week in my constituency. I want to emphasise two particular issues that the police raised. The first was to do with women returning to the place where violence has taken place. Why does that happen? Does it happen for practical reasons, such as the need for a home or financial support, or because of the dream of keeping the family together? Alternatively, does it happen because a woman's self-esteem is so low that she does not feel that she deserves any better? How can we be more effective in tackling that?

The other issue that the police raised was education. They stressed that we will never solve the problem unless we start at an early age. That is why projects such as the respect campaign that the Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust introduced in our schools are so important.

I welcome the continuing provision of financial resources that the minister has announced, but I hear the warning of Malcolm Chisholm and Nigel Don, who pointed out that the single outcome agreements, particularly at a local level, do not necessarily support the words that we hear in the Parliament, so there may be an argument for having some ring fencing.

In closing, I can do no better than to quote from the press release that the Scottish Trades Union Congress issued in support of today's debate:

"Words and strategies will not be enough. Changing attitudes and keeping women and children safe from harm requires investment, both of our time and our money. The STUC will continue to give this the highest priority in the year ahead."

I can guarantee that the Labour Party will continue to do so, too, and I look forward to working with the Scottish Government to ensure that it does likewise.

10:53 am
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Alex Neil (Scottish National Party)

The quality of the debate has shown the Parliament at its best. Perhaps we should all reflect on whether we could learn a lesson or two about being as constructive as we have all been this morning when we deal with such serious subjects. The contributions by members of all parties have been absolutely first class.

The first general lesson that we are all agreed on is the point that Johann Lamont made, which was reiterated by a number of members, that major changes in the culture of Scotland are still required. I hope that by making those changes in the not-too-distant future we will not need to have such debates because there is no domestic violence or violence against women in Scotland. There is no doubt that the culture of the macho man who thinks that he can do anything and get away with it still exists in some parts of Scotland, and we must challenge that in every way and at every turn and every opportunity.

As Bill Aitken said, a lot of what Malcolm Chisholm said about the research study findings was a bit depressing, not because it was Malcolm who delivered it, but because the findings were depressing. The most depressing part of it was the attitude of too many young people, male and female, who think that domestic abuse and violence against woman is an acceptable part of our culture. That shows that one of the priority areas that we have to work on is educating our young people that domestic abuse, in all its forms, is totally unacceptable.

The second dimension was introduced by Sandra White, and as Bill Aitken said, it is important: the international dimension. We are rightly critical about where we are in Scotland and how much more needs to be done here. However, from a Scottish Women's Aid report of a conference that was held in New York, we can see that we are doing more, and in many respects are further ahead, than many of our counterparts in the UK and internationally. That is not a reason for complacency, but it is worth mentioning how much progress has been made since Scottish Women's Aid was formed 35 years ago. We need to move at a greater pace and on all fronts, but we should not ignore the progress that has been made to date.

The third major lesson from today's debate is the multidimensional nature of violence against women. We heard a thoughtful speech from Trish Godman about prostitution in all its evil forms. We also had a thoughtful speech from Anne McLaughlin about refugees. I say to Margaret Mitchell, in her role as convener of the Equal Opportunities Committee, that I and my colleagues in justice will take seriously the conclusions and recommendations of the Equal Opportunities Committee's excellent report on migration and trafficking. Much of the issue and the legislation around it is reserved, but we will work with our colleagues in Westminster to address the issues that the report highlights.

The Government is also supportive of Rhoda Grant's bill. There was a meeting yesterday with Fergus Ewing. I understand that it was productive, and that the Government is working closely with Rhoda Grant on various aspects of her bill. I hope that she agrees that we are trying to be as helpful as possible.

During her opening remarks, Johann Lamont asked a valid question about an update on the issue of no recourse to public funds. She will be familiar with the sojourner project, which is administered through the Home Office. It has been running for some time, and I have been informed that funding for it will continue into the new financial year, which is welcome indeed. To date, 40 women in Scotland have been assisted by the sojourner project pilot. However, I have been dealing with two constituency cases, and I have to say that some of the pilot project is restrictive in nature and it needs to be more flexible to help more women. I know that the project's remit and how it goes forward is under review.

I should also say that, if the Treasury was more flexible—I am not making a party political point—

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Alex Neil (Scottish National Party)

I would never do such a thing. Seriously, if the Treasury was more flexible, the Scottish Government would wish to do more to help with funding for women with no recourse to public funding. We will continue to talk to our colleagues at Westminster about that.

We are working on the Forced Marriage etc (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Bill, which, if passed, will also mark another advance on the issue.

In my opening speech, I paid tribute to the pioneering work of Strathclyde Police on its GPS project, although Johann Lamont made the point that it is a tragedy that we need such a system in the 21st century. Margaret Mitchell also mentioned the pioneering work that Strathclyde Police has been doing in the run up to, during and immediately after old firm games. It is worth pointing out that, since that work was started almost two years ago, the incidence of domestic abuse around old firm games has been reduced by about 30 per cent. That shows that a proactive approach by the police to prevention and to dealing with the problem can be effective.

As I have nearly run out of time—although I have much more to say—let me say finally that not only are we united in this chamber about the unacceptability of violence against women but there is a great deal of agreement on how we should move forward to do more to tackle the problem.

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Alex Neil (Scottish National Party)

When we decide on our new year resolutions, I hope that we will all resolve to do everything that we can to eradicate from Scotland domestic abuse and violence against women.