I am not in denial that domestic abuse takes place. The problem is that the gender-based analysis leans the debate in one direction against another.
Although the majority of victims of domestic violence are women, to say that they are the overwhelming majority, as Johann Lamont's amendment does, is misguided. The UK Statistics Authority reviewed the evidence in 2008, following a query raised by Parity regarding the use of the phrase
"the overwhelming majority of victims are women" in a consultation document issued by the Crown Prosecution Service on its policy for prosecuting cases of domestic abuse. Following the review, the UK Statistics Authority concluded that the evidence did not justify the use of the phrase and, consequently, the CPS removed it from its document.
The developments in services and increased funding targeted at female victims have been vital, essential and have benefited thousands of women. However, providing similar services to male victims of violence in the home would ensure that all victims of such violence are catered for with the vital services that they desperately require.
The Scottish Government has recently taken a small but significant step to provide a service to male victims. On 17 April this year, the men's advice line was extended to cover Scotland, as well as operating in England and Wales, as was the Respect helpline, which aims to assist perpetrators of domestic abuse in changing their behaviour. However, much more needs to be done to ensure that male victims are provided locally with services that meet their needs and, importantly, that mainstream services that regularly come into contact with victims of domestic violence—such as the police, social work, housing, health and victim support—are trained to recognise the needs of male victims as well. The role of local authorities and how people normally present through social work services are important factors that need to be acted upon at ground level.
The issue was brought before the Public Petitions Committee by two petitioners—Alison Waugh and Jackie Walls—who seek to ensure that all publicly funded action, including campaigns, projects and training programmes, are adapted to acknowledge fully the needs of male victims of violence and their children. Once again, the Public Petitions Committee has allowed an important issue to be raised at committee level.
At present, too many agencies that were established to assist victims and vulnerable people in domestic violence situations fail to recognise men as victims of such violence. Training and services tend to adopt a gendered approach, reflecting higher reporting by female victims. That approach has a negative knock-on effect, in that it reinforces the proposition that only women can be victims of domestic violence while assuming that generalised services will meet the needs of male victims. For example, I was concerned by the written response that the Public Petitions Committee received from the social work services at the City of Edinburgh Council. It seemed to suggest that women who acknowledged using violence did so for reasons of
"self defence ... pent up feelings of anger and frustration" or a desire
"to precipitate a violent assault against themselves".
A number of issues have been raised during the debate and we must recognise the problem. Strathclyde Police made a step in the right direction in its recent domestic abuse campaign "Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Scared to go home?", which featured men and women on the posters.