I commend Mike Rumbles for his dogged commitment to the issue over 11 years. I also commend my second favourite committee, the Public Petitions Committee—which I consider a second home—for its thoughtful discussion with witnesses when considering the petition on male victims of domestic violence. I have read the Official Report of the committee's considerations and view the contributions with interest and regard. Indeed, as Bill Butler said at that session and repeated today:
"Domestic abuse is domestic abuse is domestic abuse."—[Official Report, Public Petitions Committee, 26 January 2010; c 2337]
That said, like other members, I make it unequivocally clear that nothing that I say in the debate reduces my regard for those who challenge violence against women in all its forms and those who, over the 11 years of the Parliament, have campaigned to reduce abuse against women, particular in the domestic setting. I saw direct evidence of that in my former profession as a court lawyer who specialised in family matters. I have spoken about that in other debates in the chamber.
I want to move on from the prevailing and, in my view, unhelpful gender divide to an agenda of policies, publicity and practical assistance that recognises that all victims of domestic violence require equivalent—though perhaps not the same—support, and to the implementation of that agenda.
I do not want to play the numbers game. As John Forsyth said in his evidence to the Public Petitions Committee,
"There should not be a competition between victims."—[Official Report, Public Petitions Committee, 26 January 2010; c 2332.]
I will endeavour to say little on the subject, save to comment on the evidence in the 2008-09 Scottish crime and justice survey module on partner abuse. I distinguish the evidence in that document from that which we have from reported cases. Based on a random survey of 16,000 adults aged over 16,
"In the majority of cases, where partner abuse was experienced since the age of 16, the gender of any abusive partner was male (60%) compared with 38% ... female."
Of course, the figures do not chime with public perception. Therefore, the situation of male victims is not reflected in our treatment or recognition of abused men. We need to recognise that there are abused men, and that their number is growing. The same research exposed the situation of those who did not report abuse. It found that 21 per cent of women did not tell anyone and that the figure rose to 40 per cent for men. We need not guess why; we need only quote Mr B's evidence to the Public Petitions Committee. He said:
"I never had anybody to speak to. The subject was embarrassing and I did not want to speak to my friends or family about it. Domestic abuse just did not happen to men."—[Official Report, Public Petitions Committee, 26 January 2010; c 2336.]
How does the perceived reality and not the reality itself translate into our interventions, policies and how agencies deal day to day with domestic violence? I will reprise some of Mike Rumbles's concerns. When police are called to a domestic and they are in doubt about the perpetrator, who do they identify as the victim and who as the perpetrator? Who is presumed guilty until proven innocent? In our television ads, who is always depicted as the victim? Have we ever seen even one advert that recognises that, just occasionally, the victim might be a man? When our children are taught to respect one another, do our teachers recognise that domestic abuse can be a two-way street? The consequences of a wrongful, prejudged intervention can be substantial, because the presumption that the man is always the perpetrator can and often does lead to a chain of events that are almost impossible to reverse: loss of contact with children, loss of employment and loss of home. The TV and poster ads that children see reinforce the view that only women are victims, so the public perception is reinforced in our policies.
The consequences of and fallout from domestic abuse for all victims are severe: fear, anxiety and psychological as well as physical injury, with loss of self-worth and self-respect. It breaks the body and the spirit, and inflicts damage that can last decades and poison relationships with children and subsequent partners. It does not matter whether the victim is a man or a woman.
How do I know that? I quote a male victim, who said:
"I find it painful that the Scottish Government has funded a series of TV ads for Christmases highlighting the awfulness of domestic violence in which every example is of male violence against women.
It hurts to see messages on buses that men are violent and women are victims. Not a hint that it can ever be the other way. I have no sympathy for men who assault a wife or partner. But I object to my own experience being disregarded.
It's not just the violence that hurts. It's the confidence that was destroyed and has never come back. It's the knowledge that the policy makers don't want to know. You are on your own."
I recognise that there has been some movement, including from Labour members, but we still have an awfully long way to go. If we insist that this is a gender issue, we do a grave disservice to all victims of domestic violence.