Violence Against Men

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 4:18 pm on 10th June 2010.

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Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 4:18 pm, 10th June 2010

I am slightly disappointed by the confrontational nature of the debate, given that there is so much on which we all ought to agree. Alex Neil talked about the unacceptability of all domestic abuse and domestic violence, as did pretty much every member who has spoken. Domestic abuse and domestic violence are always wrong, in all circumstances. Members of all parties can agree on that.

I used to work as a youth worker, supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people, so I can testify to the wide range of experiences of domestic abuse and violence that young people, as well as adults, experience in domestic relationships of all kinds. I think that members of all parties acknowledge that, too.

We can also all agree that there have been big and welcome improvements over the years in the legislation and in services such as policing, social work, family support and victim support. The new helpline represents not day 1 of a new agenda but the next appropriate and reasonable step in the gradual improvement of the way in which we deal with all the issues. We can and have all welcomed that.

However, we should also all recognise that there is a good reason why we have traditionally brought debates to the chamber that focus on violence against women. It is centrally important to recognise that there is long-standing and deep-seated inequality in our society, particularly gender inequality, which underpins a huge amount of domestic violence and abuse, and that the problem of such abuse has to be understood in gender terms, no matter who the victim is, if it is to be fully understood both in scale and in nature. It is also important to stress that those who have advocated for many years the gendered analysis have never sought to undermine or ignore male victims of situations that are not posed in terms of male violence against women. The briefings that all members have received from the organisations that have advocated that gendered position make that clear.

I welcome and endorse much of Johann Lamont's emphasis on seeing this debate in complementary terms and not setting one group of victims against another. Her explanation of the relevance of the gendered analysis to issues for young men—for example, the ways in which they experience, engage in and relate to violence—was absolutely spot on. However, I sometimes disagree with Labour's specific proposals on issues such as minimum sentencing, which I think risk doing more harm than good. It does not help, from a gendered point of view, if we take a frightened wee boy and turn him out of prison a few months later with him convinced that he is a hard wee man.

I want to make a point about domestic violence and abuse in same-sex relationships and say why the gendered analysis is relevant to those situations. Such circumstances are often cited by those who argue against a specific gendered analysis of the issue, which in the view of some people mistakenly sees or recognises only male violence against women. I have been working in the Parliament for about seven years, so it is a while since I have professionally supported or counselled people in same-sex relationships who experience violence or abuse. However, I have to say that I do not remember a single case where the experience of working with those people did not bring up issues around internalised homophobia: the ugly but all too common phenomenon of people turning society's homophobia and prejudice inward and against themselves or their partners. Where does that homophobia come from? Where does it originate? Very clearly, I would argue, it originates in the social and cultural enforcement and policing of gender roles, and in global terms a relatively modern and western binary model of gender that ultimately is delusional. The gendered analysis is therefore absolutely crucial, no matter who the victim is, and is always relevant to women and to men in mixed-sex relationships or any relationships.

Scottish Women's Aid, which is one of the organisations that have advocated that position, states:

"A gender based analysis of domestic abuse is not just about defining 'who does what to whom' and it does not assume that abusers are always men and victims always women. It seeks to understand the context, meaning and impact of the abuse and how the abuse of individual men and women impacts differently on women, as a group, and men, as a group."

I think that all members in the chamber should be able to support that and agree with it.

It would be wrong for the Parliament to agree a motion that implied or stated that some victims were unimportant or should not be offered support, but it would be equally wrong to agree a motion that had nothing to say about the gendered aspects of domestic abuse and domestic violence. I will therefore be very happy to support Johann Lamont's amendment. Mike Rumbles earlier passionately argued—I know that he is sincere about this—that this is not simply a gender issue. Well, of course it is not—gender is not simple and the gender inequalities in our society are not simple. This is complexly a gender issue. We must agree on the vital need for support and justice no matter who the victim is. However, we must also recognise that the gendered aspects of the issue are central, no matter who the victim is, and we should reflect that in the motion by agreeing the Labour amendment.