Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd March 2016.

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Photo of Christina McKelvie Christina McKelvie Scottish National Party

On 11 September 2013, I led a members’ business debate on the sensitive subject of revenge porn. It was then the subject of a new campaign by Scottish Women’s Aid and not many people had heard about it. I thank colleagues across the chamber for supporting that debate because, until it came to the chamber, we had not spoken about revenge porn and, if we had not done so, we would not be where we are today.

I opened that debate by talking about the history of domestic abuse. It was not recognised or spoken about in decades gone by. In fact, while the women’s suffrage movement was active, it was promoted as a way to keep in line those upstart women who sought the vote. We have now moved on, but domestic violence is still very much a blight on our lives and the bill seeks to address that fact.

I commend the work of the Parliament over many years to tackle domestic violence. I offer Malcolm Chisholm my good wishes and thanks. He has worked for many years on the issue, as we have heard, and has co-chaired with me the cross-party group on domestic violence. I give him every best wish that I can and thank him for all that he has done and for everything that I have learned from him. I thank him especially for the support that he has given me during the campaign to ensure that the sharing of intimate images becomes a criminal offence. I say to him that we are realising that aim today. [Applause.]

I also thank Alison McInnes for her support because, without the cross-party support that we have had in the Parliament over many years, we would not be discussing this good bill.

As we all know, an image can go viral on social media within minutes. As I said in the debate that I held a few years ago, revenge porn is every bit as abusive as any other type of domestic violence. Freedom of speech and the freedom to protest cannot be translated into cyberabuse. Such actions are exploitative and very cruel. They ruin lives, cost people their jobs, take away self-respect and take away somebody’s dignity. In some cases, people have taken their own lives.

Many key aspects of the bill bring me great comfort. I hope that that applies to all the organisations with which we have worked over the years, such as Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and Zero Tolerance—I make no apology for mentioning them all again. They expect us to do something about the issue, given the work that they have done to ensure that we are educated, understand the issues and can do something about it. That is why we are here.

It is very welcome to hear that there will be an aggravation of the offence if there is abuse of a partner or ex-partner. Non-harassment orders in criminal cases are also welcome. How many times have we sat in the cross-party group hearing of cases in which women were continuously harassed, whether that was from a prison cell, by text message, by phone message or through other people?

The provision for jury directions has caused a bit of controversy today. Given some of the evidence that we have seen and the views of the young people—and some older people—to whom we have spoken, it is clear that preconceived ideas can mar judgment in such cases, so I welcome directions to jurors who may have such preconceived ideas. In addition, the bill includes provisions to criminalise incitement to commit certain acts in other parts of the UK, not just in Scotland. That aspect has become important, especially given some of the issues surrounding revenge porn.

I turn to sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders. Coming from a social work background, I know that we cannot overestimate the comfort and support that putting in place such orders to protect people can give to victims of domestic violence.

All the parts of the bill will send a clear and unambiguous message. For those who perpetrate domestic violence or sexual harm, for those who attempt to coerce and control and for those who use revenge porn and share intimate images to shame or blackmail, there will be zero tolerance.

The bill will support and protect the most vulnerable men, women, children and families, and it will make communities stronger. I commend for their work all my colleagues in the chamber, the Justice Committee, all the organisations that I just mentioned and especially the Scottish Government for having the courage to bring the bill to the chamber in the final week of the session. It is fitting that the final legislation is about people and protecting people who are victims of violence. I hope that everyone will support the bill at decision time.