Domestic Abuse of LGBTQ+ People

– in the Scottish Parliament at 12:52 pm on 9 May 2024.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat 12:52, 9 May 2024

I ask those who are leaving the public gallery to do so as quickly and quietly as possible.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-12342, in the name of Collette Stevenson, on shining a light on domestic abuse in LGBT+ history month. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament condemns domestic abuse in all its forms; understands that domestic abuse often consists of intimate partner violence (IPV), and that this is defined by the World Health Organization as behaviours including sexual abuse, violence, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours perpetrated by a current or former intimate partner; is concerned by Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) statistics showing that 30,139 charges were reported to COPFS with a domestic abuse identifier in 2022-23; notes that these figures show that the accused was male in 86% of these cases; understands that Police Scotland statistics for 2021-22 show that 1,691 domestic abuse incidents were recorded with same-sex victims and suspected perpetrators, representing around 3.5% of incidents in which gender was recorded, but that the data is not broken down for transgender people; believes that these statistics are a stark reminder of what it considers to be the unacceptable levels of domestic abuse in Scotland, but considers that these likely underestimate the scale of LGBTQ+ domestic abuse; understands that research suggests that 30% to 45% of LGBTQ+ people will ever experience IPV, which, it believes, is in line with cisgender women in heterosexual relationships; notes the view that structural inequalities could be prohibiting LGBTQ+ victims of domestic abuse from coming forward or receiving the support that it considers they deserve from services; acknowledges that the theme of LGBT+ History Month 2024, “Medicine: #UnderTheScope”, aims to showcase the work of LGBT+ healthcare staff and highlight what it sees as the health inequalities experienced by LGBTQ+ people today; believes that domestic abuse is a public health issue; considers that the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 strengthened the law to protect people in East Kilbride and across Scotland against abusive behaviour, including physical and psychological abuse, as well as coercive control; recognises the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe strategy to tackle violence against women and girls; notes the calls for a national LGBTQ+ domestic abuse policy, with specific outcomes and measures to help the community, including ensuring that services and staff have the right procedures and training to ensure that LGBTQ+ people get appropriate support; further notes the belief that such a policy could be aligned with or supplementary to Equally Safe, which, it considers, offers a good framework for such a policy; notes reports that LGBTQ+ people can face barriers in accessing services, including potential stigma, misunderstanding of LGBTQ+ relationships, and what it considers to be default heterosexual norms; further notes the calls for a comprehensive analysis to identify gaps in domestic abuse service provision for LGBTQ+ individuals, to ensure routine risk assessment processes are more inclusive for LGBTQ+ experiences, and to ensure that LGBTQ+ people are considered and included in sexual violence and domestic abuse courses; acknowledges that a roundtable on LGBTQ+ IPV was held in the Parliament on 8 February 2024, with stakeholders including members of the LGBTQ+ community and representatives from the third sector, local authorities and Police Scotland; understands that this roundtable for the wider LGBTQ+ community builds on previous research by academics in Scotland, including Dr Steven Maxwell, from the University of Glasgow, and Professor Jamie Frankis, from Glasgow Caledonian University, into same-sex male relationship IPV; believes that LGBTQ+ people experiencing domestic abuse should not be made to feel invisible, and notes that people who have experienced domestic abuse are encouraged to seek the support to which they are entitled.

Photo of Collette Stevenson Collette Stevenson Scottish National Party 12:53, 9 May 2024

I am grateful to members for supporting my motion. The catalyst for the debate was a recent stakeholder round-table session that we had in Parliament, which was led by Dr Steven Maxwell from the University of Glasgow, on domestic abuse in the LGBTQ+ community. That event, which brought together MSPs, Dr Maxwell and representatives from councils, the police and the third sector, allowed us to have an open conversation about the many challenges that LGBTQ+ people experience—not only the harm of domestic abuse, but the barriers to accessing support. The event was followed by a report that has 14 recommendations. I will cover as many of those recommendations as I can in the time that I have.

Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime, and we all recognise the harm that it causes to individuals and our society. In recent years, there have been some big developments in tackling the damage of domestic abuse, including the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which brought together within one offence the modern understanding of what domestic abuse looks like, including psychological domestic abuse such as coercive and controlling behaviour.

The Scottish Government has also developed the equally safe strategy in order to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls. It sets out a vision of preventing violence, improving support services and strengthening the justice response for victims and perpetrators. Those developments are very welcome.

However, at the round-table meeting, we heard about issues to do with gender framing of policies. Many people in the community do not fit into societal assumptions of masculinity and femininity, or into traditional binary gender norms. There is a need to ensure that policy and practice work to ensure that anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse can get the support that they need. The round-table meeting participants agreed that there needs to be a national LGBTQ+ domestic abuse action plan that is perhaps based on, or aligned with, the equally safe strategy. I hope that the Government will consider that.

Data collection underpins the invisibility of domestic abuse. There are challenges in understanding the extent of such crimes. For example, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service publishes a breakdown of the sex of the accused in domestic abuse charges, but not the sex of the victim. Police Scotland sometimes includes the sex of both the suspect and the victim in its statistics. We know that most cases of domestic abuse do not get reported. I encourage all victims to seek support from the organisations that can help them: there are many great services out there.

Police Scotland data from 2022-23 shows that, when gender was recorded, around 3 per cent of recorded domestic abuse incidents involved same-sex victims and suspects. That equates to around 1,500 incidents. There is no breakdown of figures for transgender people. However, research suggests that between 30 and 45 per cent of LGBTQ+ people will experience intimate partner violence. That is in line with the levels that are experienced by women in heterosexual relationships.

I hope that the Government can work alongside its partners in the justice sector to consider what approaches can be taken in order to understand better the scale of LGBTQ+ domestic abuse and, perhaps initially, to get official estimates of its prevalence. One of the challenges for LGBTQ+ people who are experiencing domestic abuse is that they might be nervous about engaging with statutory services. It was interesting to hear police officers at the round-table meeting acknowledging the concerns that many LGBTQ+ people have, while being clear about their commitment to ensuring that Scotland’s police force acts for the diverse communities that make up modern Scotland, and that it resembles them.

However, the changes that must be made go well beyond the police. A key part of policies such as the equally safe strategy is that they prevent domestic abuse from occurring in the first place. There is a need to ensure that public sector bodies and wider society are ready and able to prevent domestic abuse in the community. That could include developing an LGBTQ+ curriculum within existing sexual violence and domestic abuse courses, including those that are provided by statutory services.

There is also a specific need for risk assessments to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ experiences. For example, multi-agency risk assessment conferences—MARACs—are used across Scotland to help to identify high-risk cases. Concerns were raised at the round-table meeting that such processes are structured around heterosexual norms. In fact, stakeholders mentioned that the number of LGBTQ+ people who are being referred to support agencies through a MARAC is well below what was expected, which likely indicates that there is an issue with the current safeguarding policies.

Overall, it appears that the prevalence of domestic abuse in the community is significantly underestimated. In turn, that has meant that local services cannot recognise and address the issue. That is not a criticism of those services, but an example of why there has to be a shift in the approach that is being taken to tackling domestic abuse.

There is a lot to say on the topic, but I conclude by thanking Dr Maxwell and his colleagues for their work to highlight the issue, and by thanking the people who have taken part in research studies on LGBTQ+ domestic abuse. I also thank everyone who took part in the round-table meeting earlier this year.

I hope that today’s debate will shine a light on domestic abuse, encourage people to seek the support that they deserve and help to begin the change that we need for people in the community who experience domestic abuse—something that has, for too long, been hidden.

I hope to meet ministers soon to discuss the recommendations, which I hope the Scottish Government can help to advance—in particular, the recommendations on identifying gaps in service provision, on ensuring that agencies are equipped to deal with the specific challenges for the community, and on helping to ensure that there is adequate data collection.

We all agree that domestic abuse has no place in modern Scotland and that we must do everything that we can to support anyone who experiences it.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party 1:01, 9 May 2024

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and I congratulate my friend and colleague, Collette Stevenson, on securing it. Collette has outlined the issue really well, so I am pleased to follow her at the beginning of LGBT+ history month.

I, too, want to start by condemning domestic abuse in all its forms, whether it is sexual assault, coercive control, psychological abuse or any other form of controlling behaviour.

The University of Glasgow has carried out a great deal of work on LGBT domestic abuse, and the findings of its report make for concerning reading. The research shows that LGBT+ people face fear of being stigmatised and disbelieved by police, support services being designed for heterosexual people and a systemic lack of LGBT+ domestic abuse knowledge and inclusion across “most services” in Scotland.

On the few inclusive services, the report recorded prolonged waiting lists and “inadequate” safe accommodation for LGBT+ people—a problem that the report’s author Dr Steven Maxwell has warned will only be worsened by impending local authority cuts. Dr Maxwell said:

“Domestic abuse experiences of LGBTQ+ victims and survivors are overlooked and unheard. One in 3 LGBTQ+ adults will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, the same level as heterosexual women.”

We know that such abuse has a profound impact on a person’s life, so it is absolutely crucial that the Scottish Government does all that it can to get the services right for our LGBT+ community. We must deliver parity of esteem for domestic abuse services for all domestic abuse victims—of any and all sexual orientations.

There is a clear way forward to improve the current situation. According to Dr Maxwell, a number of steps could reduce the high-risk situations that LGBT+ victims experience.

The starting point is for the Scottish Government to review the national equally safe policy, which Collette Stevenson mentioned, to have it include LGBT+ domestic abuse experiences. The University of Glasgow report says that LGBT people’s experiences are “invisible” in the equally safe strategy.

The report calls for a tailored national action plan to provide “visible competent measures” to meet people’s needs. They include: stronger prevention; service inclusion messages; more inclusive safe spaces; and practitioner workforce education for health and social care staff through, for example, Turas e-learning modules. Previously, as a clinical nurse educator, I developed and delivered e-learning courses, and it seems pretty achievable for us to pursue that, so I will ask the minister whether that could be considered.

As Collette Stevenson’s motion shows, statistical publications show that 30,139 charges that had a domestic abuse identifier were reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in 2022-23. The accused was male in 86 per cent of reports, which means that 4,219 women were perpetrators of domestic abuse. We need to ensure that policies such as equally safe work to support anyone who has experienced domestic abuse, because it is not a women-only problem.

One excellent example of work that is being undertaken to support LGBT+ people who are experiencing domestic abuse is the work of the charity Galop. Galop specialises in supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence, hate crime, honour-based abuse, forced marriage, conversion therapies and other types of interpersonal abuse. Galop is run by LGBT+ people for LGBT+ people, and the community is at the heart of everything that it does. Galop is a fantastic organisation, and I would like to hear from the minister whether the Scottish Government could engage with it.

Enabling our LGBT+ community to be supported in cases of domestic violence is crucial, so I welcome the debate.

Photo of Paul O'Kane Paul O'Kane Labour 1:05, 9 May 2024

I thank Collette Stevenson for securing today’s debate. Taking time to highlight the problems of domestic abuse, intimate partner violence and the challenges faced by members of the LGBT+ community is vitally important. Those issues demand constant attention and focus to ensure that we continue to progress in the right direction, by making it clear that there is no place for domestic abuse in Scotland and by furthering the rights and equality of LGBT+ people.

The motion references the view that structural inequalities could be prohibiting LGBT+ victims of domestic abuse from coming forward or receiving the support that they need. I will start by addressing those structural inequalities, because there is no doubt in my mind that, of late, the rhetoric in relation to LGBT+ people has become more toxic.

We have come a long way since the days of section 28 and the homophobia of years gone by, but there can be no mistaking—we should not kid ourselves that this is not the case—that homophobia and transphobia are still present in our politics, media and society. Some of the headlines in the press over the past few weeks, and some of the reactions and commentary on them, have crossed the line from nuanced, responsible and sensitive questioning of policy to full-throated stereotypical attacks that are met with hurt and, very often, fear by LGBT+ people across Scotland.

It is those feelings of hurt and fear that very often convince people that they will not be heard or taken seriously and that they are still looked on as other. When we talk about domestic abuse and intimate partner violence, both within and outwith the LGBT+ community, but we still cannot talk in a sensible way about inclusive education and support that treat LGBT+ identities as normal and valid, is it any wonder that we are concerned about the underreporting of the problems that people face? We have heard about some of that already, but it is why education is so important.

Education around domestic abuse and what it means to be LGBT+ in Scotland remains completely vital, and it is why I and many others across the chamber continue to support organisations such as the Time for Inclusive Education campaign, so that we can increase understanding and our support of young people.

There are still too many young LGBT+ people in Scotland who are scared to talk about themselves, their identity and their experiences, because they do not see themselves reflected in their education and in society. Tackling the general stigma faced by LGBT+ people and helping to empower them to speak out need to go hand in hand with tackling the general stigma and fear around domestic abuse and intimate partner violence. I recognise that we have made significant progress in the way that we talk about domestic abuse in the context of violence against women and girls. There is much more to do, and I stand with the work of the Government and the excellent work of organisations such as White Ribbon Scotland, particularly in ensuring that men take responsibility for changing our attitudes and behaviours.

We debate this motion at the beginning of the Government of a new First Minister and Deputy First Minister, and I want to take the opportunity to thank Emma Roddick, who is in the chamber, for all her work in her time as Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees, particularly in those areas in which I know that she took a keen interest. I wish her well on the back benches, where I know that she will continue to advocate on all those issues.

I say to the Government that we must not roll back now on the hard-fought rights of LGBT+ people; rather, the Government must show commitment and progress while building a consensus across our country, just as we have done at every milestone for LGBT+ people in the past. As I have said previously in the chamber, we are not going back into the closet, we are not going to hide and we are not going to be ashamed of who we are. I support the calls in the motion for a national LGBT+ domestic abuse strategy to raise awareness and improve services so that they are accessible to everyone in that community, and I call on the Government to reflect on that in its response. We must start the journey of tackling this important issue today.

Photo of Marie McNair Marie McNair Scottish National Party 1:10, 9 May 2024

I thank my colleague Collette Stevenson for bringing this important debate to the chamber and helping us highlight the issue of domestic abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships.

Domestic abuse knows no boundaries and follows no rules. It can happen to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It can take many forms, be it emotional, psychological, physical or sexual abuse. It was reported that, in 2022-23, 30,139 charges were reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service with a domestic abuse identifier and that, in 86 per cent of those cases, the accused was male. However, Police Scotland notes that, in 2021-22, 1,691 domestic abuse incidents were recorded with same-sex victims and suspected perpetrators.

Those figures are concerning, but they highlight the possibility that LGBTQ+ domestic abuse might be going widely unreported. Societal discrimination, stigma or inequalities might be prohibiting LGBTQ+ victims of domestic abuse from coming forward to receive the support that they so greatly deserve. That is backed up by research, which notes that underreporting is common because of people not feeling safe or able to identify their experiences of abuse within typical assumptions of heterosexual dominance. Research also suggests that rates of underreporting in the LGBTQ+ population are between 60 and 80 per cent, which is consistent with the national underreporting rate of 79 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics in 2018.

As we cannot allow fear and stigma to prevent survivors from seeking help and support, it is important that we do more to include LGBTQ+ survivors in our discussions and actions on domestic abuse. Some studies suggest that around 40 per cent of individuals in LGBTQ+ relationships might experience domestic abuse.

It has also been noted that higher rates of domestic abuse are found among those who identify as transgender. According to a Scottish Trans study, 80 per cent of transgender victims had experienced domestic abuse. That has been backed up by recent literature, which found that transgender individuals are two times more likely to experience physical abuse and almost three times more likely to experience sexual abuse than cisgender individuals. Experiencing that alongside transphobia can lead to severe and concerning mental health issues.

In tackling domestic abuse, we must also address the root causes of misogyny, homophobia and toxic masculinity, and we must challenge harmful stereotypes and attitudes that result in discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. We must also educate each other on the warning signs of domestic abuse to help break the cycle of violence. Relationships must be built on mutual respect and compassion. No one should ever be fearful of violence or coercive control within a relationship.

In reflecting on the achievements and struggles of the LGBT community throughout history, I would like to remember all those victims of domestic abuse. To those who have felt their lives shatter around them and those who have felt invisible, I say: you are not alone. In fact, I have experienced this, too, and I am here to show that we will not be silenced. I do so in recognition that it is important to speak out and empower others to do so, to recognise the signs when you are being gaslighted, bullied and manipulated, to recognise that you are strong, resilient and have the strength and support to stand up to bullies and to speak out and assert that such behaviour is wrong and not welcome in any part of this society. I am here on your side, because I have been there, too.

I again thank my colleague Collette Stevenson for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative 1:14, 9 May 2024

I pay tribute to Collette Stevenson for her relentless work on this issue and for bringing stakeholders to the Parliament earlier this year. I congratulate her on the longest motion that I have ever read in the Parliament; in fact, it reads more like a report, which is excellent and a testament to her office, too. There is a lot in that report to get through, but I will cover three specific areas that I think we should debate.

First, I put on record my thanks and tribute to those who did a lot of the groundwork on and research into the subject, particularly Dr Steven Maxwell of the University of Glasgow, who has relentlessly kept MSPs up to date on his work and informed the stakeholder round table that we had in February, which I attended and was grateful for.

I thank those in the third sector, too. Emma Harper mentioned Galop, which organises the national domestic abuse helpline that specifically helps LGBT people.

One of the most profound things that I heard at that round table was the lived experience of many of the young people who attended, and some of the very moving and difficult stories that they shared with us. It is never easy when we attend such groups and listen to what is happening in the real world, when we are so often caught up in statistics and policy documents.

All of that is important, because it goes without saying that domestic abuse is abhorrent and unacceptable to all of us. Indeed, all parties have signed up to that view over the past couple of years. The DASA legislation that we have passed, as well as other pieces of legislation and the debate that we had last week are good examples of cross-party working and of how we, as a Parliament, use the powers available to us to tackle that abhorrent practice.

The experience of LGBT people in particular is quite unique. For all the reasons that we have just heard, they often feel an inability to report something, given the stigma that comes with it—not just of being in an LGBT relationship, which is often difficult depending on the community that they live in, but of having to admit that they are suffering some form of abuse or coercive behaviour and physical and mental violence. I would say that the equally safe strategy provides a good framework, unpicking how we take a Government policy and design it around particular groups of people to meet their needs.

One of the things that came out of Dr Maxwell’s report was a welcome analysis of the importance of variety in the different routes and pathways by which services can be delivered to people. The awareness of access to those services is important, too.

Importantly, we need LGBT+-specific services, because most people in the community who have been surveyed said that they felt “invisible”—that is the language that they used—to other services. There was a huge reluctance to report to the police; in fact, Police Scotland attendees at the round table acknowledged as much, and a lot of work has been done on training front-line officers to deal with DASA and the situations that they respond to. However, what happens when they turn up and face a domestic situation in an LGBT household? Are they fully confident that they know how to deal with that and that they can gather the appropriate evidence that the Crown might use down the line? I am not convinced that they are, and nor was the round table.

I want to make a point about awareness and barriers to access to services. A lot has been said over the past few weeks about organisations such as LGBT Youth Scotland, the TIE campaign and other organisations that help and educate young people. Education is absolutely key here: in my view, the earlier we educate people about appropriate relationships and what constitutes abuse, the better. There is nothing controversial in that.

I would just like to put on record my personal thanks to Emma Roddick for her work in Government. I know that many people have been gloating over her exit, which is disgraceful. Everyone who gets into public office deserves respect and thanks.

Finally, I thank Collette Stevenson for bringing this really important matter to the chamber, and I hope that we can revisit it in future.

Photo of Emma Roddick Emma Roddick Scottish National Party 1:19, 9 May 2024

I thank Collette Stevenson for securing this debate. I know that she has taken a special interest in this issue. Her allyship is incredibly valuable and I am sure that it is appreciated by many of her constituents, as well as the wider community.

Throughout this debate, I have felt the weight and value of the speeches by Marie McNair, Paul O’Kane, Jamie Greene and Emma Harper, particularly because, right now, LGBTQ+ rights are under sustained and constant attack—an attack that Paul O’Kane described articulately. I am grateful to Paul O’Kane and Jamie Greene for their kind comments. In times such as these, we expect comments of support from our closest allies, but I have been extremely appreciative of the comments from many colleagues, obviously those on the Labour and Green benches, but also those on the Conservative benches. I have always tried to build cross-party relationships, and I have massive respect for many MSPs across the chamber. It has been lovely to feel some reciprocation of that today.

That is perhaps most important right now, when we are considering equalities issues, be it for the LGBTQ+ community, disabled people, refugees and people seeking asylum, people who experience racism or people from many other groups that I have had the privilege to work with in Government and who are under constant public attack. Those of us who recognise the unfair and indefensible harms that are being caused to regular people who just want to live their lives and be who they are must speak up as much as we can, and across party lines. Progress is not linear and it is not guaranteed. We can, and we must not, lose ground.

The toxicity of the public debate on LGBTQ+ issues makes it harder for people to report or even acknowledge many of the harms that are being done to and experienced by queer people in Scotland. That absolutely and undoubtedly extends to domestic abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships. I have heard from people who struggle to come forward because they think that, unless the issue involves male violence directed at a woman, it will not be taken seriously or even seen as real domestic abuse. Others report feeling shame about their sexuality, which then contributes to a tendency to hide when things go wrong, in case they are outed or criticised or subject to queerphobic abuse and victim blaming. In both cases, it is clear that there is a lack of awareness about the risk of domestic abuse in LGBTQ+ relationships, as well as persistent assumptions about who carries it out and who is subject to those crimes. That contributes to a lack of reporting and an inability to seek support.

Thanks to the recent report by Dr Steven Maxwell of the University of Glasgow, we know that one in three LGBTQ+ adults suffers domestic abuse in their lifetimes, which is the same rate as heterosexual women. During my time as Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr Maxwell at an event discussing his research, and I am glad to see it being given the attention that it deserves in the Parliament.

I know that a massive amount of hard work is being done in the third sector to address those issues, by the likes of the Equality Network, LGBT Youth Scotland, the Terence Higgins Trust and Rape Crisis Scotland. LGBTQ people such as myself will know how important raising awareness of those issues is and how far we still have to go. They will, like me, be used to people outright denying the daily experiences of LGBTQ+ people and living in happy ignorance of the homophobia and transphobia that still exist in Scotland today.

I know that the minister cares deeply about the work that she has been tasked with carrying out in relation to equally safe strategies and ending hate crime in Scotland, and I am glad to see her being asked to remain in Government to carry that on. I hope that she will reflect on the information provided by Dr Steven Maxwell and by those whom Collette Stevenson brought to Parliament and whose views she shared with the chamber, and consider what more the Scottish Government can do to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse are included in policies and strategies that are aimed at ending it.

Nobody should be subject to domestic abuse, and we cannot end it or support victims if we do not know and accept the risk to LGBTQ+ people.

Photo of Maggie Chapman Maggie Chapman Green 1:24, 9 May 2024

I thank Collette Stevenson for securing the debate and for highlighting that people experience domestic abuse and intimate partner violence within a wide range of situations, identities and relationships.

Collette Stevenson’s comprehensive motion raises many important issues, of which I would like to focus on just one: the experience of trans and non-binary survivors of domestic abuse. I thank the Scottish Transgender Alliance, LGBT Youth Scotland, the Equality Network, Stonewall and others for their painstaking and sensitive work in that area.

Trans people experience disproportionately high levels of domestic abuse. That abuse includes physical and sexual violence, emotional and financial abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour. Perpetrators deny their trans partners access to essential medication and treatment to prevent them from expressing their identity. They undermine their decisions and manipulate their vulnerability, intentionally leaving them ashamed of who they are and guilty about living with integrity.

Trans partners are often isolated from family and friends, and are sometimes outed before they are ready. Those who are parents may face denial of contact with their children and encouragement of those children to reject or abuse them. We know that potential predators seek out people who are vulnerable because of their previous experiences of abuse, trauma or rejection.

Trans and non-binary children and young people are disproportionately likely to be estranged from their families and to have undergone abuse, including conversion practices. The cumulative and combined mental health impacts of family and intimate partner abuse can be devastating, especially for young people and those who are early in their transition process.

All those forms and consequences of abuse are made much worse by toxic media and political narratives. The myths and tropes of transphobia serve to normalise abuse, embed feelings of worthlessness and isolation and block pathways to support and recovery. It is hard to seek help when you are told that you do not deserve it, that this is the only relationship that you will ever have and that safety and respect do not apply to you. It is hard to find help when your family and friends turn away and when you are still learning the norms that cis people have been taught every day of their lives. It is hard to contact support services when political rhetoric says that a refuge is no safe place for you.

Those services—I refer members to my entry in the register of interests on that—have been supporting trans people safely for many years, but that good practice is too often invisible or vilified. What can we do? How can we in the Parliament, with the privilege that we have, show our solidarity and care for our trans and non-binary neighbours who are enduring such abuse?

We can be courageous, by speaking out against the rhetoric of hate and fear and by recognising the scale and depth of the problem and the ways in which political discourse and political choices have failed those who we ought to protect. We can be sensitive, by working with and supporting civil society organisations that have built expertise, learning from them and—most of all—from transgender and non-binary people. We can be fair, by properly funding services that address all forms of domestic abuse, including those that offer specialist support for minority and intersectional survivors. We can be progressive, by acting robustly and radically to address misogyny, including trans misogyny, and by bringing in a comprehensive ban on conversion practices and ensuring that young and older people can access the healthcare, respect and dignified processes that they still need and deserve.

I would like to speak once more to the trans community—our neighbours, our friends and our family. Much has changed, and for the worse, but our solidarity and care remain. You are treasured and you are not forgotten.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I invite Siobhian Brown to respond to the debate. Minister, you have around seven minutes.

Photo of Siobhian Brown Siobhian Brown Scottish National Party 1:28, 9 May 2024

I express my thanks to Collette Stevenson for lodging the motion for today’s debate on domestic abuse in LGBTQI+ relationships. I also give my thanks to Emma Roddick for all the work that she has done, and that I know she will champion from the back benches, for the LGBTQI+ community. I am proud to be closing the debate, and have found all members’ contributions to be powerful and thought-provoking.

Intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships is devastating and heartbreaking, and no one should ever have to endure it. I pay tribute to the brave victims who have shown real courage in recounting their stories and shining a light on this important issue. I also acknowledge the specific barriers that LGBTQI+ people can face when accessing services and support.

All domestic abuse and violence is abhorrent, irrespective of the sex, sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim or the perpetrator. That is why our ground-breaking domestic abuse legislation, which came into effect in 2019, applies to everyone and makes it absolutely clear that coercive and controlling behaviour is domestic abuse and a crime. It is also why the Scottish Government funds services that support LGBTQI+ survivors of domestic and sexual abuse.

It is vital that perpetrators are held to account and that victims have access to front-line services that deal with violence and domestic abuse. The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 created a specific offence of domestic abuse that covers not just physical abuse, but covers other forms of psychological abuse as well as coercive and controlling behaviour. We must treat domestic abuse survivors with compassion and we must make available services that acknowledge the significant trauma that they experience.

Research on the operation of our legislation on domestic abuse has found that it better reflects victims’ experiences. However, we must never be complacent but must instead recognise that we can always do more and do better.

It is also vital that specialist services are available for survivors. Our delivering equally safe fund has provided support to LGBTQI+ projects that are working to address domestic abuse. That includes Sacro’s FearFree service, which provides one-to-one support for male and LGBT victims of domestic abuse; the voices unheard focus group, which aimed to raise awareness among decision makers of LGBTQI+ experiences of domestic abuse and gender-based violence; and Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline, which provides support to all survivors.

Additionally, we allocated £16.2 million between 2017-18 and 2023-24 to support the development of a sexual assault response co-ordination service in every health board in Scotland. SARCS offers a healthcare assessment and forensic medical examination for people who have recently experienced rape or sexual assault. Anyone who is aged 16 or over can, subject to professional judgement, access healthcare and request a forensic medical examination in the days following an assault without first having to make a report to the police. I acknowledge that that is a very sensitive issue.

We know, from listening to survivors, that access to self-referral is an important aspect of giving control back to people. The Scottish Government remains committed to continuous improvement of SARCS, with further funding planned for 2024-25, bringing our total investment to almost £18 million over seven years.

Although domestic abuse is most frequently perpetrated by males against their female partners, all domestic abuse and violence is unacceptable. We published our refreshed equally safe strategy last December. The strategy recognises LGBTQI+ people’s experiences of domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence. Key LGBTQI+ stakeholders were consulted as part of the engagement process, and helped to shape the strategy and its references to LGBTQI+ people’s experiences.

We know that the global evidence base shows that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by specific forms of violence such as domestic abuse. The equally safe strategy is based on the framing of the United Nations and World Health Organization, and has been acknowledged as a model of excellence.

However, our approach does not negate the experiences of male victims of crimes such as domestic and sexual violence. Gender norms that promote ideals of masculinity that are based on men’s power over women and children can also lead to men’s experiences of abuse during childhood and sexual violence during adulthood. That is why the Scottish Government understands LGBTQI+ people’s experiences of domestic abuse to be a form of gender-based violence. Key stakeholders also understand the issue in that way.

We are committed to advancing equality for LGBTQI+ people and to promoting, protecting and realising the rights of every LGBTQI+ person in Scotland. We will continue to fund third sector organisations to ensure that the voices of those with lived experience can help to improve outcomes for LGBTQI+ communities across Scotland.

I thank Dr Steven Maxwell, Professor Jamie Frankis and colleagues for their research on LGBTQ+ intimate partner violence and I thank the victims who bravely shared their stories. As was highlighted in the research and at the subsequent parliamentary round-table event in February, it is clear that significant challenges remain for LGBTQI+ victims of domestic abuse.

We do not want any victim of LGBTQI+ domestic abuse to be made to feel invisible and we encourage anyone who has experienced abuse to seek the support to which they are entitled. I have outlined some of that support today.

I am fully committed to tackling domestic abuse and am always willing to look at how we can improve our response to all forms of domestic abuse, including in same-sex relationships, by building on the provision that we already have. My door is always open to any MSP who wants to continue conversations on how we can improve things. In response to Emma Harper’s request, I say that I would be very happy to visit the organisation in the south of Scotland that she mentioned.

By working collaboratively and innovatively, we can build a Scotland that is free from all forms of domestic abuse, where no one is left behind.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—