Equally Safe 2018: Scotland's strategy to eradicate violence against women

A joint Scottish Government and COSLA strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls in Scotland. This publication was updated in 2023.

2. Where we are now

'A great deal of the literature on male violence discusses the areas of male violence separately, such as domestic violence, rape and sexual assault, child sexual abuse, pornography and sexual harassment. But women experience all of these forms of violence. If they do not actually experience the abuse personally, fear exists as a result of other women's experiences. This has a controlling effect on a woman, curtailing their freedom, adding undue stress to their lives, and affecting their confidence.' – The late Jannette de Haan, Women's Support Project

Scotland today

Scotland's approach to tackling violence against women and girls has been recognised internationally, in particular because of the gendered analysis that underpins our approach. There has been significant investment in the issue and key partners have transformed their practice over recent years. This is welcome, but has not as yet led to a sustained reduction in violence against women and girls. Equally Safe is aimed at achieving that reduction and ultimate eradication.

Achieving gender equality and tackling inequality

Gender inequality is a root cause of violence against women and girls, and despite the many advances being made there remain persistent inequalities between men and women. The gender pay gap of 9% (calculated as the median on full time earnings) is one example [21] , and the overrepresentation of women in lower paid sectors and underrepresentation of women in senior posts is another [22] . Women do not currently have the same life chances as men – there are a number of reasons for this, including institutional sexism and disproportionate levels of economic dependence. To help address these issues, we have launched an extensive programme of work aimed at increasing employability, addressing the gender pay gap, improving the flexibility of work and reducing occupational segregation. Leading by example, the Scottish Government has a gender balanced Cabinet and we are securing commitments to achieving a 50/50 gender balance on boards by 2020 within the public, private and third sectors. We have also legislated, via the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, to increase the level of funded early learning and childcare which will help support parents both into and within the workforce. We have also engaged in a broadly participative process to ask the people of Scotland what they want to see happen to create a Fairer Scotland.

Relevant policies

Our policy approach to preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls links across many different parts of Government policy – ranging through the spheres of health, education and justice to name but a few. There are a number of specific policies which are relevant to Equally Safe, where we will work to strengthen links and connectivity with Equally Safe. These include (but are not limited to):

Area Policy
Equality Race Equality Framework; Disability Delivery Plan; Programme of work aimed at reducing discrimination against and improving attitudes to Gypsy/Travellers
Health Equally Well; Mental Health strategy; alcohol and drugs partnerships; Sexual Health and Blood Bourne Virus Framework; the Keys to Life learning disability strategy
Social Justice and Fair Work Fairer Scotland action plan; Adult and Youth Employability; tackling homelessness
Justice Making Justice Work; Building Safer Communities, violence reduction; Reducing Reoffending Programme; implementation of the recommendations of the Commission on Women Offenders; tackling human trafficking and exploitation
Education, Children and Families Curriculum for Excellence; Positive Behaviors in Schools; child protection guidance; the Getting it Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) framework; the Early Years Framework and Collaborative; the National Action Plan to tackle Child Sexual Exploitation; maternity policy; Children's Hearings
Other Rural Strategy

Relevant laws

There are a number of laws which contribute to preventing and tackling violence against women and girls. These include (but are not limited to):

  • The Human Rights Act (1998) [23]
  • Vulnerable Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2004
  • Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005
  • Protection of Children and Prevention of Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2005
  • Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007
  • Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009
  • Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2011
  • Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011
  • Forced Marriage etc. (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011
  • Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014
  • Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014
  • Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015

Shaping opinion

Raising awareness and changing attitudes is a key part of our approach, and the Scottish Social Attitudes survey on attitudes to violence against women sets out how far we still have to go [24] . A number of community-based organisations are raising public awareness through initiatives encouraging everyone, whether female or male, to take action. We are encouraging equality and mutual respect from an early age through Curriculum for Excellence with guidance on relationships, sexual health, and parenthood education [25] . This sits alongside programmes which focus on improving relationships and reducing violence and aggression, and which promotes emotional competence and empathy. The media has a key role to play, sometimes giving a negative portrayal of women and girls, or using images which exploit, sexualise or reinforce gender stereotypes. As part of the BBC Charter Renewal process, the Scottish Government is consulting with stakeholders on gender portrayal and stereotyping.

Improving and increasing services for women, children and young people

For those women and girls affected by violence and abusive behaviour, we are improving the consistency and availability of mainstream and specialist services across Scotland. The Scottish Government's investment of over £45m since 2012 includes the direct provision of funding to frontline specialist services, and local authorities are also commissioning specialist services that are critical to prevention, early intervention and support. Scottish Women's Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland are key partners in improving and increasing services nationally, and at a local level Women's Aid organisations, Rape Crisis Centres and services like ASSIST in the former Strathclyde area and DASAT in West Lothian continue to provide a key component of the support available. Multi-agency working is increasingly valued, with local multi-agency partnerships working to ensure a joined up approach in their areas and MARACs and MATACs ensuring that victims are supported and perpetrators tackled. Together, we are improving identification and response to victims and promoting greater clarity and uniformity across practices and procedures. To date, this has resulted in advances such as the NHS Scotland National Gender Based Violence Programme, a Standard Operating Procedures for Human Trafficking, and Inter-agency Guidance for Child Trafficking.

Driving a stronger justice response

The Scottish Government has committed an additional £20m (over 2015 to 2018) from the Justice portfolio budget to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls. This funding is making a real difference through targeted resources to the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, with cases involving domestic abuse being sped up with waiting times from first calling to trial being significantly reduced. We have also provided additional support to specialist support services and to education programmes.

Recent years have also seen a concerted effort to improve other aspects of the criminal justice response to violence against women and girls. Improvements to the legislative framework include the criminalising of forced marriage in Scotland, the introduction of a specific offence for stalking, and the widening of the legal definition of rape through the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009. In relation to civil matters, it is possible to obtain non-harassment orders and interdicts to protect against abuse (including domestic abuse). Under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2011, it is a criminal offence to breach a domestic abuse interdict which has a power of arrest. The Scottish Government has introduced an Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill which will seek to improve how the justice system deals with a range of matters including domestic abuse and sexual offending. It has also published a consultation seeking views on the exact wording and effect of a specific offence to deal with those who commit psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour to reflect fully the devastating experience of the victims and enforce a zero tolerance approach towards perpetrators. This approach is critical to embedding an understanding of domestic abuse and violence as more than purely physical in nature.

Scotland now has a single national police force, Police Scotland, which in its first year established the National Rape Task Force and Domestic Abuse Task Force to target the most prolific perpetrators, as well as a Domestic Abuse Co-ordination Unit and Specialist Domestic Abuse Units and Divisional Rape Investigation Units in every local policing division in Scotland. Police Scotland has established a National Honour Based Violence Action Plan and Prostitution Working Group. The commitment at the most senior level to this agenda within the police service in Scotland has been exemplary and the focus on driving down the incidence of domestic abuse in particular has been a positive development yielding real results. In October 2015 Police Scotland rolled out the Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse nationally meaning that anyone who feels that they may be at risk of domestic abuse will have the right to ask for information about their partner, and the police, after appropriate checks, have the power to tell if they believe an individual to be at risk. Police Scotland have established a National Child Abuse Investigation Unit and a Human Trafficking Unit, and they coordinate Multi Agency Tasking and Coordination Groups operating across Scotland to target serious and serial perpetrators of domestic abuse.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS) has made the prosecution response to violence against women and girls a strategic priority over a number of years, with the leaders of the organisation publicly demonstrating commitment in this area and advocating for change in the law when this is required to bolster the justice response. The introduction of a lead specialist National Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse, enhanced specialist training and guidance for prosecutors and robust policies favouring enforcement and prosecution where sufficient evidence exists to support a criminal allegation of domestic abuse have all been positive developments. COPFS established a dedicated National Sexual Crimes Unit in 2009 (the first of its kind in Europe) and developed the specialist response and expertise in this area of criminality, which now accounts for a significant proportion of High Court business. In other areas, the appointment of lead prosecutors for human trafficking and female genital mutilation further demonstrate the Crown's commitment to tackling all forms of violence against women and girls effectively.

In conclusion

Scotland has made substantial progress, but there remains much to be done. The sections that follow set out what we need to do next to realise our vision of a strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and respected, and where women and girls live free from all forms of violence and abuse – and the attitudes that help perpetuate it.


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