Equally Safe 2023 - preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls: strategy

The Scottish Government and COSLA's commitment to preventing and eradicating this violence and addressing the underlying attitudes and systems that perpetuate it.

Our focus

We don’t live our lives in isolation. The people, places, services, and institutions we come into contact with can have a lasting impact on us and be forces of positive change.

“When I receive support I feel less alone, weird, terrified, worried, powerless and worthless.”[41]

Given the prevalence and impact of VAWG across society, its presence in our lives, and the impact of the trauma it creates, this strategy aims to ensure that VAWG is considered in all aspects of our lives. We are committed to preventing VAWG from occurring in the first place. But, until such harm is eradicated, we must ensure that the responses people and communities receive are trauma-informed, compassionate and impactful.

Universal, mainstream services are at the heart of this transformation. By designing and embedding VAWG-awareness and trauma-informed practice in universal public services, we can ensure that early engagement and interventions can help to prevent further harm that requires later complex and specialist interventions. In doing so, this will reduce the significant pressure on our public services and improve outcomes for people using them.

We commit, through the implementation of this strategy, to prioritise actions which will:

  • prevent VAWG before it occurs
  • support early intervention
  • build a broad and shared understanding across our society and communities of what VAWG is, how it affects those who experience it, its impact on society more generally, the scale of the problem, and what causes it – so that we can reduce the harm together
  • build political, institutional, sectoral, organisational, community, and personal commitment and contribution to preventing and tackling VAWG
  • hold perpetrators of VAWG to account, supporting change where possible
  • deliver sustainable, informed and safe specialist and universal service responses for victim/survivors that are holistic and meet victim/survivors’ individual needs
  • promote an intersectional approach to preventing, recognising, and responding to the compounding inequalities and risks that some women, children, and young people may experience as a result of their ethnicity, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or immigration status

To fulfil these commitments and the aims of Equally Safe, we will work closely with the structures and organisations across our communities ensuring that violence against women partnership (VAWP) actions are integrated with and integral to community planning, and health and social care priorities.

Community planning partnerships: In line with the principles underpinning the Verity House Agreement, community planning partnerships (CPP) are recognised as a critical mechanism for the alignment of resource locally. Focused on prevention and early intervention, CPPs support the delivery of our shared priorities. Bringing together local public services and the communities they serve, offers powerful potential to address often deep-rooted causes of inequalities, and to use preventative approaches to manage future demands on crisis intervention services. The statutory duty placed upon public bodies to actively address inequalities via the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 provides added impetus and a major focus to address one of the most significant areas of inequality in society. Some CPP activities already reflect a strong focus on improving outcomes for women, children, and young people affected by VAWG. Strengthening this will be key to the successful delivery of this strategy.

Public protection arrangements: Local public protection structures are critical for ensuring that we prevent harm, and that we protect, respond to, and support the recovery of women and girls experiencing harm. A public protection approach involving collaborative inter-agency working, for example between VAWG partnerships, MARACs, Multi-Agency Tasking and Coordination (MATAC), Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA), community justice partnerships, alcohol and drug partnerships, child protection committees, and adult support and protection committees, can ensure an integrated and consistent approach to planning and service delivery to reduce risk of harm to women, children and young people.

Health and social care: Our NHS and health and social care partnerships are critical in intervening early to identify those at risk of VAWG, and in providing care and treatment that is trauma-informed. Health and social care services are accessed by all of us at some point in our lives, giving them a pivotal role in tackling VAWG. The NHS in Scotland has long led the way in routine enquiry of abuse. However, this could be strengthened and developed to include forms of abuse other than child abuse and domestic abuse, such as rape or sexual assault. A renewed commitment to the role of our NHS and health and social care services is critical.

“The appropriate adults have been good in the past. The one I had recently, she’s been involved in a few of the things I’ve been through. She has a good understanding of what’s happened, so when I am telling the story, it’s the right way of telling it. But you’re no guaranteed to get someone to help you.”[42]

Poverty/financial assistance: As women are more likely to live in precarious financial and economic situations than men and to feel the disproportionate impact of the increases to the cost of living, ensuring opportunities to maximise women’s economic resources is key.

Childcare and education: Children and young people have a right to be nurtured and supported to grow in safe and secure environments that model and promote gender equality. Where this doesn’t happen, we seek to mitigate the impact of trauma and harm by realising child survivors’ rights to safety, healing and justice. We recognise that many of our existing interventions with children and young people take place within traditional settings, whereas some of our most vulnerable children and young people are not in school nor education. Supporting children and young people to learn from an early age what healthy, respectful relationships look and feel like, can prevent violence, abuse, and exploitation from occurring.

“I’ve been through the homeless services a few times and my longest time spent homeless was about 2 and a half years and I met a lot of other women who got involved in [selling or exchanging sex], whilst homeless.”[43]

Homes and housing: Women’s experiences of housing are different from those of men. This includes women’s pathways into and out of homelessness, interactions with housing services, and access to affordable and adequate housing standards, including the private market. Within this, certain groups of women are more likely to experience housing instability, poor housing, homelessness, or negative treatment by housing services.[45] Although domestic abuse is one of the most common reasons for women to make a homelessness application in Scotland, other forms of violence, abuse, and exploitation may make women unsafe in their homes. For example, sex for rent is not only harmful but can be a pivotal factor in pushing women into CSE. This highlights how housing can be interlinked with CSE. A safe, secure, and affordable home is a major protective factor for women experiencing all forms of VAWG. Only by addressing the links between housing and the range of ways in which VAWG may be experienced, can we truly respond to the housing needs of all women.

“On one of the [Children’s Hearing] panels they made my mum sit in with my dad even though she didn’t want to. The panel members did not care that he was violent to my mum. She was traumatised.”[44]

Justice: The Vision for Justice in Scotland[46] can only be fully realised when VAWG is eradicated. Until then, the commitment remains that women and girls are served appropriately. Understanding the inequalities experienced is crucial in providing justice for victim/survivors, and holding perpetrators to account.

To achieve this, we remain committed to working with stakeholders and justice partners at national and local levels to make improvements to the justice system that will benefit and recognise the trauma experienced by women and children, and firmly place the responsibility for VAWG on the perpetrators of such violence. This includes promoting accountability and changed behaviour for boys and young men who perpetrate VAWG. We will ensure children who have been victims or witnesses of abuse or violence receive a better coordinated and trauma-informed response through our phased approach to implementation of Bairns’ Hoose.

“Everyone is so worried about my relationship with my father, but no one cares about my relationship with my mother. ”[47]

The priorities in Equally Safe directly contribute to the outcomes and vision set out in the Scottish Government’s National Strategy for Community Justice,[48] which is principally focused on preventing offending before it occurs by working with people who are at risk of offending and supporting those who have been through the justice system. Both strategies promote prevention and early intervention.

Place-making, community safety and transport: The places and communities we live in, and the way we move around them have a significant impact on our lives.[49] If we design, plan and develop our built and natural environment with an understanding of women’s and girls’ needs, we can help to create the conditions in which violence, abuse, and exploitation are less likely to occur. This means, for example, safe, open, well-lit spaces that design out crime and other risks; providing community facilities such as shared sporting activities for all ages and groups; and community support hubs where women and girls are able to move around in their communities and live fulfilling and equal lives with men and boys.

“As a council, we’re the biggest employer locally so we need to have a better domestic abuse informed strategy for our staff who may be experiencing domestic abuse or perpetrating it... the people that we work with aren’t ‘the other’, they are ‘us’. I think that’s a really positive thing to have come out of this work.”[50]

Employers: Creating supportive and healthy workplace environments can help to mitigate and prevent violence against women in the workplace. Given the harmful consequences, not only for women experiencing this but also for workplaces and the broader economy, there is a compelling argument for action.

Digital spaces and places: Being online is now integral to so much of our everyday lives and this is only going to increase with technological advances. Just as VAWG takes place in all communities and places, the same applies to all online spaces. Action is required across all policy areas to respond to the added risks this may pose to women, children, and young people. Services must be competent to support women, children, and young people experiencing VAWG in online settings, and understand digital and online VAWG.

A just transition: Promoting gender equality within the framework of a just transition is a vital undertaking. The climate crisis and gender inequality are central concerns within the UN Sustainable Development Goals, embodying some of the most pressing global challenges of the 21st century. The simultaneous pursuit of gender equality and a just transition to a net-zero economy are inextricably linked goals. Addressing these two objectives together is mutually reinforcing and will prevent further marginalisation and de-stabilisation in the lives of women and girls. This will mitigate against unintended discrimination and harm that might undermine progress towards a just transition and our goal of gender equality and safety for all in our communities.


Email: ceu@gov.scot

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