Based on the analysis of SSA 2014, this chapter sets out our main conclusions in relation to the Scottish public’s attitudes to violence against women – specifically: public attitudes to sexual violence; domestic abuse (physical, verbal, mental and emotional); sexual harassment and commercial sexual exploitation – and how these views varied between different groups in Scottish society. These findings provide a baseline of public attitudes against which progress towards the objectives set out in Equally Safe can be measured.
Overall, people in Scotland thought that sexual violence and domestic abuse were seriously wrong and that they caused ‘a great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of harm to the victim. However, the type of abuse made a difference to people’s views, as did the gender of the perpetrator and the context within which the abuse took place.
Attitudes to sexual violence
The majority of people in Scotland thought that rape was ‘very seriously wrong’. However, a smaller proportion of people in Scotland thought that a man raping his wife was ‘very seriously wrong’ (74%), compared with a man who raped someone he had just met (88%). The behaviour of the woman also made a difference to people’s views. If a woman had first taken a man into the bedroom and kissed him and was then raped, people were far less likely to view the rape as ‘very seriously wrong’. In the case of a married couple, fewer than half (44%) thought that the husband’s behaviour was ‘very seriously wrong’ if he raped his wife after she had first taken him into the bedroom and kissed him. These findings suggest that some people in Scotland believe that there are certain circumstances which lessen the severity of the behaviour, even when sexual intercourse without consent has occurred.
Age was the strongest predictor of views on rape within marriage. Younger people (those aged under 30 years old) were significantly more likely than older people (those over 65 years old) to think that a man raping his wife was ‘very seriously wrong’. It should be noted that people in the older age group would have been brought up at a time when rape within marriage was not a criminal offence. Those that had experienced gender based violence and those who did not hold stereotypical views on gender roles were also more likely to think that rape within a marriage was ‘very seriously wrong’.
Attitudes to myths about rape
SSA 2014 also showed that women were viewed by a sizeable minority of people as being at least partly to blame if they were raped when they were wearing revealing clothing or if they were very drunk. Only around 3 in 5 people said that if a woman was wearing revealing clothing or was very drunk that she was ‘not at all to blame’ if she was raped, suggesting that around 2 in 5 felt that she was, at least to some extent, to blame. Around 1 in 20 people thought that she was ‘entirely to blame’ for being raped in these circumstances. The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act (2009) states that ‘free agreement’ (i.e. consent) is absent when the victim is ‘incapable because of the effect of alcohol or any other substance of consenting to it…’. Yet, however consent is defined in law, there is apparently still a sizeable minority in Scotland who think that wearing revealing clothing or getting drunk puts blame onto the victim of rape.
Young people, those with higher levels of education and those on higher incomes were all more likely to think that the woman was ‘not at all to blame’ if she was raped, as were those who had experienced gender-based violence and those who did not hold stereotypical views on gender roles.
Attitudes to domestic abuse
Overall more people thought that physically abusing a partner was seriously wrong and caused a great deal of harm compared with verbal abuse. People were more likely to say that it was ‘very seriously wrong’ for a husband to slap his wife (92%) than for a husband to put down and criticise his wife (72%). Controlling behaviours, such as not wanting your partner to go out without you and telling your partner to change clothes before going out, were far less likely to be thought of as seriously wrong and harmful compared with both physical and verbal abuse. Only 2 in 5 thought that it was ‘very seriously wrong’ for a man to tell his wife to change her clothes, although around 4 in 5 gave it a score of 5 or more on the 7-point ‘wrong’ scale.
Financial control (a husband insisting on seeing his wife’s bank statements) was viewed as more seriously wrong than either of the previous two controlling behaviours. Older people were also more likely than younger people to view financial control as seriously wrong. This may reflect the relative importance of financial security for older people who are consequently more likely than younger people to place particular importance on the financial arrangements within a relationship.
How do views on domestic abuse vary between groups?
Overall women were more likely than men to regard all forms of domestic abuse (physical, verbal, mental and emotional) as seriously wrong and harmful whether the victim was a woman or a man. This suggests that there is a gender gap in perceptions of what is, and what is not, regarded as acceptable behaviour in a relationship. There is also considerable evidence that whether or not someone holds stereotypical views on gender roles makes a difference to their perceptions on domestic abuse. Those who did not hold stereotypical views on gender roles (that is, those who would be willing to buy a 3 year old boy a doll as a toy) were more likely to be critical of abusive behaviour than those who did hold stereotypical views (that is, they would refuse to buy the boy a doll).
How do views vary depending on the gender of the perpetrator and the victim?
Attitudes towards domestic abuse were also affected by both the gender of the perpetrator and the victim. People were consistently less inclined to think the behaviour was wrong or harmful when the victim was a man than when it was a woman. Although there may be many varied and complex reasons for this difference one possible explanation is that it reflects an understanding that women are less powerful in our society than men. As such they are therefore more likely to be in a vulnerable situation when such behaviour occurs. It could also reflect a view that men are less affected when the perpetrator is a woman. Further research in this area would be needed to explore the range of possible explanations for differences in views based on the gender of the perpetrator and the victim.
How do views vary depending on the circumstances?
Attitudes towards particular forms of domestic abuse were also shown to change depending on the circumstances in which the abuse took place. The knowledge that an affair has taken place seems to cause people to regard both physical abuse and controlling behaviour less negatively. For example, there was relatively widespread acceptance, including among women themselves, that a man controlling what his wife wears to go out was more acceptable if he has found out that his wife has recently had an affair. Similarly if a man slaps his wife after finding out she has had an affair, people were less likely to say that his behaviour was ‘very seriously wrong’. Although as many as 82% still thought the behaviour was seriously wrong, this compared with 98% who thought this when there had been no affair. At least for some, the revelation of an affair is a reason to be a little less negative about an unprecedented slap.
People were also more likely to say that the wife should forgive her husband for slapping her if she has had an affair. This suggests that a husband slapping his wife was viewed as somewhat justifiable if the husband knew his wife had had an affair and that the harm caused was lessened by the fact that she had also done something that was emotionally harmful to her husband. Further research would be needed to explore in more depth the complex interaction between views on domestic violence, the impact of having an affair, the obligation to forgive and the importance of whether this was a one-off incident of violence or a pattern of ongoing domestic violence.
Attitudes to sexual harassment
Sexual harassment in the workplace was viewed as more seriously wrong than both an ex-boyfriend sending unwanted gifts or a group of men wolf-whistling at a woman walking down the street. This may be a reflection of the employers’ position of power over employees and the potential impact sexual harassment might have on whether someone is able to keep their job. In contrast a group of men wolf-whistling might be seen to have less clear or immediate impacts on a woman. In contrast to views on controlling behaviour within a relationship, younger people were not consistently more likely to view sexual harassment more negatively than older people. On the contrary, those aged 18 to 29 were the least likely to think that a male boss touching a female employee on the shoulder was either wrong or harmful. Similarly the youngest age group were also the least likely to view an ex-boyfriend sending unwanted gifts as wrong or harmful. Men were also more likely than women to think that stalking and wolf-whistling were harmful to women.
Putting naked photos online of an ex-girlfriend was seen as ‘very seriously wrong’ by nearly 9 in 10 people in Scotland. This relatively recent form of abuse was also seen by a similar proportion to cause ‘a great deal’ of harm to the victim. However, it is not clear whether people were responding to feelings around the breach of trust involved, general views on the portrayal of nudity in public or feelings around how wrong, or harmful, it is for someone to have naked images of themselves freely accessible to others. Further research would be needed to explore these interacting factors in more depth.
Attitudes to commercial sexual exploitation
People were much less likely to be negative about commercial sexual exploitation than they were about all other forms of violence against women. In relation to reading magazines featuring topless women and a group of men going to a strip club a higher proportion thought that these were ‘not wrong at all’ than thought they were ‘always wrong’. People viewed men paying for sex with a woman more negatively with around a third saying it was ‘always wrong’ and a quarter believing that paying for sex should definitely be against the law. Views on whether ‘sex workers could easily choose a different job if they wanted to’ were divided with over a third agreeing and a third disagreeing with this statement.
Gender, age and how religious people felt were all associated with views on commercial sexual exploitation. Women were more likely than men to agree that ‘sex workers could choose a different job if they wanted to’ but were also more likely to think that paying for sex was wrong and should be against the law. Women were also more likely than men to say that adults viewing pornography was ‘always wrong’ and to disagree strongly that ‘you should not try to stop teenage boys from watching pornography’. Younger people were more likely to say that paying for sex should be illegal but were also more likely to have more liberal views than older people about reading magazines featuring topless women and men going to strip clubs. Older people were more likely to say that watching pornography is ‘always wrong’.
How religious people said they were was also related to views on all forms of commercial sexual exploitation. Those who said they were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ religious were more likely to think that paying for sex was wrong and should be illegal; that adults watching pornography, men going to strip clubs and reading magazines featuring topless women was wrong and to disagree that you should not try to stop teenage boys watching pornography.
Although women and younger people were more likely to view sexual violence and domestic abuse negatively, there was far less consistency in relation to views on both sexual harassment and commercial sexual exploitation. This suggests that any initiatives to increase understanding among the general public about violence against women should target different messages at particular groups but should also cover the whole population, as there are no specific groups that hold consistently negative views across all types of violence against women.
SSA 2014 showed that stereotypical views on gender roles persist in Scotland, and also highlighted why tackling these stereotypical views is important in relation to attitudes towards violence against women. Those who held stereotypical views on gender roles were consistently less likely to view a wide range of abusive behaviours as wrong or harmful.
Email: Alison Stout