Publication - Statistics

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2019: attitudes to violence against women

Published: 10 Dec 2020

Findings from the 2019 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey on the attitudes of the Scottish public to the following forms of violence against women: sexual violence, domestic abuse (physical, verbal, mental and emotional), sexual harassment and commercial sexual exploitation.

Executive Summary

A Key Findings publication is available in PDF format under supporting files.

Background and methods

This report presents findings from the 2019 Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) on public attitudes to violence against women in Scotland. The module was funded by the Scottish Government and previously included on SSA in 2014. It was developed to provide a baseline measure of views about violence against women in Scotland against which progress towards the objectives outlined in Equally Safe could be assessed. Building on the findings from the 2014 survey, the 2019 survey findings will be included in future updates to the indicators for the Equally Safe Delivery Plan and will inform future work to tackle violence against women and girls in Scotland.

The Scottish Social Attitudes survey (SSA) is a face-to-face survey which uses a random sample of those aged 16 and over living anywhere in Scotland and is conducted by ScotCen Social Research. Fieldwork for the survey began on 30 August 2019 and ceased on 18 March 2020. The overall sample size was 1,022 completed interviews and the response rate was 41%. All of the questions discussed in this report were in the self-completion section of the survey, completed by 959 respondents, due to the sensitive nature of the topic. The research set out to capture people's views about particular behaviours, rather than their response to the terms commonly used to describe violence against women e.g. domestic abuse, rape, etc. The survey, therefore, made extensive use of scenarios that described particular situations. After each description respondents were asked how wrong they thought the behaviour of the perpetrator was and, in addition, after some of the scenarios they were asked how much harm they thought the behaviour did to the victim.

Sexual violence

The majority of people thought the behaviour of a man raping a stranger (91%) and the behaviour of a man raping his wife (84%) was 'very seriously wrong'. There was a 10-percentage-point increase from 2014 to 2019 in the proportion of people who thought that rape within a marriage was 'very seriously wrong', but no equivalent increase was seen in views on a man raping a stranger. Most people thought that the rape of a stranger (89%) and rape within marriage (80%) caused the woman 'a great deal' of harm, with the proportion believing this about rape within a marriage increasing from 67% in 2014 to 80% in 2019. The figure for the rape of a stranger increased by a more modest 4 percentage points from 85% to 89% between 2014 and 2019.

The behaviour of the woman also had an impact on people's perceptions of the wrongness of the man's behaviour. Having been told that the woman in each scenario had first taken the man into the bedroom and started kissing him, only around two-thirds (67%) of people thought the behaviour of the man who raped a stranger was 'very seriously wrong', while the equivalent figure was only 55% for rape within marriage. These lower figures may be explained by perceptions that the woman is at least partly to blame for what happened in these scenarios. Around half (49%) rated the behaviour of the woman who was a stranger in the scenario as 'wrong' (a score of at least 5 out of 7 on the scale). The equivalent figure for the woman who was married in the scenario was 38%.

There was an increase between 2014 and 2019 in the proportion of people who thought the man's behaviour was wrong where the woman first invites him into her bedroom and kisses him. In 2014 the proportion who thought rape by a stranger was 'very seriously wrong' in this context was 58%; this increased to 67% in 2019. Similarly, the proportion of people who thought the husband's behaviour in this context was 'very seriously wrong' increased from 44% in 2014 to 55% in 2019. Attitudes to the woman's behaviour in these scenarios shifted to a lesser extent in the same period with the proportion of people who thought the woman's behaviour was 'wrong' (giving a score of at least 5 out of 7 on the scale) in the stranger rape scenario decreasing from 56% to 49%. There were no noticeable changes in views of the wife's behaviour in the scenario between 2014 and 2019.

Views on the rape within marriage scenario differed by age, whether people had experienced unwanted sexual contact, and whether people held stereotypical views on gender roles. Those aged 65 and over were less likely to think the husband's behaviour in the rape within marriage scenario was 'very seriously wrong' (74%) than those aged under 65 (86%). Over 9 in 10 (94%) of those who had experienced unwanted sexual contact thought the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong', compared with 83% of those who had not experienced unwanted sexual contact. Those who held stereotypical views on gender roles were less likely to think the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' in both the rape by a stranger and rape within marriage scenarios.

Myths about rape were examined by asking people how much they thought a woman was to blame for being raped if she wears revealing clothing or is very drunk. Just under 7 in 10 (69%) people thought a woman was 'not at all to blame' in both scenarios, which represents a significant increase from 2014 where around 6 in 10 thought the woman was 'not at all to blame' in each scenario. Women were more likely (75%) than men (64%) to say that a woman was 'not at all' to blame if she wore revealing clothes and was raped. Those aged 65 and over, those with no educational qualifications and those who held stereotypical views on gender roles were more likely to think that the woman was to blame for being raped if she was wearing revealing clothes or was very drunk.

Three-fifths (60%) of people disagreed that 'women often lie about rape', while nearly four-fifths (77%) disagreed that 'women who say that they have been raped while they were awake and conscious, but didn't fight back, are probably lying'. A similar proportion disagreed (76%) that 'women who take a while to report that they have been raped are probably lying'. Just over a quarter (28%) agreed that 'rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex', while 49% disagreed. The level of belief in the two myths about rape that appeared in both 2014 and 2019 was shown to have declined significantly. In 2014, around a quarter (23%) agreed that 'women often lie about rape'; this declined by 15 percentage points by 2019 when 8% of people agreed with this statement. Similarly, the proportion of people who agreed that 'rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex' declined between 2014 and 2019 from 37% to 28% respectively.

Domestic abuse: Verbal and physical abuse

Over 7 in 10 (72%) thought a man taking out his stressful day at work on his wife by putting her down/criticising her was 'very seriously wrong' compared with only around half (51%) who thought the same when the perpetrator was a woman. However, the vast majority of people thought that the behaviour was 'wrong' (a score of at least 5 out of 7 on the scale), regardless of the gender of the perpetrator or the victim: 94% thought the man's behaviour was 'wrong' and 91% thought the behaviour was 'wrong' when the woman was the perpetrator. Views in this area did not change significantly between 2014 and 2019.

A higher proportion of people thought this verbal abuse did 'a great deal' of harm when the victim was a woman (66%) than when the victim was a man (44%). Women (58%) were more likely than men (43%) to think a woman often putting down her husband was 'very seriously wrong', and men were less likely (36%) than women (52%) to think a 'great deal of harm' is done to male victims of verbal abuse.

Physical abuse was considered to be more seriously wrong than verbal abuse, with more than 9 in 10 (93%) believing that a man slapping his wife, and around 8 in 10 (81%) believing a woman slapping her husband, was 'very seriously wrong'. These attitudes have not changed significantly since 2014, regardless of the gender of the victim or perpetrator. While 9 in 10 (90%) thought a woman being slapped by her husband caused her 'a great deal' of harm, only around 7 in 10 (71%) thought the same level of harm is done to a man who is slapped by his wife. The proportion thinking 'a great deal' of harm is done to the male victim in this scenario increased from 62% in 2014 to 71% in 2019, whereas the equivalent figure for the female victim did not change significantly.

Men were less likely (74%) than women (88%) to think it was 'very seriously wrong' for a woman to slap her husband. Women were also more likely to think that physical abuse is harmful to the male victim, with 79% of women thinking that it does 'a great deal' of harm to the man compared with 62% of men who thought it did so.

Domestic abuse: controlling behaviour

Attitudes towards controlling behaviour were explored through scenarios on financial control, trying to control what someone wears and excessive monitoring. People were most likely to consider financial control as 'very seriously wrong', with just over two-thirds (68%) saying that a husband insisting on looking at his wife's bank statements without showing her his bank statements was 'very seriously wrong', while the equivalent figure for a man controlling what his wife wears was 55%. A fifth (20%) of people thought a man texting his wife to ask where she is and when she will be home was 'very seriously wrong', while over two-fifths (42%) considered it 'very seriously wrong' when the husband texted multiple times throughout the evening. In comparison, 14% thought it was 'very seriously wrong' for a woman to send a text asking her husband when he would be home, with fewer than 3 in 10 (27%) saying it was 'very seriously wrong' for a women to send her husband multiple texts throughout the evening.

There was a significant increase from 39% in 2014 to 55% in 2019 in the proportion thinking it was 'very seriously wrong' for a husband to control what his wife wears, while there were no significant changes in the same period regarding the question on financial control.

Differences in responses by gender were evident. Women were more likely (71%) than men (64%) to consider financial control to be 'very seriously wrong', and were also more likely (62%) than men (46%) to describe the behaviour of a man who controls what his wife wears as 'very seriously wrong'. Younger people were less likely to consider excessive monitoring to be wrong: around a quarter (27%) of those aged 18 to 34 thought a man texting his wife multiple times throughout the evening was 'very seriously wrong' compared with half (50%) of those aged 65 and over.

A man controlling what his wife wears was thought to be less wrong when it was stated that the man had recently found out his wife had had an affair. Three in ten (30%) thought that it was 'very seriously wrong' for a man to tell his wife to change her outfit if he had recently found out she had had an affair, whereas 55% thought this was 'very seriously wrong' when an affair was not mentioned. The proportion thinking the behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' when the woman had recently had an affair increased by 9 percentage points from 21% in 2014 to 30% in 2019.

A majority of respondents thought that financial control (77%) and a husband sending multiple texts throughout the evening to his wife (68%) caused a 'great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm to the wife. Women were more likely than men to think these behaviours caused a 'great deal of harm': 47% of women compared with 31% of men in the case of financial control, and 36% of women compared with 20% of men in the case of excessive monitoring.

Sexual harassment

People were asked how wrong they considered three forms of sexual harassment to be: wolf-whistling by a group of strangers, sexual harassment in the workplace, and stalking by an ex-boyfriend. Sexual harassment in the workplace was the most likely to be considered 'very seriously wrong' (45%), while the equivalent figures for a group of men wolf-whistling and a man sending unwanted gifts to his ex-girlfriend were 39% and 30% respectively. The proportion considering the behaviour of the group of men wolf-whistling to be 'very seriously wrong' increased by 14 percentage points from 25% in 2014 to 39% in 2019, and the proportion thinking the behaviour of the ex-boyfriend sending unwanted gifts was 'very seriously wrong' increased by 11 percentage points from 19% to 30% in the same period.

An overwhelming majority (94%) of people considered the behaviour of a man who put naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend on the internet to be 'very seriously wrong' in 2019. This compared with 88% in 2014. There was also an increase of 5 percentage points between 2014 and 2019 in the proportion who thought the man's actions in this scenario did 'a great deal' of harm to the woman. Meanwhile three-quarters (75%) thought that social media stalking was 'wrong' (a score of 5 or more on the scale), with just over 3 in 10 people (31%) describing this behaviour as 'very seriously wrong'.

A man telling a sexist joke was considered to be less serious than the examples of sexual harassment which were asked about in 2019. Only a quarter (25%) of people considered this to be 'very seriously wrong', though almost two-fifths (38%) said they would tell their friend it was wrong to make the sexist joke.

Women (95%) were somewhat more likely than men (92%) to consider the behaviour of the man who put naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend on the internet to be 'very seriously wrong', and were around twice as likely (50%) as men (26%) to say they would be 'very likely' to tell their friend he was wrong to make a sexist joke.

Commercial sexual exploitation

People were asked about four types of commercial sexual exploitation: a man paying for sex with a woman, an adult watching pornography at home, a group of men going to a strip club, and a man offering a woman the spare room in his flat in return for sex. The man offering a spare room in his flat in return for sex was considered to be the most seriously wrong among these four types of commercial sexual exploitation, with over four-fifths (83%) considering this to be 'very seriously wrong'. Just under two-fifths (38%) thought it was 'very seriously wrong' for a man to pay a woman for sex; around a fifth (21%) thought a group of men going to a strip club was 'very seriously wrong', while a similar proportion (20%) considered an adult watching pornography to be 'very seriously wrong'. A higher proportion of people thought the behaviour of an adult watching pornography (27%) was 'not wrong at all' than thought it was 'very seriously wrong', the only example of commercial sexual exploitation where this was the case.

Over half (53%) of people thought that a man paying for sex with a woman does her 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm, and a similar proportion (56%) thought that paying for sex should either 'definitely' or 'probably' be against the law. Around a quarter (26%) of people agreed that 'most women who become prostitutes could easily choose a different job if they wanted to', while 44% disagreed with this statement. The proportion of people agreeing with the statement declined by 11 percentage points from 37% in 2014 to 26% in 2019.

In 2019, 27% of people thought it was 'not wrong at all' for an adult to watch pornography, an increase on the proportion who said the same in 2014 (21%). Attitudes towards a group of men going to a strip club also changed in this time, with 21% considering this to be 'very seriously wrong' in 2019 compared with 14% who did so in 2014. In 2019, a quarter (25%) of people thought that watching pornography is a 'normal part of growing up' for teenage boys but the equivalent figure for teenage girls was only 15%.

There were key differences by gender, with women (60%) more likely than men (47%) to say that paying for sex did either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm to the woman, and women also more likely (61%) than men (50%) to think that paying for sex should be illegal. Women were also more likely than men to think it is 'very seriously wrong' for an adult to watch pornography (27% compared with 14%), more likely than men to think it is 'very seriously wrong' for a group of men to go to a strip club (26% compared with 15%), and more likely than men to say it is 'very seriously wrong' for a man to offer a woman his spare room in return for sex (87% compared with 79%).


Contact

Email: social-justice-analysis@gov.scot