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Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2019: attitudes to violence against women

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.

This document is part of 2 collections


Conclusions

Based on the analysis of SSA 2014 and 2019, 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, and psychological); sexual harassment; and commercial sexual exploitation - how these views have changed over time and how they varied between different groups in Scottish society. Building on the findings from the 2014 survey, findings from the 2019 survey 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.

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.

Rape and physical domestic abuse

Rape by a stranger and physical abuse were the most likely behaviours, among those explored in SSA 2019, to be viewed as seriously wrong with around 9 in 10 people saying that a man raping a stranger and a man slapping his wife was 'very seriously wrong' and that it caused the woman 'a great deal' of harm. In the case of physical abuse, views were less strongly held if the perpetrator was a woman and the victim was a man, with around 8 in 10 saying this was 'very seriously wrong'. Views on the level of harm physical abuse caused the husband were even more differentiated, with only around 7 in 10 saying it would cause the husband 'a great deal' of harm compared with 9 in 10 who said the same when the woman was the victim. Similarly, rape within marriage was less likely than rape by a stranger to be viewed as seriously wrong, with around 8 in 10 saying that the husband's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' and that it caused the wife 'a great deal' of harm.

Perhaps surprisingly, there were no differences in views between men and women on how wrong or harmful rape is, but people's own experiences did have an impact on their views. Those who had experienced unwanted sexual contact were more likely than those who had not to say that rape within marriage was 'very seriously wrong'. They were also less likely than others to believe that a woman was to blame for being raped if she was wearing revealing clothing and were more likely to disagree with the three statements about women lying about being raped.

Myths about rape

Around 3 in 10 people believed that a woman is, at least to some extent, to blame for being raped if she is wearing revealing clothing or is very drunk. Fewer than 1 in 10 people agreed with a range of different myths about women lying about being raped but over a quarter of people did agree with the myth that 'rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex'. These findings suggest that some people believe that men are not always entirely to blame for acts of rape.

Although there were no differences in views between men and women on how wrong or harmful rape is, women were more likely than men to say that a woman wearing revealing clothing was 'not at all to blame' for being raped, as were younger people compared with those aged 65 and over. Women and younger people were also more likely than men and those aged 65 and over to disagree with all four myths about rape.

Verbal domestic abuse and coercive control

Verbal domestic abuse and financially controlling behaviour were less likely to be viewed as wrong than rape or physical abuse, with around 7 in 10 people thinking a husband's behaviour is 'very seriously wrong' if he puts his wife down and criticises her or looks at his wife's bank statements. People did not, however, think that they caused the same level of harm. Seven in ten thought that verbal domestic abuse caused 'a great deal' of harm compared with only 4 in 10 who thought the same of a husband looking at his wife's bank statements. This suggests that forms of coercive control, which have only been made criminal offences in the past few years, are still viewed as less serious in the minds of the public than the more long-established and widely discussed forms of verbal or physical domestic abuse.

Other types of controlling behaviour were seen as far less serious, with just over half thinking that a man controlling what his wife wears is 'very seriously wrong', and only a fifth believing that a man texting his wife to ask when she is coming home was 'very seriously wrong', although this increased to around two-fifths when the husband was described as texting his wife multiple times throughout the evening.

There was a clear difference in the strength of feeling about how wrong abusive behaviour is when it is directed towards a male rather than a female victim. Only around half of people thought a woman putting her husband down and criticising him was 'very seriously wrong' or that it did him 'a great deal' of harm, compared with 7 in 10 who thought the same when the woman was the victim. People were also less likely to think that a woman texting her husband to ask when he is coming home, either once or multiple times in one evening, was 'very seriously wrong' or that it did 'a great deal' of harm, than to think the same when the wife was the victim.

Across all forms of domestic abuse - physical, verbal and coercive control - women were consistently more likely than men to view the behaviours as 'very seriously wrong' and as causing 'a great deal' of harm. Even in the case where there was a male victim and a female perpetrator of verbal or physical abuse, men were still less likely than women to say the behaviour was wrong or harmful.

Across nearly all forms of domestic abuse explored in this report, young people were more likely than older people to believe that the behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' and caused 'a great deal' of harm. The one exception to this were views on a man excessively monitoring his wife, where younger people were less likely than older people to believe that a man texting his wife multiple times throughout the evening was 'very seriously wrong'. This perhaps reflects a generational difference in the level of usage of mobile devices and messaging.

Mitigating circumstances

Attitudes towards rape and domestic abuse were shown to change depending on the behaviour of the female victim and the circumstances in which the abuse took place. When the woman who is raped by a stranger is described as first taking the man into the bedroom and kissing him, the proportion who still felt that the rape was 'very seriously wrong' declined by 24 percentage points to fewer than 7 in 10. The impact of the woman's behaviour on views within an existing relationship was even greater. Although only 1 in 7 people thought that the married woman's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' if she first took her husband into the bedroom and started kissing him, the proportion who still believed that the husband's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' declined by 28 percentage points to just around half. Although rape within a marriage has been illegal in Scotland for over 35 years, it appears that people still view this crime as much less serious, and as causing far less harm, than rape by a stranger. Similarly, when a wife is described as having had an affair, people were less likely to say that the husband controlling what she wears is wrong: just over half said the behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' before being told the wife had an affair, declining to 3 in 10 once people had been told that she had had an affair.

Sexual harassment

Less than half of people viewed the four different types of sexual harassment explored as 'very seriously wrong': sexual harassment in the workplace, a group of men wolf-whistling at a woman, a man sending unwanted gifts to his ex-girlfriend, and stalking on social media. A man telling a sexist joke was only thought to be 'very seriously wrong' by a quarter of people, with around two-fifths saying they would be 'very likely' to tell their friend they were wrong to make the joke. In comparison, an overwhelming majority thought that the behaviour of a man who put naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend on the internet was 'very seriously wrong' and caused 'a great deal' of harm, making it comparable with views on rape and domestic physical abuse.

Unlike for domestic abuse, where women were more likely than men to view the behaviour as wrong and harmful, it was men who were significantly more likely to believe that a group of men wolf-whistling was 'very seriously wrong' and that a male boss touching a female employee would be harmful to the woman, suggesting that there is a level of acceptance among women of these types of sexual harassment. Conversely, the evidence shows that men, and those aged under 45, were less likely than women, and those aged 45 and over, to challenge misogynistic behaviour among men, with women being around twice as likely as men to say that they would be 'very likely' to tell their friend he was wrong to tell a sexist joke.

Differences by age did not show a consistent pattern, with younger people being among the least likely to believe that a boss sexually harassing a female member of staff and an ex-boyfriend sending unwanted gifts was 'very seriously wrong', but the most likely to believe that a group of men wolf-whistling at a woman was 'very seriously wrong'. Those aged under 45 were also more likely than those aged 45 and over to challenge misogynistic behaviour by telling a friend he was wrong to tell a sexist joke. Both those in the oldest and youngest age groups were the least likely to believe that the boss' behaviour caused the female employee either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm.

Commercial sexual exploitation

Four-fifths of people thought that a man offering a spare room in his flat in return for sex was 'very seriously wrong' compared with under two-fifths who thought it was 'very seriously wrong' for a man to pay a woman for sex, and only 3 in 10 thinking that a man paying for sex with a woman does her 'a great deal' of harm. This shows that among those who believe that a man paying a woman for sex is seriously wrong, not all of them believe that it causes 'a great deal' of harm to the woman. Around a quarter of people agreed that 'most women who become prostitutes could easily choose a different job if they wanted to', while just over two-fifths disagreed with this statement.

Only around a fifth thought that a group of men going to a strip club or adults watching pornography was 'very seriously wrong', with a higher proportion believing that an adult watching pornography is 'not wrong at all'. One in four people agreed that watching pornography is a 'normal part of growing up' for teenage boys compared with around 1 in 7 saying the same for teenage girls. This suggests that there is a difference in what is deemed to be acceptable sexual behaviour for boys compared with girls.

Women were more likely than men to think that paying for sex did harm to the woman, and more likely to say that it should be against the law for someone to pay for sex. Women were also more likely than men to say that a man offering his spare room to a woman in return for sex was 'very seriously wrong'.

Women and older people were more likely than men and those aged 18 to 34 to think that men going to a strip club or an adult watching pornography was 'very seriously wrong'. Meanwhile, men and those aged 18 to 34 were more likely than women and older people to agree that watching pornography is a 'normal part of growing up' for teenage boys, but the same difference was not evident when the question was asked about teenage girls.

Holding stereotypical views on gender roles, education and religious identity

Holding stereotypical views on gender roles also impacted on people's views; they were shown to be less likely to view abusive behaviour as wrong and harmful and more likely to hold conservative views on prostitution and pornography. Specifically, those who held stereotypical views on gender roles were less likely to view rape and coercive controlling behaviour as 'very seriously wrong' and less likely to think that physical and verbal abuse causes 'a great deal' of harm. Those who held stereotypical views on gender roles were more likely to think women are to blame for being raped if they are wearing revealing clothing or very drunk, and more likely to believe that women lie about being raped.

Conversely, those who held stereotypical views on gender roles were more likely than those who did not to believe that an adult watching pornography and men going to a strip club was 'very seriously wrong'. They were also more likely to believe paying for sex is 'very seriously wrong', to agree that 'most women who work as prostitutes could easily choose a different job if they wanted to', and that it should be against the law for someone to pay for sex.

Those with higher levels of education were more likely to believe that rape and physical abuse were 'very seriously wrong' and that physical abuse did 'a great deal' of harm. They were also less likely to believe a woman is to blame if she was raped and less likely to believe that women lie about being raped. Conversely, those with lower levels of education were more likely to say that social media stalking was 'very seriously wrong' and to view watching pornography as 'very seriously wrong'.

Those with a religious identity were more likely than those without a religious identity to believe that commercial sexual exploitation was wrong. They were more likely to think that paying for sex was wrong and that it should be against the law. Taken alongside the finding that those who identified as belonging to a religion were also more likely to agree that 'most women who work as prostitutes could easily choose a different job if they wanted to', suggests a level of moral judgement on the women from those who identified as belonging to a religion. They were also less tolerant of men going to a strip club and less tolerant of pornography for both adults and teenage girls.

How have views changed between 2014 and 2019?

There were significant changes in attitudes between 2014 and 2019, with people being more likely in 2019 than in 2014 to view some abusive or harassing behaviours as wrong. The proportion who thought that rape within a marriage is 'very seriously wrong' increased by ten percentage points between 2014 and 2019, with no equivalent increase in views on a man raping a stranger. There was also a 10-percentage-point increase in the proportion who thought a woman was 'not at all to blame' for being raped if she was wearing revealing clothing or if she was very drunk. The level of belief in two myths about rape also declined, with a 15-percentage-point decline in the proportion agreeing that 'women often lie about rape' and a 9-percentage-point decline in the proportion who agreed that 'rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex'.

Interestingly, there were no significant differences between 2014 and 2019 in views on the wrongness of either physical or verbal abuse, or most of the coercive control scenarios, although in the case of physical abuse this may be because the vast majority of people in 2014 said that they felt this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong'. The one exception was a significant increase of 16 percentage points in the proportion thinking it was 'very seriously wrong' for a husband to control what his wife wears, and a smaller, but still significant, increase of 9 percentage points in the proportion thinking the behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' when the woman had recently had an affair.

Views have changed significantly across a range of different types of sexual harassment, with increases between 2014 and 2019 in the proportion thinking the behaviour of a group of men wolf-whistling, and an ex-boyfriend sending unwanted gifts, was 'very seriously wrong'. Although the vast majority of people in 2014 believed the behaviour of a man who put naked pictures of his ex-girlfriend on the internet to be 'very seriously wrong', the proportion did increase by 6 percentage points in 2019. With regards to commercial sexual exploitation, the proportion who thought that a group of men going to a strip club was 'very seriously wrong' increased over this time period, whereas at the same time the level of tolerance around the use of pornography for adults increased.

Overall, the majority of people in Scotland believe that acts of gender-based violence are wrong, but views vary depending on the type of behaviour, the gender of the victim, the context within which the behaviour occurred, and between different groups of people. Sexual violence and physical domestic abuse are the most likely to be seen as seriously wrong, with coercive controlling behaviours being viewed as the least wrong of the domestic abusive behaviours included in the survey, and the least likely to cause harm in spite of changes in legislation and increased awareness of these issues in the past few years. Domestic abuse is consistently seen as more serious when there is a female victim compared with when the victim is male. And woman are consistently more likely than men to view gender-based violence as wrong and harmful, even when the victim is male. Women were also shown to be more likely than men to challenge misogynistic behaviour. Between 2014 and 2019, attitudes towards some abusive or harassing behaviours have changed, showing that people are now more likely to view such behaviours as wrong and harmful. However, these changes have not been seen universally, and the gaps between views on the level of wrongness and harm caused by coercive control, verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual violence remain.

Contact

Email: social-justice-analysis@gov.scot

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