4. Violence Against Women and Girls
Our aim is to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls in Scotland once and for all. No woman or girl in Scotland should be subjected to violence or abuse of any kind and no child or young person should have to experience gender-based violence or have to live with the impact of it. Gender-based violence violates a range of human rights, such as the right to life, the right to non-discrimination, and the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, as well as the fundamental human dignity of women and girls. The Scottish Government therefore welcomes the fact that the UK has this year taken steps to ratify the Istanbul Convention, but is deeply concerned about the reservation applied by the UK to Article 59, which protects migrant women victims of domestic abuse (see Section 1(C)).
A) Combating Violence Against Women and Girls
Equally Safe is Scotland's strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls. By this we mean violent and abusive behaviour directed at women and girls precisely because they are women and girls, carried out predominantly by men, and stemming from women’s systemic and deep-rooted inequality. This includes domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault, commercial sexual exploitation, and so-called 'honour-based' violence like female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Equally Safe sets out a vision to work with stakeholders to prevent violence from occurring in the first place, to build the capability and capacity of mainstream and specialist services to support survivors and those at risk, and to strengthen the justice response to victims and perpetrators.
The previous Equally Safe Delivery Plan ran from 2017 to 2021. In November 2020, the Equally Safe: Final Report provided an overview of progress made since the publication of the previous Delivery Plan and actions taken during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In June 2022, the Scottish Government and COSLA published a new short-life Equally Safe Delivery Plan which will run until autumn 2023, with a new Equally Safe Delivery Plan to be drafted over the course of 2023. This plan builds on the many achievements of its predecessor, consolidates existing priorities and commitments, and considers what needs to be achieved for the sector to fully recover from the pandemic. We will be working closely with the Equally Safe Joint Strategic Board’s oversight to ensure the short-life plan continues to foster and galvanise collaborative working with key partners across all sectors.
A refresh to the Equally Safe strategy will be developed throughout 2023. Stakeholder engagement to inform the refresh of Equally Safe will be extensive, and will ensure that the voices of those with lived experience inform each and every step of the process.
We are investing significant levels of funding to support our efforts to combat violence against women and girls. For example, within the first 100 days of the current term of government, new funding totalling £5 million went to rape crisis centres and domestic abuse services to deal with increasing waiting list demand. Our Delivering Equally Safe Fund provides £19 million per annum supporting 121 projects from 112 organisations that focus on early intervention, prevention, and support services. Our Victim Centred Approach Fund will provide £48 million to 23 organisations across Scotland over the period of 2022-2025. This includes £18.5 million for specialist advocacy support for survivors of gender-based violence.
The Scottish Government aims to ensure that the funding provided works most effectively to improve outcomes for those using services. An Independent Strategic Review of Funding and Commissioning of Violence Against Women and Girls Services, chaired by Lesley Irving, is underway and will report its recommendations by March 2023. The principal role of the review is to develop a more consistent, coherent, collective and stable funding model that will ensure high-quality, accessible specialist services across Scotland for women, children and young people experiencing any form of violence against women and girls.
The Programme for Government 2021-2022 commits the Scottish Government to the development of a model for Scotland which effectively tackles and challenges men’s demand for prostitution, recognising it as a form of gendered violence. This model will aim to reduce the stigma and criminalisation experienced by any adult involved in prostitution and encourage better access to support services. This also forms part of our wider response to tackling misogyny.
We are making good progress with developing principles to underpin the Framework and established an expert group to help us. These principles will be in line with our aspirations to embed equality and human rights in Scotland and support our efforts to tackle men’s violence against women. The group’s representation includes public health, specialist services, criminal justice organisations and victim support organisations. The group held its final formal meeting in April 2022, and engagement is ongoing to finalise the principles with a view to publishing later this year. Recognising the range of interests and experience, the group’s work has also been informed by a reference group, with membership across government, the wider public sector and third sector, and has included lived experience.
In addition, two research reports to inform the development of the Framework have been published this year. The publication of a lived experience report and an international evidence review highlight the personal stories behind those involved in prostitution, the need to better understand and tackle the stigma that many feel, and the international efforts aimed at tackling men’s demand. We remain committed to continuing to engage with those with lived experience.
C) Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation
The Scottish Government is committed to tackling so-called ‘honour-based’ violence, and the new short-life Equally Safe Delivery Plan includes the Scottish Government’s approach to female genital mutilation (“FGM”) and other forms of ‘honour-based’ violence.
The Female Genital Mutilation (Protection and Guidance) (Scotland) Act 2020 seeks to strengthen the existing legislative framework for the protection of women and girls from FGM. It includes two main policies: FGM protection orders and statutory guidance. We are working with stakeholders to ensure the effective implementation of the Act and will start consultations for developing statutory guidance in autumn 2022. Stakeholders’ voices will be heard throughout the process and will be integral to the development of the statutory guidance.
In 2017, we published multi-agency guidance setting out how agencies, individually and together, can protect girls and young women from FGM, and how to respond appropriately to survivors. This will be updated, if necessary, to align with implementation of the Act.
We are also taking forward a refresh and republication of the Scottish Government’s Statutory Guidance on Forced Marriage.
D) Virginity Testing and Hymenoplasty
The practices of virginity testing and of hymenoplasty have been criminalised in Scotland with the Scottish Parliament consenting to the provisions in the UK’s Health and Care Act 2022 which criminalise the practices applying to Scotland. Virginity testing and hymenoplasty are both forms of gender-based violence and so-called ‘honour-based’ violence.
To date, there is no evidence of such practices taking place in Scotland. However, there are clear benefits to all four nations in the UK having a joined-up approach to the issue of virginity testing and hymenoplasty. The existence of virginity testing in the UK relates directly to the strict expectations regarding women’s sexual “purity” within some cultures or communities. In some societies, the prevailing myth is that girls’ sexual desires must be controlled early to prevent “deviant” sexual behaviour. Perpetrators of so-called ‘honour-based’ violence will usually justify their behaviour by referencing these beliefs alongside various other socio-cultural factors, including references to fixed gender roles that perceive women and girls as gatekeepers of their family’s honour.
The Scottish Government is clear that testing to show virginity is a myth, and that there is no medical exam that can be undertaken to prove if a woman has had sexual intercourse or not.
E) Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018
The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 created a specific offence of domestic abuse that covers not just physical abuse, but also other forms of psychological abuse as well as coercive and controlling behaviour. This new offence brings clarity for victims so they can see explicitly that what their partner or ex-partner has done to them is wrong and can be dealt with under the law. The Act also reflected the fact that children are harmed by domestic abuse by providing for a statutory aggravation in relation to children. The Act commenced in April 2019, accompanied by a public campaign to raise awareness.
In addition to this, the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Act 2021 provides for new protective notices and orders to keep a suspected perpetrator away from the household of someone at risk of abuse and to prohibit them from contacting or approaching the person at risk.
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