Archives for category: Domestic Abuse

Write to end VAW awards

A year ago I had the dubious honour of presenting the Write To End Violence Women Wooden Spoon Award. The Wooden Spoon is often awarded not for the stories themselves but for the way they are told – to journalism which is at the other end of the spectrum from the high quality work which the Write to End VAW Awards have been honouring annually since 2013.

Read Annie MacLaughlin’s Wooden Spoon Award presentation 2017

It was highly fitting that the 2018 award ceremony took place in the Storytelling Centre  in Edinburgh, in the shadow of Big John – oh the irony –  to celebrate the importance of stories about women; to honour  excellent journalism and  the formidable journalists whose business is to tell the important stories about women’s lives –  the difficult stories about violence against women.

To set the scene, let me take you to another land, one which is not so far from here but where things are not quite what they seem. Let’s go through the patriarchal looking glass to a parallel universe much like our own but which looks at life back to front. There are gaslights everywhere and it is populated by men who do no wrong, where domestic abuse, rape, sexual harassment, commercial sexual exploitation, murder and cruelty don’t exist and anyone who says they do is exaggerating or not in possession of all the facts.

Amid the smoke and mirrors of this distorted topsy-turvy world the men who do these awful things are quickly transformed, as if by magic, into the real victims, their crimes minimised or denied all together; where other factors or people, not infrequently the women themselves, are usually blamed.

jilted father

These lords of humankind, viewed through the patriarchal looking glass, are pillars of their communities, decent chaps who wouldn’t harm a fly, who can suddenly, and completely out of character, lose control in a moment of weakness or madness, faced by oh… I don’t know, pick your external locus of control…betrayal, his wife leaving him, a difficult childhood, bankruptcy, drink… they do completely random and uncharacteristic things like abuse, humiliate, rape or kill the women and children in their lives. Sometimes they even kill themselves.  They commit one-off crimes, they would never prolong abuse over days, weeks, months or years.  There’s no such thing as ‘a course of conduct’ in this world.

Daily Mail Wooden spoon #1

By an extraordinary sleight of hand, these upstanding public men, are transformed by a particular media magic called himpathy into devoted dads, salts of the earth, respected members of their communities.

he would do anything for anyone

They can be an esteemed football coach, a community leader, a successful business man, TV personality…men with great careers both behind and ahead of them, high ranking politicians or  even… presidents.  The world on this side of the looking glass may end up reading highly distorted stories which mask private tyrannies and blank out or deny women and children’s lives and experiences.

‘twisted act of love

Crime reports become eulogies to a nice bloke who has usually left his community and local police mystified; these stories serve to help resolve the collective cognitive dissonance people are left with about a man they thought they all knew well but whom they can’t quite believe was such a monster. The mask worn by such men in public hide the private tyrant known only to the women and children in his life.  It’s a common thing.

They were a lovely family. I’m honestly shocked. Lance couldn’t do enough for you. He helped me with DIY in my house, did all his up from scratch.

The patriarchal looking-glass world is perpetually spinning in what Judith Herman calls the social dialectic of trauma – where the desire to speak about horrible events is accompanied by a simultaneous desire to deny they happened at all.   Instead of seeking to investigate the true motives for violent crimes against women, this journalism delves no deeper than the benign masks on the public face of these lethal hypocrites.  Luke and Ryan Hart whose father brutally murdered their Mum Claire and sister Charlotte think the media narrative sets the bar far too low for men accused of violence against women and prefers to blame anything at all for the violence but the agency of the man responsible.

Wooden spoon #2

The 2018 Wooden Spoon award was a group award.  In an announcement proclaimed with absolutely no pleasure at all, the 2018 Wooden Spoon award went to all those NICE GUYS.  The upstanding blokes who had reasons for acting out of character and for committing these heinous crimes against women.  Now that they’ve been rumbled, we should turn off those big gaslights, drag them back through the patriarchal looking glass, shine a bright new LED spotlight on their lives and tell the full backstory of these men and the women they murdered; tell us too about how much the women were loved, what they did in their lives and the loss suffered needlessly by all who loved them.  So far in 2019 at least 90 women have been killed in the UK by men (or where a man is the principal suspect). Tell us about these women and their lives, their lives count too while sadly the death toll continues to rise.

16 days

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This article first published  @LennoxHerald 19 November 2014

November 25 marks the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and signals the start of the annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence ending on 10 December, Human Rights Day. This year the global campaign, which began in 1981, highlights the links between gender-based violence and militarism.

16 days

As its slogan ‘From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Gender-Based Violence! ‘ shows, violence in everyday life and violence in war are two sides of the same coin. In a year which marks the centenary of the outbreak of   World War 1 this is apt.

The colour white is internationally recognised as the colour of peace. During the run up to this year’s remembrance ceremonies some people wore white poppies. The white poppy was first worn in 1933 by the Women’s Co-operative Guild movement who demonstrate their remembrance by pledging themselves to peace. Some wore only white poppies, others wore both white and red poppies.


In 1991 the 16 Days Campaign joined with the White Ribbon Campaign, first launched by a group of Canadian men, in adopting the white ribbon as a symbol of hope for a world where women and girls can live free from the fear and threat of sexual and intimate partner violence. The campaigns challenge the acceptability of all forms of violence against women – and show us that women and men can work together to help break the silence surrounding these forms of violence. While violence against women mainly targets women, children, young people and men are also affected.

Domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault are too common in Scotland and across the world. Police Scotland recently reported an 81% increase in reports of domestic rape, a 55% rise in reports of domestic stalking offences and 58,976 domestic abuse incidents last year – most victims were women. Police Scotland have just announced details of their annual festive campaign against domestic abuse and in June, the Scottish Government confirmed their continued commitment to the prevention and elimination of violence against women. The scale and nature of systematic child sexual exploitation Rotherham revealed in a recent report written by Alexis Jay, former Director of Social Work at West Dunbartonshire Council, has caused widespread concern. The Scottish Government recently launched its own national child sexual abuse strategy amid warnings that the problem here is likely to be widespread.

The links between inter-personal, intimate partner and international war and violence are clear. Scottish Women’s Aid, Zero Tolerance and White Ribbon Scotland will join campaigning groups and women’s activists on 25 November in marking the 16 Days across the country. Wear white for world peace, wear a white ribbon for an end to violence against women.

White ribbon


Scottish Justice Matters – Children and Young People Experiencing Domestic Abuse – Are we getting it right?

Scottish Justice Matters November 2014 Edition just published

Living It -Children, Young People and Justice

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This article first appeared in The Conversation 2 July 2014

Read the full article  here

w-3270145bill walker release

Daily Record 22 March 2014

Bill Walker’s early release is an indictment on the handling of domestic abuse by our justice system. The former MSP was convicted in September 2013 of 22 violent assaults against three former wives and a step-daughter. The conviction and imprisonment of such a high profile figure for serious domestic abuse offences does show how far Scotland’s criminal justice system has come in dealing with domestic abuse. But unfortunately the system can still stymy progress, as his early release has shown.

Despite the seriousness of the charges, the Sheriff’s hands were tied and the maximum sentence Sheriff Mackie could impose on Walker was a pitiful twelve months. Walker has walked out of prison after only six months under the early release scheme which is due to be axed by the Scottish parliament and not before time. First Minister has claimed that the scheme introduced by the Westminster government in 1993, “does not command public confidence” and he is right.

‘Early release scheme does not command public confidence’

Scotland’s First Minister

Had they not been running concurrently, Walker’s sentences for each of his 22 assault convictions would have kept him in prison for a couple more years – a punishment far more fitting to the crime.  Light sentences are not the only concern in the way we tackle domestic violence. The case against Walker succeeded because, although most of the assaults happened in private, the evidence from each of his former wives and step-daughter corroborated the other. Most victims suffer in private, sometimes for years but some do not have another person to corroborate the crime and that’s why the abolition of corroboration is an essential and long overdue reform.

Scottish police now take domestic abuse much more seriously and it is no longer dismissed as ‘just a domestic’. Police Scotland are called to a domestic abuse incident every nine minutes and 11 women were murdered by a partner or ex-partner in Scotland last year. This is not fisticuffs but dangerous criminal behaviour involving threats and abuse, stalking, harassment, attempted murder, serious assault and rape. Some men, like Walker, have committed offences against a number of ex-partners going back years.

Domestic abuse accounts for 15 per cent of all violent crime in Scotland

However, whilst on average police report over three quarters of domestic abuse incidents to the Procurator Fiscal, more than half go no further due to the lack of corroboration. Although the introduction of fast track domestic abuse courts like Glasgow’s has been a great success, violent abusers like Walker are tried mainly in summary proceedings carrying a maximum available sentence of 12 months.

Domestic abuse takes up 20 per cent of Police Scotland’s time

Custody was the only option available to Sheriff Mackie because Walker showed no signs of remorse and denied all charges. It is just a pity that she did not have the power to give Walker a longer prison term. Walker was definitely unsuitable for the Caledonian Programme, Scottish Government’s flag ship mandatory programme for convicted domestic abuse offenders. 

The programme requires men to take responsibility for their crimes and address their criminal behaviour and Walker never has. Sheriff Mackie had no confidence that Walker would succeed on a programme designed to change the attitudes of men who condone domestic abuse. 

At no point did Walker show the slightest remorse for his crimes against the women and in fact he has displayed only contempt for his victims.

Preventing domestic abusers from re-offending and making sure they pose no further threat to their victims must be a key priority for the criminal justice system. Walker’s high profile will at least ensure that his victims know exactly when he is released and in that respect they are luckier than most.

The Scottish Prison Service’s Victim Notification Scheme ensures that victims of violent crimes are told when their attacker is being released but the system only kicks in when the perpetrator has been sentenced to four years or more and the victims requests it. With sentences for most domestic abuse offences limited to 12 months, many victims have no idea when their attacker has been freed, despite the threat that many still pose.

There are many perpetrators of domestic abuse who, like Walker, do not believe they did anything wrong. Changing the way domestic abuse is handled and the attitudes of abusers is a long term project for Scotland. According to international observers Scotland has the most progressive approach to domestic abuse in the UK but as the Walker case demonstrates, we have a long way to go.

Has prison changed Bill Walker’s attitude to his crimes? Probably not.

Has Bill Walker changed ours? It has increased awareness of how domestic abuse makes no distinction in terms of class, status and profile. It has also shone a light on the need for tougher sentencing.

Scottish Prison Service’s Victim Notification Scheme:


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