Archives for category: Essays/Discussion

Sun competition ban

This article was originally published in The Conversation on 10 December 2014 by Anni Donaldson

The contortions of The Sun newspaper against mounting opposition to its notorious Page 3 topless women would be laughable if they did not represent a much wider problem. With even glamour queen Katie Price apparently throwing in the towel and having her breast size reduced, you wonder how many senior Sun executives seriously want to keep it going. Even they can’t have entirely missed the dawning of the new millennium and 40 years of advances in women’s equality.

Page 3 dates from a time when Benny Hill, Les Dawson and Jimmy Savile were the acceptable faces of a male-dominated culture where women just needed just to “calm down dear” and take a joke. As the No More Page 3 campaigners say, this isn’t just about getting rid of a sexist image in a newspaper. This is part of women’s “wider struggle for better representation, equality and human rights”.

Everywhere you look …

British society is slowly wakening up to pervasive everyday sexism, rape culture, the normalisation of pornography and epidemic proportions of sexual exploitation, gender-based violence and sexual abuse – both here and across the world. Post-Leveson, how long can fair and balanced journalism co-exist with the continued stereotyping and objectification of women? You don’t have look far beyond Page 3 to see the Ched Evans row, the Grand Theft Auto Rape Mod, the Fairlife milk adverts and countless more.

The wider picture? It certainly won’t help that this is a country that was recently described by a senior UN official as having an “in your face sexist culture”. Fewer than one quarter of reporters on national dailies are women. Research has shown that men outnumber women as television and radio experts by four to one. The TV industry’s unwillingness to put older women in front of the cameras is meanwhile legend.

An imbalanced society. PandaVector

Light amid darkness

Yet if this is the mountain still to climb, we are arguably at a slightly higher altitude than we once were. Part of this is changing times – The Sun’s management at least sounds awkward defending Page 3 these days, and it ditched the page in Ireland with little effect to circulation. Its UK days also look numbered.

The atmosphere has also arguably been changed by the slew of sexual abuse scandals that have hit the media in the last two or three years. Operation Yewtree, Rotherham, Rochdale and the Westminster affair have all created a sense in which practices that used to be tolerated are now being confronted. The media has been shamed by its own past acquiescence and has not shied away from full coverage that gives the impact on the victims its proper due.

So how do we make these steps forward permanent? Unrelenting campaigns from No More Page 3 to Everyday Sexism are obviously part of the answer. Scotland might also have something to offer here, through the work of anti-abuse charity Zero Tolerance. In 2013 it launched the first Write to End Violence Against Women Awards and published a media guide to promote responsible journalism and reporting of all forms of violence against women. The group also awards an annual wooden spoon for the worst examples of sexist reporting. The 2014 award winners will be announced on the evening of 10 December.

It is a reminder that we could do with a high-profile version of these awards for the whole of the UK. If we can give large amounts of coverage to Bad Sex Awards in writing, we need exactly the same approach for writing that degrades women. To give others a chance of course, Page 3 would need a category all of its own.


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


With three maybe four sleeps to go before we know the result of the Scottish referendum I can barely contain my excitement. I am finding it difficult to concentrate on anything else – and like most people, most women especially, there is much to be got through in a day.  However there is no other topic, no other decision, no other prospect that is as important as this referendum right now – no wonder concentration drifts out of the window.

Family Politics

Although I grew up in a politically savvy family, amid fiery debates about huge worldly topics around the kitchen table, annual May Day marches going back as far as I can remember, I have never felt so close to something which could result it huge positive social change.

Aye we’ll have they capitalists shaking in their boots the day!

mayday pipers

Glasgow May Day Parade 1960

Despite Grandpa Alex’s May Day exortation  “Aye we’ll have they capitalists shaking in their boots the day!”, the revolution never seemed to happened. There were moments of hope for capitalist boot-shaking, ban the bomb marches, the poll tax campaign, the Miners’ Strike, the anti-Iraq war demonstrations, but generally it was business as usual.

ban the bomb   Ban the Bomb, Glasgow CND March 1960s

As a child I gradually saw the gulf between how my family made sense of the world (Marxist dialectical materialism mostly) and the actual world outside of our lefty bubble.

robeson at may day

Paul Robeson at Glasgow May Day, Queen’s Park 1960

Symbolic annihilation

What was on the BBC, what I learned in school (kings and queens, endless rote learning of dates, wars and acts of parliament) and read in my comics – (boarding schools, more kings and queens, plucky little orphans, brave Cavaliers and poor Marie Antoinette) did not look familiar – aka symbolic annihilation.


Scottish Socialist Sunday School Naming Certificate

I became intellectually and culturally bipolar in my efforts to reconcile my life, ideas and understandings with ambient reality.   Even as a child marching along in those May Day columns, in my Socialist Sunday School best, heading through Glasgow city centre I was always puzzled by the seeming indifference, bemusement and occasional hostility of the people watching us from the pavement . The two tides were running in parallel but I always felt I was running against the prevailing current.  The tide eventually proved too strong for me and I stepped out.

Caledonian antisyzygy

Scotland’s symbolic annihilation was commonplace and the country struggled to resolve its own bipolarity. In 1919 (the same year the tanks rolled into George Square, and the forces of capitalism were maybe a wee bit shaky in their boots), G. Gregory Smith named it: in the Caledonian antisyzygy, he remarked, ‘we have a reflection of the contrasts which the Scot shows at every turn… which is the admission that two sides of the matter have been considered…Oxymoron was ever the bravest figure, and we must not forget that disorderly order is order after all”.

Oxymoron was ever the bravest figure…we must not forget that disorderly order is order after all”.

Disorderly order just about covers it. Even the anti-establishment politics I grew up with no longer seemed adequate to explain the reality of my life, now seriously out of kilter even with the comforting yet ever contradictory certainties of dialectical materialism –(another antisyzygy of sorts). Cast into an analytical wilderness by the late 1970s I shrugged my critical shoulders and walked away, unable to connect the dots between my now adult life and any kind of analysis which made sense. Foolishly, I was searching for simplicity. I didn’t find it.

woman car run you down

The Women’s Movement

The women’s movement provided early promise, but, full of its own complexities, lost sight of the enemy outside and struggled to survive in Thatcher’s Britain. However, as the movement matured, so too did I and gradually filled in the blanks in my understanding of how the world works, how change happens and what part I, as a woman could play.

women's lib  in scotland book cover

By the 1990s I had found a practical focus for my politics by working on gender equality in education and onward from there working against prevent domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women.

                                                      women hold up half the sky

Another Scotland is possible

With only three days to go I think I am swimming in the same political tide as so many others. We’re all off the pavement now and thousands are marching along the same road. Inequality and social injustice are there for all to see in the unionist establishment’s grand plan. But party politics are no longer the only show in town. The split between the lives we are living and the parallel universe being devised for us by the Westminster establishment has become too wide. Working closely with their allies in big business and in the fourth estate, the dominant UK political parties have lined up as one to threaten us with disaster and by doing so confirmed for many of us just why we need shot of them. Their virtual reality democracy game is over.

disorderly order is order after all”

Scottish people are learning how to break the establishment machine code and are poised to reprogramme the whole jing bang.

sunday times Another Scotland is Possible!

#indyref has revitalised a nouveau Scottish antisyzygy but Friday morning may see a new synthesis. The establishment might just be shaking in their boots. Alex would be pleased. Another Scotland is possible. I’m voting YES!


A Scottish Rape Crisis

It is not for the first time that this column has been given over to discussions of rape and violence against women but it may be the first time I’ve directed my pen at all right thinking  men – yes you sir – please – read on! Whether it is right here in Scotland or in just about any country across the world rape is on the increase. There have been too many rapes on Glasgow streets in the last fortnight – with thousands of south side residents taking to the streets last week in protest. Angelina Jolie and William Hague recently hosted an international summit highlighting the widespread use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Rape is fed by a rape culture which regards women as inferior, unequal, and their bodies fair game. It is all around us. The UN’s Special Rapporteur recently criticised Britain’s ‘in-your-face’ sexist culture – she visited Scotland too. The twitter-sphere provides a convenient cover for cowardly avatars who taunt and troll women daring to venture into the public eye. When the likes of the never-funny Jimmy Carr and his ilk get away with playing sexual violence for laughs and are paid huge amounts of tax-free dosh for doing so, you do wonder when your average Joe is going to stand up and say enough already.

If you think rape culture doesn’t happen here then ask any adjacent teenager or grown man if they like Page 3, laugh off lads mags as just a abit of fun or ever groove along to Robin Thicke [sic] and his sick ‘Blurred Lines’ (it goes something like this: …I’ll give you something big enough to tear your ass in two… He don’t smack that ass and pull your hair like that. Not many women can refuse this pimpin’). Grand Theft Auto? Ask them if they’ve ever murdered a prostitute after they’ve had sex with her to get their money back. Ah how wonderful – a rape and murder get you game points –whatever happened to the medieval shenanigans of the harmless old woman-free zone that was Assassins Creed?

Most men don’t rape but maybe it’s time the just-a-bit-too-silent majority of you out there stood up for us women folk like the many men on the Glasgow march and challenged the misogynist culture which is actually aimed at you. The Scottish White Ribbon Campaign and Mentors in Violence Prevention are working at getting chaps to man up against violence against women. Come on guys! You need to work with us on this one!

Rape Crisis Helpline: 08088 01 03 02;

West Dunbartonshire CARA VAW Counselling and Advocacy Service: 01389 738680

White Ribbon Scotland:

Mentors in Violence Prevention:

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This article was originally published on The Conversation

Read the original article.

Anni Donaldson does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

IMG_1565my red road flat

The block housing asylum seekers at Red Road.

Glasgow 2014’s proposed detonation of Red Road flats as entertainment had no appeal for sore eyes.   The city always gets into a fankle when it tries to show off. Like the Workers’ City Group who argued with the organisers of Glasgow City of Culture in 1990 about whose culture was being celebrated, this latest fiasco showed how the city still rates the ideas of outsiders higher than those screaming at it from under its very nose. Glasgow, ever in thrall to American pazzazz, was willing to lie down before the gods of shock and awe and turn the Red Road flats into a Hollywood special effect – a  ‘Wow’ factor – dear oh dear.

IMG_1599sighthill demolition

 Sighthill flats being demolished 2010

Glasgow’s citizens by way of a hugely successful petition by Carolyn Leckie were having none of it and have forced a climb down. Objectors to this ridiculous stunt had history on their side. The City of Glasgow has form when it comes to failed housing schemes.  Not known as ‘schemes’ for nothing, the word hides a stark truth about the background ‘scheming’ of municipal social reformers.

Red Road flats are a very tall, infamous and ultimately failed social experiment. It is one among many not so tall or famous but equally failed social housing experiments which have been appearing and quietly disappearing in ever-recurring cycles all over Glasgow for generations. Poverty, housing and unemployment have been a splitting headache for the City fathers for over a century and, as this latest wheeze shows, they are nowhere nearer to finding a cure for this particular migrane.


Since the 1990s, acres of ‘Slum Clearance’ or ‘Rehousing Schemes’ built in the 1930s in Possilpark, Hamiltonhill, Blackhill, Ruchill and elsewhere have quietly vanished and taken their people’s histories with them. These compact ‘two-up’ grey stone tenements, six flats to a close were built during one of the City’s recurring cycles of ‘slum clearance’.

ellesmere st new build

Hamiltonhill under construction 1930s

auckland st

Possilpark  derelict  in the 1990s

ellesmere St now

Ellesmere St. Hamiltonhill  cleared  2014

Described by Sean Damer as ‘cheerless barracks’ built on poor, marginal industrial land, with no amenities, ‘the schemes ‘were one step up from the overcrowded 19th century tenements they were replacing but a world away from the teeming life of Anderson, the Calton and Garngad. Mostly unskilled workers, among them many Irish emigrants, traded the slums for space, bathrooms, electricity and regular surveillance by housing and public health officials.

The front-line of the inspection regimes were the infamous ‘Green Ladies’ whose unannounced arrivals ensured folk, especially women, kept their housekeeping and parenting up to scratch and did not revert to the so-called ‘disreputable habits’ of slum living. This was social engineering pure and simple aimed at the poor. It failed because you cannot wash poverty away with any amount of Sunlight soap.   Working people, have always had to follow work, live where they can afford to live and have to trade settled attachment to one place for a rent book which always carries a risk of clearance usually within a generation (or nowadays by way of that gift to 21st century poor law reformers the ‘bedroom tax’).

After World War 2, Glasgow’s migraine continued despite its feisty population, fiery red credentials and a bit of economic renewal. New borderland schemes like Pollok, Easterhouse, Castlemilk, Drumchapel in the 1950s gave work and houses to many. Others were successfully exported to whole new towns built around the old villages of East Kilbride and Cumbernauld. The vertical, city-in-the-sky, multi-storey dreams of the ‘60s in Sighthill, Red Road, Cedar Road, Westercommon and elsewhere quickly turned sour as did the equally soulless horizontal mile-long alternatives such as Balgrayhill and Cowlairs. Glasgow never could accommodate all the people it needed and it certainly doesn’t know what to do with them now the work and any hope of it, for many,  is gone.

The ‘slum clearance’ housing of Hamiltonhill and  Possilpark is  now gone and the best the people made of living there, my own family included,  has been conveniently and quietly deleted from the landscape. All that remains are the few trees standing alone in what were formerly lively backcourts full of children, washing lines, middens and voices.  Who can tell what new schemes are being cooked up as I write.

The Red Road flats are another failure of reforming containment. A brief attempt at using them to house asylum seekers there and in nearby Sighthill has also proved a failure. We should not forget that winning and implementing that first contract from the UK Government was carried out – in true Council fashion – without consulting local residents. The result? Resentment, violence and murder until community organisations stepped in to listen to people’s concerns. The history of the asylum-seekers since relocated to Glasgow has been, at times, a tragic tale. Swept up in Glasgow’s existing housing headache, in time-honoured fashion in this city the old hands and the new wave of migrants have fashioned a new solidarity.

IMG_1587we belong to glasgow   IMG_1621campaign to welcome refugees  IMG_1605rr demo jmcd

Rally against deportations following the suicide of the Serge Serykh, his wife, Tatiana and stepson at Red Road 2010

And so, on it goes with this latest debacle over history, people place and memory. No amount of Mr. Smileys or bouncing thistles can wipe away the memory of lives lived in now vanished buildings. Glasgow has never known what to do with its failed housing ‘schemes’ but this idea was surely the daftest and most unkind scheme of all.


365 Poster exhibition hosted by Dumbarton Refuge

Dumbarton District Women’s Aid Hosts celebrated International Women’s Day 2014 by hosting the Violence Against Women 365 International Poster Exhibition. Curated by Colm Dempsey , a Child Protection specialist from Dublin, this is 365’s third successful visit to West Dunbartonshire. The exhibition, currently in its tenth year of worldwide touring, was on display in a women’s refuge for the first time. Colm and Dumbarton’s Refuge workers were delighted that the display’s powerful and hard-hitting posters received a positive response from the local community. The invitation-only event proved popular with the general public, refuge residents, Councillors Hazel Sorrel, Jim Brown and Ian Murray and Jackie Baillie MSP.

In a week when disturbing findings from the Europe-wide Violence Against Women Everyday and Everywhere study were published, exhibitions like 365 are still needed to remind us of what goes on in our midst. Of the 42,000 women polled, 33% had experienced physical or sexual violence and 43% had experienced some form of psychological violence by a current or previous partner. West Dunbartonshire figures suggest that the extent of the problem here is similar to the rest of Europe.

International Women’s Day, however, is a good time to celebrate a quiet domestic abuse revolution which has been taking place in West Dunbartonshire over the last decade. By adopting a partnership approach, local agencies have gradually built an extensive range of specialist services and projects for women, children and young people including the Council’s CARA, CEDAR and Criminal Justice Women’s Safety Services, the Reduce Abuse Prevention Project, Dumbarton District and Clydebank Women’s Aid and ASSIST Advocacy Services. The partnership also includes specially trained local Police Scotland officers and together they have transformed the way domestic abuse is dealt with in West Dunbartonshire. This coordinated approach is designed to keep victims safe, help them deal with the impact of the abuse and to make sense of what can often appear a complicated court system. West Dunbartonshire can be proud that its specialist domestic abuse services are helping more and more local women to safely rebuild their lives.

The domestic abuse revolution is not yet complete however and the Violence Against Women 365 International Poster Exhibition will doubtless return to remind us of the private atrocities still going on in our midst. However, International Women’s Day 2014 was a good moment to reflect on the distance travelled and to celebrate the part played by local women whose dedication and hard work are making that revolution possible.

Dumbarton District Women’s Aid:
CONFIDENTIAL Domestic Abuse Helpline 01389 751036

For further information on all other local VAW services please call 01389 738680.

In an emergency call 999

National Domestic Abuse helpline: 08000271234

Visit ‘Violence Against Women 365 International Poster Exhibition’ on Facebook



GlasgowAnni passes up chance to appear on Channel 4’s Strippers

Walking with friends on Sauchiehall Street on a Saturday night recently, we were stopped by two enthusiastic young people, one shouldering a heavy video camera, asking if they could interview us for a new Channel Four documentary about lap dancing clubs in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Edinburgh.

My friends pointed and said ‘Interview Anni!’. They were filming a number of vox pop interviews to get a feel for Glasgow city centre at night. I agreed to be interviewed, the young man took my name and telephone number and the young woman started the interview.

Channel 4 interview We’ve been filming in lap- dancing clubs and interviewing the lap-dancers.  

What do you think about those clubs?’

I told her she might regret asking me, that I work in services for women and children affected by all forms of violence against women and also as a researcher; that there were many like me who considered lap-dancing clubs to be a form of commercial sexual exploitation; that women and their bodies are not commodities to be sold for profit and that such exploitation is a function of women’s inequality… She caught my drift.

 ‘What about women’s choice?’

‘Do you think women are free to chose that if they want?

‘What about women’s choice?’, she asked. ‘Do you think women are free to chose that if they want?’. ‘Sure,’ I replied, ‘but how many other choices did they have before choosing to work as a lap dancer?’ I went on to say that, as with prostitution, women mostly get involved through economic necessity.

‘The young women enjoy their work”

‘The young women enjoy their work’ she replied. I said , ‘It is not for me to say what women can or cannot do, it is their decision and I just wish there were other ways they could make a living. Did you talk to the men who use the clubs too?’ I asked, and she said they had. We finished the interview and went our separate ways, they were off chasing their next interviewee, quickly swallowed up by Sauchiehall Street’s joyous Saturday night pavement crowds.

I immediately begin to have doubts about participating as I had no idea what their approach to the subject would be. I am no fan of Channel 4’s relentless output of reality shows and know that skillful editing can skew content to fit a particular narrative. Caught up in the moment, I had rushed into participation based on skant information with my friends thinking it was a great wheeze. So what was I consenting to? In truth, I had no idea.

Television reality shows offer ordinary folks a brief moment of celebrity but the unintended consequences can be risky in the longer term. The world is full of post-reality show casualties unable to dismount the carousel and further multiplying the media capital being made of them. A life lived however briefly on television or exposed on social media can end in regrets about that naïve personal disclosure, unfortunate facebook post or embarrassing selfie. These things can come back to haunt older, wiser moments.

Appearances on reality shows are fixed in time and offer a one dimensional snapshot of a life fitting only the programme makers’ agenda. However, it wasn’t my own random vox pop I was worried about but the atmosphere of the whole programme itself. I wasn’t sure I liked the smell of it. A few weeks after the interview, I withdrew my consent to take part. Part one of ‘Strippers’ aired on Channel 4 last week.


Channel 4’s Strippers –  The reality of Glasgow’s Lap-dancing club scene

Episode 1 of ‘Strippers’ focused on the dancers and customers in Glasgow’s Diamond Dolls lap-dancing club, one of the biggest in Europe. The film itself, showing young women dancing for the male customers was commercial sexual exploitation masquerading as… I don’t know if it was masquerading as anything, a programme called ‘Strippers’ is hardly posing as serious critique… and is not even about ‘strippers’. 

The film clearly showed where the power lay in the whole business. Working through its formidable ‘house mother’ and manager, herself a former dancer, the skill and beauty of the women dancers were schooled and repackaged in the club’s house style as writhing untouchable sexual avatars. The male customers, including many young men, at whom the whole sorry business is aimed, was also exploited as the ‘house mother’ openly admitted. Like automatons they are primed to spend substantial amounts of money being sexually and very publicly aroused on cue and having to pay extra if they wanted a more ‘private’ experience. One lonely divorced regular took sweeties for the ‘girls’ and referred to them as being like his ‘family’.

The commercial exploitation of sex and sexuality dehumanises everyone involved. The women are not paid for dancing but for any ‘private’ booth dances requested by the customer. The men choose who they want and pay extra. Although they could make good money, the young women competing for those lucrative opportunities spoke about disassociating and having to think of other things while they are dancing, of putting their own sexuality on hold, of having to hide their job from their family and how it changed the way they thought about themselves. If it is a legitimate career choice, as the manager implied, it is certainly having a profoundly negative effect on the young women working there.

To its credit, ‘Strippers’ let the women and men tell their own stories, offered a rare glimpse into the ambiguities going on behind those blacked-out, windowless city shop-fronts and left viewers to make up their own minds. However, by avoiding any critique it effectively normalised an aspect of our increasingly sexualised popular culture, further entrenched negative attitudes towards women and treated the men like jerks. The impact on young people, like the young dancers and customers in the programme is particularly worrying.

Recent research carried out by Zero Tolerance in Scotland found that young people are regularly faced with some toxic choices about sex and sexuality. Expectations placed on young women to conform to unrealistic beauty standards and to act sexually are high, yet they are denigrated if they go too far and get that delicate balance wrong. Similarly, young men are pressurised to conform to a heterosexual masculinity focussed on the relentless pursuit of sex, on watching and approving of pornography and sexualising women and girls. Damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Happily, the young women dancers featured in the first programme have since chosen to give up lap-dancing and are moving in new and altogether different directions. One finally told her parents where she was working and disappeared from the second half of the programme…. thereby may hang a difficult sequel to her tale. Another packed up and went back to her nursing career in Estonia having failed to earn the money she had hoped for – glad to get away from negative effect the work was having on her personality. Another, a former champion gymnast, is making a new career and future for herself a world away from lap-dancing. With luck, the media’s memories of them all will fade.

Will those men caught getting aroused on camera by the women above their laps (not on…never on…no touching allowed) ever live it down? Will they take a tumble to themselves, stop going there and start living real lives, in real intimate relationships where there is love, affection, genuine sexual freedom and equality? That appearance on Strippers might just check that particular reality.

“He’s the stud, she’s the slut”: Young people’s attitudes to pornography, sex and relationships report.

Part Two of Strippers – 10.00 p.m. On Channel 4, Tuesday 4 March 2014.



Scotland’s shores were graced by some big names from across the Atlantic during the last fortnight: a group of world-renowned health care professionals from Alaska and a feminist sociologist from Penn State University.

Katherine Gottlieb the warm and energetic CEO from South Central Foundation and her team told a large and eager crowd at Dynamic Earth all about the Alaskan Native People’s Nuka System of Care. The event, organised by Survivor Scotland, a national organisation who ‘oversee the National Strategy for survivors of childhood abuse’ with senior figures from NHS presented the system as the next big thing which could help improve Scotland’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness – health to you and I.


Michael Johnson was also visiting Scotland c/o Scotland’s National Violence Against Women Research Network, Scottish Women’s Aid and West Lothian Council. A proud male feminist with a long career in the Shelter Movement in the U.S., Professor Johnson is a world expert on Intimate Partner Violence. Alaska and Pennsylvania, are separated not only by many hundreds of miles but , it seems, by their approach to dealing with gender-based violence in the family.

 Nuka is a healthcare system created, managed and owned by Alaska Native people with direct funding from the U.S. Government since the 1970s. Nuka is an Alaskan Native word meaning large, living, strong structures. The Nuka system provided through the SCF is based on the development of strong, high quality human relationships intrinsic to the traditional culture of Alaskan Native People. The NHS in Fife were the first to show an interest in their approach in 2010 and since then there has been regular traffic across the Atlantic as senior Scottish health officials seek lessons for our health service from the worldwide success of Nuka and SCF.

Nuka is a philosophy rooted in Alaskan Native culture transposed to their primary care health service and , refreshingly, is not entirely thirled to a medical model of health. Their lexicon of ‘customer/owners’ and ‘family warriors’ grates a little on the Scottish ear but by all accounts the health benefits for the Alaskan Native people are substantial. The model works because ‘health professionals are not heroes but partners’, ‘patients are not passive and take responsibility for their own health’, ‘they are on a journey of wellness together’. However, this is not soft and fluffy North American psychobabble, this is a healthcare system which gets results, as a visit to their open access ‘data malls’ would apparently show. So far so good, until they started talking about the Family Wellness Warriors Initiative…

 The aims of the Initiative are ambitious: to end domestic violence, child sexual abuse and child neglect in this generation. Margaret Hannah, Deputy Director of Public Health, NHS Fife, an enthusiast for FWWI feels this could also work in Scotland. Echoing their approach she suggests ‘addressing the underlying causes of these problems and breaking the cycle of inter-generational abuse and violence offers a way to make a step-change in Scotland’s health and end these problems within a generation’ ( There are a number of concerns about this approach which derive from their definition of what they term ‘family violence’ and their analysis of causation which may surprise the Scottish VAW sector and could cause difficulties in translating to a Scottish context.

FWWI defines domestic violence, child sexual abuse and child neglect as ‘family violence’. Gottlieb stated that ‘30% of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children’ and that having the opportunity of ‘telling their story creates a good chance that they will not go on to abuse’, that ‘the men told us we need to get the men involved and that the women’s movement would have got on better if they had’. To eradicate these forms of abuse what Alaskan society needed was ‘knights in shining armour’ and to ‘call out the warriors who were willing to die for their families’. Figures quoted by the Foundation suggest that the FWWI may take longer than a generation to achieve its aims. Alaska has the highest homicide rate for female victims of domestic violence in the U.S. and is in the top five states in the US with the highest incidence of rape – it has been at the top several times in the last 25 years; child sexual abuse is six times the national average.

Public and voluntary sector bodies in Scotland use an operational definition of Violence Against Women derived from the United Nations. The definition recognises that violence against women, including domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault and sexual abuse are human rights violations and are both a cause and consequence of women’s inequality worldwide The Scottish Government has taken an ecological perspective on such matters since the early days of devolution and accepts that these are gender-based forms of violence which require a broad strategic approach to their elimination. Tackling violence against women requires political, legal, social and cultural action alongside to support prevention strategies and service provision for those affected. Social policies and activities confined to focussing on individuals and families alone have long been considered inadequate and miss the point. Alaska’s ‘knights in shining armour’ are as likely to be the cause of the problem as the solution gender-wise.

According to Johnson, speaking to packed meeting rooms and lecture halls in Glasgow and West Lothian last week, there are three main types of intimate partner violence: ‘intimate terrorism‘ is mainly perpetrated by men who wish to control their partners and who are not averse to the use of physical and sexual violence. ‘Situational couple violence’ is where partners are equally prone to physical fighting to resolve conflict or disputes and can be exacerbated by poverty, substance misuse and other stressors. Men and women both engage in this but men are likely to resort to it more frequently and with more severe physical consequences for their partner. ‘Violent Resistance” is almost always carried out by women retaliating against violence used against them in the context of intimate terrorism. Many intimate terrorists hold traditional, patriarchal and frequently negative views of women and wish to ensure conformity in their partners and children. Few such characteristics are found where there is situational couple violence.

From the perspective of the current Scottish VAW research, policy and practice perspective it is difficult to see how interventions which avoid focussing on the central gendered power dynamic of intimate gender-based violence and on gender inequality can work. To implement the principles of FWWI in Scotland would effectively run counter to the carefully constructed approach to VAW which has been developed over the last 15 years.

‘Breaking the cycle of inter-generational abuse’, is another aim of the FWWI and its Scottish enthusiasts which goes against the global grain. Studies show that most children growing up in violent homes do not go on to be violent in their adult relationships or family life. Johnson’s research shows that growing up in a family where there is situational couple violence has little effect on boys’ or girls’ future potential for using violence in relationships. Any moderate effect that exists relates to intimate terrorism and applies only to boys.

The roots of domestic abuse and sexual assault are more strongly correlated to the wider functionality of violence in society and culture, to currently acceptable notions of masculinity and to inequality. Black and minority ethnic communities living in a majority context may experience more poverty and additional discrimination. Alaskan Native Peoples have faced centuries of discrimination and dislocation across the North American continent. Figures indicate a higher incidence of situational couple violence in these minority contexts. Interventions cannot be designed on the principle of ‘one size fits all’.

While FWWI may work within the culture of the Alaskan Native people, in Scotland the focus for VAW service interventions is the identification, assessment and management of risk, the promotion of physical and emotional safety and trauma recovery. Scotland’s challenge is to create a portfolio of interventions sensitive to the needs of people often living within a complex matrix of adversities and which are no longer rooted in the traditional heterosexual, white Scottish two parent family. Johnson’s typologies of intimate partner violence have provided a valuable addition to the evidence base at the heart of Scottish VAW services, criminal justice and law enforcement activities. Knowing who is doing what to whom, how recently, how frequently and how severely and dealing with perpetrators and victims separately are key principles gradually being adopted. Police Scotland, Procurator Fiscal Service, statutory services and the VAW voluntary sectors are now in the second decade of growing a more coordinated community-based approach to all forms of gender-based violence.

Scotland’s NHS could learn a great deal from the egalitarian principles behind the Nuka System of Care but perhaps we could be so bold as to introduce the Family Warriors and their Survivor Scotland outriders to the work of Professor Michael Johnson and his colleagues in Scotland. Eradication of domestic abuse and the rest of that accursed constellation of physical and sexual abuses might even then be possible within a generation if women warriors can participate equally.

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‘Domestic abuse is possible because women and men are not equal in Scottish society… the abolition of corroboration is an essential and long overdue reform which prevents justice for all in strong cases’. So said the Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill recently as he reflected on the long journey to abolish corroboration in Scots law, emphasising its role in preventing miscarriages of justice for domestic abuse victims. Lined up in support of abolition are agencies representing victims such as Rape Crisis Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid alongside the heavyweights of criminal law enforcement, Police Scotland, the Crown Office Prosecution Service’s and its new National Domestic Abuse Prosecutor.

Some facts: Police Scotland are called to a domestic abuse incident every 9 minutes (yes – every 9 minutes) and 11 women were murdered by a partner or ex-partner in Scotland last year. This is not about fisticuffs between warring couples. This is dangerous criminal behaviour involving threats and abuse, stalking, harassment, attempted murder, serious assault, rape, attempted rape or sexual assault. Weapons, fire-raising and vandalism are commonly involved. Some cases involve serial perpetrators who have committed offences against a number of ex-partners sometimes going back years – one perpetrator was responsible for offences against 20 previous partners. Domestic abuse accounts for 15% of all violent crime in Scotland and takes up 20% of police time. Domestic abuse is serious business for Scottish police.

Whilst on average over three quarters of domestic abuse incidents are reported to the Procurator Fiscal, a great many – 60% in one sample taken by the Crown Office – went no further due to the lack of corroboration. According to the most recent Scottish Crime and Justice Survey, most of the adults who had been seriously sexually assaulted were women assaulted by partners or ex-partners. Although almost 8,000 sexual offences were reported last year almost a quarter resulted in no proceedings because of lack of corroboration. A great many cases are slipping through corroboration’s closely woven net. The message from those supporting abolition is that we should not have a system or a society where a whole category of witnesses and victims are denied access to justice. A society where groups of criminals and perpetrators wait until there are no witnesses before committing their crimes and are confident of getting away with it.

There is no getting away from the reality that in many of the crimes which fail the corroboration test the victims are women and others such as young people, the elderly or disabled. They are made vulnerable by an unfair criminal justice system which demands corroboration and gives perpetrators and predators carte blanche to offend with a low risk of being caught. No witnesses. Victims feared reprisals from the perpetrator as well as the challenges of an intimidating court system. As the figures show, many victims are denied their day in court and perpetrators carry on as normal. Repeat victimisation is rising and accounts for over 60% of all reported domestic abuse incidents.

The requirement for corroboration in criminal proceedings is unique to Scotland and has been around since the middle ages. It has become so tightly woven into the DNA of those warring but deeply co-dependant bedfellows, the criminal and legal fraternities, that the prospect of its removal is threatening to ca’ the feet from underneath them. Two sides of the same coin, the criminals and their legal agents are a conservative bunch overall and the latter are not happy bunnies. Domestic and sexual crimes carried out behind closed doors are an outmoded but remaining legacy of the age-old male entitlement to undertake the correction and control of ‘their’ women and children. The legal profession is hanging on to its strongly vested interests in maintaining the status quo. It is all so 19th century and has no place in a just and heading-for-equal society.

The recent legislation permitting equal marriage in Scotland was a great achievement. That drive towards a more equal society faced opposition from vested interests keen to maintain an unequal status quo. Similarly, many victims of the most violent crimes in our society are excluded from a justice system which is now effectively colluding with some of society’s most dangerous and predatory offenders. This ambiguity inherent in the current system should be removed. Large numbers of Scottish citizens, victims of ‘private’ crimes committed out of sight, are being denied the freedoms enjoyed by victims of more public crimes. Abolishing corroboration will not reduce the standard of evidence required in trials involving ‘private’ crimes but would allow the quality of that evidence to be tested in court – the role of the National Domestic Abuse Prosecutor and the proposed new safeguards built into the trial process are crucial here. There is no evidence that there are more miscarriages of justice in jurisdictions where corroboration is not required. Change sometimes requires a leap of faith – a leap which could land in a future which is fairer for all.

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