Archives for category: Violence Against Women

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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UCU16 days.PNG

As I joined the strike called by my union’s UCU’s members for Monday morning 25 Nov 2019, I couldn’t help see the connections with the other reason we traditionally mark this date in the calendar.  On the 25 November every year, I join millions of other women worldwide to call for 16 Days of Activism to end male violence against women. The links between the two won’t be lost on other feminists who work in universities across the country who study the extent and impact of the male violence women across the globe.  Universities have not always been at the centre of research into women’s lives and the violence they face but a growing tide of feminists, women activists and academics have, since the 1970s, been storming the academy for the right to be there and to study women’s oppression and inequality.  Being there on equal terms with no gender pay gap continues to be a challenge and that’s one important reason why I’m on strike.

Women’s inequality, the gender pay gap and violence against women on university campuses are closely linked. A wee history lesson: one of the reasons we mark the 25 November to 6 December as a period of 16 Days of Activism against VAW is to remember the Montreal Massacre of 6 December 1989.  That day, 25 year old Marc Lepine entered the École Polytechnique in Montreal armed with a shotgun and a hunting knife.  He shot and killed 14 women, injured 10 women and 4 men.  Lepine was furious at being rejected for a place at the Ecole which specialised in courses traditionally undertaken by men.  Before opening fire, the gunman was heard to shout, “You’re all a bunch of feminists, and I hate feminists!”. The murdered women were studying what we would now describe as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), subjects leading to professions which have traditionally been male-dominated.   Efforts to redress this imbalance continue today.

I find it hard to separate my professional work in a university from violence against women as a real and present reality in women’s lives.   It’s been my research area and professional field for over twenty five years. Nowadays, I am focussed on preventing violence against women on university campuses which has recently been highlighted in all its grim reality.  It has always been there, from Professor Creepy et al and their scandalous free-wheeling moral turpitude in the 1970s to the solid research carried out nowadays showing its probably under-reported but nevertheless still shocking extent.

More generally, reported cases of all forms of violence against women are high and rising across Scotland. Reported sexual crimes here have increased by 8% from 12,487 to 13,547 in 2018-2019. The recording of these crimes is at the highest level seen since 1971. The clear majority of victims of other sexual crimes – mainly cyber-enabled – were female and the vast majority of perpetrators were male. Police Scotland recorded 59,541 incidents of domestic abuse in 2017-18 and the new Scottish Domestic Abuse legislation criminalises coercive control for the first time.  A pattern of behaviour largely experienced by women at the hands of male partners, coercive control enforces a regime over women in all areas of their lives and limits their freedom to live, work and be heard, in private, digital and social spaces and at work.

Campuses are not immune to the violence going on around them.  Universities have been highlighted as ‘sites of violence against women’, with particular emphasis on sexual violence and harassment; gender and age are two key determinants which increase the risk of such violence. One UK study found that one in seven female students had experienced serious physical or sexual assault; 84% knew their attacker and 25% had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour.  The Power in the Academy study found that 4 out of 10 students had experienced sexualised behaviour from a member of staff; more women than men and more post-graduate students than undergraduate students experienced sexual misconduct from a member of staff.  Overall, 60% of the staff responsible for the sexualised behaviour and misconduct were male and 13.5% female. UCU’s own research among women members found that just over half reported experiences of sexual harassment at work, two thirds reported having been sexually harassed by a colleague and over a quarter by a student. Violence against women on campus can be lethal, as the tragic case of Aberdeen student Emily Drouet has revealed.  Furious reaction to this and to the way Birmingham University handled reports of rape case and to the Warwick University groupchat case show the power of student survivors’ activism in speaking truth to power.  Research and personal experiences show that power and gender imbalances interact to facilitate sexual harassment and misconduct on our campuses.


This is not being taken lightly by feminists and campaigners who mark the 16 Days.  There is now a great deal of work going on in campuses in Scotland with Emily’s Mum Fiona Drouet #EmilyTest Campaign in the vanguard. As a UCU member and campaigner against violence against women it is wonderful to see the campus trade and student union movements in solidarity with the struggle to make sure our campuses are safe spaces as they strike to end the gender pay gap and the campus conditions which perpetuate it.  We should remember whose shoulders we stand on and to keep up the fight for a better, safer and more equal future for generations to come.









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As acronyms go MOOC doesn’t roll easily off the tongue.  Massive Open Online Courses harness the reach of the worldwide web to the immediacy of social media and magically turn teaching and learning into something entirely new for educators and learners alike.  As a key element in the Equally Safe in Higher Education (ESHE) Toolkit, developing a new MOOC  ‘Understanding Violence against Women – Myths and Realities’ with my ESHE colleague Roisin McGoldrick took us into uncharted technological and pedagogical waters. With no students in front of you and no entry requirements, these free courses, covering every subject under the sun, attract learners from across the globe who might be studying at all hours of the Scottish day and night. Designing a course on VAW, a complex and at times controversial topic, for an invisible audience, was a challenge to two experienced educators used to the cut and thrust of lectures, powerpoint, handouts and groupwork.  Converting what we knew into audio-visual learning steps to capture and retain learners’ interest over a six week period meant that most of how we did things went out the window. Knowing you are only ever one click away from internet oblivion at the best of times, teaching such a complex and highly controversial subject required us each to find a friendly yet authoritative ‘voice’, somewhere between a pal and a mentor.  I won’t even go into the whole teaching to camera business…

My long experience of teaching about violence against women has shown me that it is one of the few academic subjects where students’ personal opinions can sometimes trump all the research evidence you can throw at them. 

My long experience of teaching about violence against women has shown me that it is one of the few academic subjects where students’ personal opinions can sometimes trump all the research evidence you can throw at them.  Violence against women (VAW) is so deeply interwoven in the warp and weft of world history and modern life that finding a way to unpack its complexities was our first task.  We wanted to stimulate thinking and ideas around violence against women and girls and offer knowledge and perspectives for people to consider.  We were firmly feminist in our approach and were clear that our aim was not necessarily that everyone agree but that we provided them with a strong foundation from which to build their learning and their own analyses.  To do that we needed to introduce some serious sociological concepts such as gender, power and violence. We hoped this would help them make personal connections with underpinning theories, theoretical frameworks and the lived realities for women living with violence the world over.

Before we started on the content however we were clear we needed a clear ethical framework for learning. Given its high international prevalence and gendered nature, it was very likely that many of our participants would have either direct or indirect experience of violence against women and girls in private, social or public settings. We recognised that for some, this may well have influenced their decision to study the course and how they might interpret our materials. We would be covering topics which people would likely find distressing and because we were not around to have a private chat after class, we created a ‘Health Warning’ with regular reminders about the need for self-care and regular breaks to allow processing and learning.  We established clear groundrules stressing the importance of being mindful of themselves and respectful of others in group discussions and in responding to other people’s posts in the online space, their sole and virtual classroom.  We stressed that personal experience is wholly that – unique and personal – and should not be used as evidence of more general points that people might wish to make. The chances of disclosures were likely to be high and we asked people only to share information about themselves that they were comfortable making available in the course’s public online platform. This request was well adhered to and might be a useful reminder for use in other public social media platforms,

“Please be sensitive to the potential for causing distress to yourself and to others in what you say and post during your time studying on this course.

We observed this in action many times.  Participants contravening the ground rules were dealt with very effectively and graciously by the others in ways which were a model of pro-social, measured and well-argued rebuttals.

Each learning step of the six week course contained short lectures, reading materials, hyperlinks, video extracts and opportunities for online discussion. There were quizzes and ‘live streams’ where people could tune into a Youtube channel and post questions for us to answer live on air.  We eventually got used to teaching direct to camera, to breaking learning down into powerful packets of knowledge and getting to the point and sharpish! We dashed off compact articles, wandered down the vast storehouses of Shutterstock images, interviewed experts over Skype and chipped into online discussions being carried out across continents – reading discussions between people in Sri Lanka, Chile, South Africa, Russia, Italy, Burkino Faso, New Zealand, Australia was thrilling. We learned about media schedules, subtitling, editing and were fortunate in having tremendous contributions from a range of well-kent Scottish and internationally renowned experts in the VAW field and the support of a team of learning technologists and film-makers and audio-visual specialists.

Our community of learners included survivors, a range of professionals, VAW specialists, students and many FutureLearn old hands who were simply interested in exploring a new subject. Some were regular contributors to the discussion and many were not – content to learn in their own way. There is absolutely no requirement to chip in your tuppenceworth.  We witnessed extraordinary moments of enlightenment as people began to make sense of their own or others’ experiences or to connect their practice with new ideas.  We read with interest as people spoke of their growing confidence in their own knowledge to initiate conversations about VAW with family, friends and colleagues for the first time.

In an extraordinary piece of synchronicity,  the Weinstein story and the #MeToo campaign aftermath broke when we were dealing with ‘Media Representations of VAW’.   The chat was mighty and the analysis of the press coverage was a joy to behold in its confidence, knowledge and outrage!

The pleasure of taking part in discussions with participants from every corner of the globe, of hearing their perspectives and of reaching so many people was a new one to me. The feedback since the first course ended in mid-November 2017 has been extremely positive. People connected to the issue in new ways, realised that they could play a part in preventing violence against women and many resolved at the end to take action in their own communities.

The course page invites learners to join the global movement to prevent VAW.  By taking part in a course like ours I believe they made a start.  We explored VAW Prevention at the end of the course and when people read about the first Zero Tolerance Campaign in Scotland, the 16 Days of International Activism against VAW, the Inside Outside Project, One Billion Rising and White Ribbon for instance many were inspired into taking action in their own communities.  Learning about VAW is an intervention and a key part of primary prevention.  Knowledge is indeed power, we busted some myths and laid down some realities and just maybe we have helped bring about some changes of mind.

This blog  was first posted on  by  





Award Ceremony 6 December 2016

Anni Donaldson: Understanding coercive control and domestic abuse

Amid a storyline on The Archers radio programme, writing in Common Space Anni Donaldson explains coercive control in abusive relationships and how people can seek help

THE ARCHERS’ Helen Titchener really could use an independent domestic abuse advocate (IDA) right now.

If Ambridge was in the west of Scotland she could just lift the phone and call Assist and one of their IDA’s could talk through with her what is really going on in her marriage.

For those not familiar with the excruciatingly well-written, real time entrapment of vulnerable Helen over the past couple of years by her domineering and controlling husband Rob, a quick BBC Radio iPlayer catch up or glance at any online Archers forum will fill you in pretty quickly.

Helen is living in a situation which is all too familiar to IDAs, highly dangerous for her, wee Henry and her unborn child.

Assist is well placed – every year its advocates support over 4,000 women (and a number of men) in exactly Helen’s situation and around 6,000 children all affected by domestic abuse.

Rob is a textbook domestic abuser: the gradual erosion of Helen’s freedom masked as concern and ‘love’, the ramping up of her fear of him and her confusion and anxiety are common responses to the increasingly tight emotional and physical cordon he is placing around her.

Helen is living in a situation which is all too familiar to IDAs, highly dangerous for her, wee Henry and her unborn child.

IDA’s are specialists who understand very well how abusive partners behave and they know also that the longer it goes on, the more dangerous it can get. Men like Rob start by schmoozing and charming, often sweeping women along to an early commitment or marriage, spotting their vulnerabilities and salting them away for future use.

In conversation with Helen, a domestic abuse advocate would find out that she is growing increasingly frightened of Rob.

In conversation with Helen, a domestic abuse advocate would find out that she is growing increasingly frightened of Rob. He ‘polices’ her life, isolating her from friends and family, tracking her movements by phone and text if she goes out.

He has left his job, persuaded Helen to give up working in her successful organic food company and is gradually taking over the business and finances. Helen is pregnant and advocates know that during pregnancy abuse can start or escalate.

Rob’s apparent concern for Helen’s pregnancy hides his final goal – complete control of Helen’s life to suit his needs. He puts her down, tells her what to wear, undermines her ability as a mother and is obsessively jealous of her friendships – gradually, almost imperceptibly, his evaluation of her as a woman creeps into her mind and like a cuckoo jettisons her own sense of herself, her independence of thought and action.

There are suggestions that he could be a serial abuser from the occasional appearances of previous partner Jess – whom Helen has been falsely persuaded is deranged. He has charmed his way into Helen’s family who think he is God’s gift to troubled, single parent Helen who hasn’t had much luck with men in the past.

He ‘polices’ her life, isolating her from friends and family, tracking her movements by phone and text if she goes out.

While there is not much apparent violence, there are hints at a rape. There is plenty of threatening behaviour from Rob, our compelling ultra-macho, homophobic, bad-tempered, narcissistic, arch-manipulating, riding-to-hounds anti-hero.

Hearing all that, it would be clear as day to an IDA that Rob is a danger to Helen. As long as she is frightened into complying, Helen will be fine but men like Rob are never satisfied and Helen will never, ever get it 100 per cent right. His changing moods and standards keep her on her emotional toes.

The romantic bond between Helen and Rob has now become a traumatic one – he has magically transformed her love into a fearful, anxious attachment and very soon he could have the power of life or death over her and the children.

Helen, living with that every day like a captive in a war zone is very likely to be experiencing a real and severe condition with a name: Type 2 Trauma.

Who knows where Helen’s and Rob’s story will end – that’s the power of this well written radio drama. In real life it could end in severe mental health problems, severe injury, miscarriage or death for a woman and possibly her children, too – it happens.

As long as she is frightened into complying, Helen will be fine but men like Rob are never satisfied and Helen will never, ever get it 100 per cent right. His changing moods and standards keep her on her emotional toes.

A trained advocate would sensitively reflect back to women like Helen the reality of their situation. Through careful questioning and professional judgement, advocates assess the risks women like Helen face in similar situations and offer options for safety and support if they want it.

Listeners describe Rob as an arch-villain, a baddie we love to hate. People swing from frustration to sympathy for Helen. In reality, Rob is an old fashioned abuser disguised as a regular guy, hidden in plain sight, nursing a Victorian world view that a woman is a man’s property without full citizenship rights.

Their hyper-vigilant partners trying to second guess their every move, anxiously tiptoe around them to prevent the next blow-up. Rob’s number could be up, though. The law In England and Wales might catch up with his particular form of coercive or controlling domestic abuse.

As of December 2015 this is now a crime punishable by up to five years in prison even if it stops short of physical violence. Listeners await his prosecution with interest. Similarly, The Scottish Government is currently consulting on creating a specific offence to deal with those who commit psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.

The consultation ends on 1 April 2016. Such an offence could rely on evidence such as is gathered in the course of IDA’s work with victims. This could prove vital in documenting the reality of life within these regimes of domestic terror.

Making that first call for help can make you feel like a traitor, the end of your cherished dreams of a happy family future. Preparing to end the relationship can be dangerous: that’s why women stay put.

Making that first call for help can make you feel like a traitor, the end of your cherished dreams of a happy family future. Preparing to end the relationship can be dangerous: that’s why women stay put.

Over the last 10 years, two women a week in the UK have died at the hands of a current or former partner often at the point of leaving. Women know that losing control could push their partner over the edge and women wisely managing their own safety.

Sometimes it is better to stay put and make careful longer-term plans. That’s where a good advocate can help whether or not the police are involved. Advocates know the law and can pull in a range of other services to help someone at risk.

A national training programme for IDAs is currently under way in Scotland to make the service nationwide through Scotland’s national network of Women’s Aid Groups and other support services.

The demand is not likely to diminish anytime soon with around 60,000 domestic incidents reported to Police Scotland last year.

To find out your where your nearest IDA or domestic abuse support service is:

In Scotland call: National Domestic abuse Helpline 0800 027 1234 – open 24 hours

In England and Wales (including Ambridge) call: National Domestic Violence Helpline 08082000247 – open 24 hours

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Picture courtesy of ghetto_guera29


This article was written for The National Saturday 29 August 2015

I was delighted, and genuinely surprised, to be announced the winner of the inaugural Write to End Violence Against Women Awards in 2013.


Since then, Scotland has witnessed a dramatic shift in its political landscape which included some devastating critiques of mainstream media and its messages. Civic Scotland brushed off its ideas, flexed its debating muscles as the independence referendum campaign warmed up and new voices began to emerge.  Among those who  ‘dared to dream’ that ‘another Scotland was possible’ were women ready to challenge a deeply macho culture once described as ‘cold and hostile to women’s lives and values’.  Bloggers, freelance journalists, writers, artists and commentators created a new estate of citizen journalism.  The bandwidth broadened, women’s space for debate and critique opened up and all of a sudden it was open season on Scotland’s gender architecture.  What the referendum started now stubbornly refuses to go away and the momentum has not diminished one jot.

Groups like Women for Independence offer online and village hall platforms for women’s concerns and safe places to discuss them. What most Scottish women have known for years is now part of the national conversation: women are still not equal, get paid less than men, do most of the caring and have less political and economic power than men. There is now growing public concern that children are growing up in a culture full of inequality, everyday sexism and all forms of violence against women.  The scandal of high reported rates of these forms of violence has now entered public debate, is a focus for Government action and placing new demands on print and online media to bring their news values into the twenty first century. The Write to End Violence Against Women Awards cleverly caught the zeitgeist in 2013 when they demanded the media raise the bar in its coverage of violence against women.

Now in 2015 there is a growing public appetite for debate on these issues and the old dismissals no longer wash.  People are joining the dots between women’s persistent inequality and the many forms of violence against women such as domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault, child sexual abuse, prostitution and pornography.  The prevalence of these crimes is a national scandal with no place in modern Scotland.  Their roots lie in laws only repealed in the nineteenth century whereby wives and children were the property of husbands or fathers who had the right to ‘chastise’ them.   While these laws were eventually repealed, unfortunately the attitudes to women which went along with them display remarkable longevity.   None more visible than those in much of our popular culture which continues to demean women, treat them as sex objects in ways which subliminally reinforce women’s second class status.

The good news is that some surprising heavy hitters are now joining the fight back.  A recent controversial media campaign against rape #WeCanStopIt had Rape Crisis Scotland and Police Scotland joining forces to get the message out. #EndProstitutionNow, a campaigning coalition which aims to do what it says on the tin is fronted by a fully on-message Glasgow City Councillor.   Clever PR is now unleashing these issues on an utterly changed Scottish media landscape.  Two years down the line gender is on the national agenda and violence against women is emerging from behind those closed doors to where it should be – right up front in the public eye.

Conversation piece image-20150608-8700-1qedfba

This article was first published on The Conversation 9 June 2015.

Here’s the link:

A form of violence against women or a legitimate career choice? That’s roughly where the two sides stand on the debate over what we should do about prostitution. Voices from the violence camp have just become louder in Scotland thanks to the launch of the End Prostitution Now campaign, which is backed by various civic organisations.

It is pushing for the buying of sex to be banned north of the border, along with decriminalising prostitution and introducing support services to help people leave the trade behind. The campaign argues that sexual exploitation cannot be addressed without challenging the root causes: gender inequality and men’s demand to buy sexual access to women.

Among its supporters is Rhoda Grant, the Labour MSP for the Scottish Highlands and Islands, who is pushing for an amendment banning the buying of sex to be added to the human trafficking bill currently making its way through the Scottish parliament. Grant recently spoke at an event in Belfast to mark the passing of a similar law in Northern Ireland. She praised Northern Ireland for joining the countries, “sending out a clear message that people should not be bought. Prostitution is a form of violence against women which should not be tolerated”.

Regulation or removal?

There are two distinct approaches to prostitution internationally. There are those who wish to challenge, criminalise and eventually eliminate “demand” and those who support safe and continuing “supply”. In countries persuaded by the latter camp, prostitution is legal or has limited legality, including Germany, New Zealand, Spain and some counties in Nevada in the United States (where otherwise it is illegal).

Advocates for this approach say that prostitution is happening anyway, it is a legitimate career choice for women who enjoy sex and should be classified as “work”, with trade unions to protect the interests of its “workers”. Individual prostitutes and owners and managers of brothels are regulated in the countries that have gone down this route. Health and safety checks are made on the women and the establishments and business often booms.

The new Scottish campaign makes the opposite argument, arguing that for the safety of those involved and women in general, there is no room for libertarianism – and no truth in “realist” arguments that it will keep happening regardless. Since Sweden became the first country in the world in 1999 to criminalise buying sex, it has been followed not only by Northern Ireland but also by Norway (2008), Iceland (2009) and France (2013). We are also seeing a growing volume of debate in the likes of England, Wales and Ireland for a similar direction.

There is evidence of positive results. Sweden has reportedthere has been a shift in attitudes for the better, a decline in the number of men buying sex and a reduced market for traffickers. There are also positive reports from Norway, though Iceland admittedly appears mixed and you can read a more critical summary of the Swedish experience here.

Harm not work

When people refer to the “oldest profession”, I would more accurately describe it as one of the world’s oldest cultural practices. It exploits women in a marketplace for access to their bodies and maintains their second-class status. Most women involved in prostitution are among the poorest and most vulnerable in any community. Substance misuse is commonand many have previously experienced childhood, sexual or domestic abuse. The United Nations and Council of Europeboth say that prostitution, as a form of violence against women, is a function of gender inequality.

The single most harmful aspect is to have to repeatedly endure unwanted sex. In a recent Channel 4 programme Strippers, about women working in lap dancing and pole dancing clubs in Scotland, many commented on having to shut off emotionally to get through their evening and some remarked that it had changed their personality altogether. This can create long-term psychological damage and lead to drug and alcohol abuse in order for sex workers to be able to detach emotionally. Substance use often rapidly escalates Calling prostitution “work” doesn’t make it any less harmful.

Harm by any other name

The attitudes of the “punters” rating the performances of prostitutes on websites often display deeply disturbing attitudes towards them, as last year’s Invisible Men exhibition in Glasgow revealed. Little wonder that sex workers regularly experience extreme physical and sexual violence. And from the back streets of Victorian London to the modern streets of Norwich and Glasgow, many have been murdered.

Working in prostitution also often starts early. A Glasgow study in 2000 showed that 24.5% of the women surveyed had entered prostitution before age 18, with 8.2% starting at age 16 or under. Much of the industrial-scale grooming and sexual exploitation of children exposed in places like Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford in England has shown that prostitution sometimes involves the trafficking of young people. The long-lasting emotional damage of early and continued involvement in prostitution can only be imagined.

For these reasons, I am much more inclined to the argument that we should seek to eradicate prostitution altogether. Reframing the debate as an issue of human rights and gender equality, while focusing on harms, may allow people to ask the right questions: is it ok to buy or rent women’s bodies for sex in the 21st century? Certainly not in my view.

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.


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


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