Archives for posts with tag: domestic abuse


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Scottish Review of Books 13 August 2016

WHILST history may be one of the oldest scholarly disciplines, it has, until more recent times mostly averted its gaze from that other so-called ‘oldest profession’, prostitution, particularly in the Scottish context. However, as Louise Settle’s history of prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the early twentieth century shows, it can hugely benefit from the historian’s scrutiny.  The continuing and often heated contemporary debates about whether or how to regulate, legislate or obliterate prostitution in Scotland and elsewhere are almost as vigorous as those dealing with the ‘moral panic’ of ‘white slavery’ and the plight of ‘fallen women’ in the nineteenth century. The arguments among twenty-first century commentators centre on whether women involved in prostitution are victims of abuse in an unequal world or free agents making legitimate economic choices. Resolution looks a long way off. They might be missing a trick. Settle’s detailed and well researched book provides a welcome addition to our knowledge of this long standing and complex social issue, inviting us to look backwards to see how we got to here.

debunking the myth of free choice by so-called ‘happy hookers

Settle maintains that working class women’s involvement in prostitution in the early twentieth century was a survival strategy when the social, economic and cultural odds were heavily stacked against them.  Prostitution may have been a ‘choice’ but it was one made in Scotland at a time when the available options for many women were severely constrained by prevailing economic conditions and social norms governing women’s behaviour. While the risks were high, the alternatives were worse. Prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the early twentieth century was not glamorous. There are no belles de jour here.

The growth of clandestine prostitution based around Italian ice cream cafes and fish and chip shops in the 1920s and 1930s is a surprising revelation.

Research into police, court, prison and voluntary social service agency records reveals the reality of prostitution from the accounts of those charged with arresting, prosecuting and reforming the women involved. However Settle’s approach pulls off a remarkable coup. Despite the public nature of her sources and the inherent bias likely in accounts of women’s lives mediated through public officials, the reality of lives in prostitution emerges. A collective biography approach to previously hidden life stories provides much needed insight into the women’s lives. We see their reasons for working in prostitution, its impact and how this was often compounded by the efforts of those determined to prevent it.  We also hear the women’s loud resistance screaming through.

‘Khaki fever’ led to a boost around the docks and railway stations in Glasgow and Edinburgh during the First World War.

The distinctions between the European, English and Scottish legal systems’ approach to prostitution in the nineteenth century clarify the roots of the particularly Scottish approach which emerged in the early twentieth century.  The growth of state regulation of prostitution across Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century was closely linked to efforts to reduce the spread of venereal disease. While many European countries adopted the French system of licensing state-regulated brothels, England regulated prostitution in order to control the spread of the diseases among men in the armed forces. A series of Contagious Diseases Acts passed in England in the 1860s made compulsory the genital examination of women suspected of being ‘common prostitutes’ working in naval ports and garrison towns.  Prior to their eventual repeal in 1886, things had begun to take a moral turn with the 1885 Criminal Amendment Act which responded to British public opinion seething with ‘moral panic’ following reports of the sexual exploitation and abduction of young girls into ‘white slavery’.  The Act raised the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen, made brothel-keeping illegal across Britain while the National Vigilance Association (NVA) in England and the Scottish NVA (SNVA) were charged with upholding and enforcing the new morality laws. However policing remained the key mechanism for tackling prostitution in Scotland.

The 1892 Burgh Police (Scotland) Act and individual Scottish city acts criminalized outdoor prostitution by ‘street walkers’ and ‘common prostitutes’ ‘loitering or importuning for the purposes of prostitution’ and stipulating fines and imprisonment. Licensing laws targeted publicans and others using their premises for prostitution and the 1902 Immoral Traffic (Scotland) Act targeted men who trafficked women into prostitution,  acted as pimps or ‘bullies’ or lived off ‘immoral’ earnings, imposed penalties of up to six months imprisonment and later introduced flogging for these offences.

The Scottish system included cautioning whereby a woman was only arrested after being caught importuning three times. Thereafter she was deemed a ‘common prostitute’. Police made a distinction between the ‘common’ or ‘hardened prostitute’ regarded as a public nuisance who were dealt with in the courts and younger women seen as ‘victims’ or ‘amateurs’ with the potential to be diverted from prostitution. Settle found a degree of sympathy among police officers for young women whose difficult life circumstances drew them into prostitution and whom officers judged as having the potential for change. In 1907, the option of probation became available to courts and with the discretion available to police on the streets of Edinburgh and Glasgow, probation officers and the SNVA and the Magdalene Asylums took the opportunity to ‘reform’ the lives and characters of young women deemed to be at risk. This informal ‘penal-welfare’ system diverted women either to a closed institution or subjected them to close supervision by a probation officer in the community. They aimed to teach young women to conduct themselves in a manner more aligned with middle class morality and expectations of femininity in their working and private lives. While some women undoubtedly responded positively to this approach, others fiercely resisted the interference and all attempts at ‘reform’.

Women were ill-served by an unequal society which targeted them for being the wrong kind of woman whilst turning a blind eye to the men who paid for sex with them.

Who were the women caught up in this system? Unsurprisingly they were working class and experiencing considerable hardship.  Information about their backgrounds shows that many came from poor families and either struggled to find work or survived on very low wages. Once involved in prostitution the women suffered from extreme ill health, abuse, exploitation, homelessness and destitution; they often lived chaotic lives and many died young. Many were single mothers, deserted by their husbands, working to feed their children and avoid the poorhouse. There were many who attempted suicide, or were charged with drunkenness and often being ‘drunk in charge of a child’, breach of the peace, assault or theft; they were frequently in and out of prison, poorhouses, reform homes and hospitals.  In poor working class communities prostitution was regarded simply as a fact of life and a way to make some money – women were not unduly stigmatised. They took whatever paid work was available and in straitened circumstances prostitution could temporarily make ends meet despite the risks.

Prostitution was indeed a ‘choice’ for women desperately short of options.

This pragmatism and sheer determination was at some remove from the opinions of the moralisers and law enforcers who condemned prostitutes as having pathological character flaws. The exploration of the social geography of prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow charting the sites known for street prostitution and the location of brothels in both cities is revealing. In Edinburgh, street prostitution was traditionally centred on the Old Town and the Mound, in Glasgow around High Street and Glasgow Green. However by the early twentieth century women moved to the expanding commercial and entertainment centres of the cities to meet new demand. ‘Khaki fever’ led to a boost around the docks and railway stations in Glasgow and Edinburgh during the First World War. The number of brothels also increased during this period with women soliciting in the streets then taking men to flats or private rooms rented by the hour thus blurring the distinctions between outdoor and indoor prostitution. The police seemed unable to deter women from working in the city centres or to make many inroads in closing down brothels or prosecuting pimps. Settle shows that the relationships between the women working in prostitution, brothel keepers and ‘bullies’ was complex. Women working as prostitutes might rent rooms in their own houses for other women to use.  While some women had cruel, controlling and exploitative pimps, others had husbands who played no part as pimps.

Women were ill-served by an unequal society which targeted them for being the wrong kind of woman whilst turning a blind eye to the men who paid for sex with them.

The growth of clandestine prostitution based around Italian ice cream cafes and fish and chip shops in the 1920s and 1930s is a surprising revelation. So too are the links between prostitution and the new craze for dance clubs. This was highlighted by the high profile trial and conviction of Kosmo club owner Asher Barnard and his two managers in 1933 for using the venue to profit from prostitution. The trial shed light on prostitution’s ability to embrace changing technology, survive the economic downturn, capitalise on changing public mores, and expand its reach in novel ways. The Club at 20 Swinton Row in the east end of Edinburgh was one of a number in the city where men could ‘book out’ a ‘dance partner’ for thirty shillings for the whole evening by telephone – the origin of the term ‘call girl’. Telephone calls to a network of taxi drivers, hotels, lodging houses, or flats swung into action to whisk the man and his ‘dance partner’ off somewhere to have sex. Women witnesses in the trial described being coerced into being ‘booked out’, having no access to the telephone to make their own arrangements or control the bookings. Earnings from the ‘booking out’ system however far exceeded those working only as dance partners.  Settle argues that earning differentials, lack of alternative employment, coercion and the economic challenges women faced reveal how problematic the notion of ‘choice’ in prostitution at the time was.

Prostitution is described as the oldest ‘profession’ but its roots lie in one of the world’s oldest oppressions – women’s.

Prostitution is described as the oldest ‘profession’ but its roots lie in one of the world’s oldest oppressions – women’s. ‘Profession’ implies choice. While its academic purpose is clear and important, the glimpses this book provides into the life of women is where it shines while debunking the myth of free choice by so-called ‘happy hookers’.  Early twentieth-century Scotland blamed the women for making bad choices yet failed to address the harm it caused or why men wanted to rent their bodies in the first place. Abuse victims or free agents? Probably both.  Prostitution was indeed a ‘choice’ for women desperately short of options; while dance clubs and brothels may have been preferable to the street, women often made the best of it despite the risks.  This complicated clandestine world was challenging to police. Women were ill-served by an unequal society which targeted them for being the wrong kind of woman whilst turning a blind eye to the men who paid for sex with them.

Sex for sale in Scotland – Prostitution in Edinburgh and Glasgow, 1900-1939

Louise Settle

Edinburgh University Press, £70, ISBN 978-1474400008, PP218

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


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Anni Donaldson reviews Celtic Connections’ Songs of Separation for Common Space 26 January 2016

THE sight of 10 women – some of the UK’s most creative and uniquely versatile traditional musicians – walking on stage at the Mitchell Theatre on Sunday 24 January for Songs of Separation as part of Celtic Connections had quite an impact.

The title of the evening was an idea conceived by Jenny Hill, who drew in Karine Polwart, Hannah Read, Hannah James, Mary Macmaster, Eliza Carthy, Hazel Askew, Kate Young, Rowan Rheingans and Jenn Butterworth to an innovative women’s cross border collaboration.

Fine singers and musicians all, they had the packed theatre eating out of their hands and singing from their songsheet. The fare was heavily laced with Eigg-y bread and was a tribute to that blessed isle whence they gathered in an innovative musical project in 2015 to explore the theme of separation.

Fine singers and musicians all, they had the packed theatre eating out of their hands and singing from their songsheet.

The evening, however, was far from a dolorous affair. In a clearly affectionate and sisterly endeavour, the cast of their creative nets and interpretations were wide. In their own words, Songs of Separation is about our shared experience, through songs and poems written by people who preceded us, whose words tell us much about our experience of the world today.

Their music celebrated the joy and connection between women and men, mothers and children, people and soil, land and lore, sea and sail as well as parting. Clearly enjoying themselves on what was the final night of their tour and their album launch party, they packed the evening with self-penned works, exquisite arrangements and lyricism in new and often long forgotten poems and songs which showed off the women’s artistry.

Their range and musicality offered glimpses of their muses and the breadth of their interpretation of the chosen theme. The concert was firmly anchored by the relaxed compering and joyous singing of Karine Polwarth as the concert opened with the crake and croak of the fiddle emulating that illusive bird in Echo Mocks the Corncrake, a song celebrating the bird’s stubbornness against the threat of eviction from its natural habitat.

The lush string arrangements and vocal harmonies of Poor Man’s Lamentation an English broadside ballad adapted from a poem by Uriah Smart and the powerful 10-voice a cappella choral arrangement of the Unst Boat Song, a nordic sea prayer and one of the oldest collected fragments of Shetland song given an almost hymnal treatment were mesmerising.

In a clearly affectionate and sisterly endeavour, the cast of their creative nets and interpretations were wide.

Each woman shone in her own way: Kate Young’s extraordinary vocal range seemed quite at home in a Bulgarian folk song, Jenn Butterworth’s fluid guitar playing anchored the many rich string arrangements and Jenny Hill’s mellifluous double bass spread a rich chocolate base over the evening.

Hannah James gave her accordion its head in a beautiful solo composition dedicated to fellow accordionist Tuulikki Bartosik showing off her instrument’s dynamic range and surprising delicacy with those well-known clog dancing feet making a surprise appearance as her very own rhythm section.

Hazel Askew’s crystal clear voice and melodeon lent extra poignancy to her reworking of London Lights singing the hopes of a destitute young unmarried mother for her new-born ‘blue eyed treasure’. The Salvation Army-esque arrangement gave the song a surprisingly hopeful air.

Eliza Carthy’s composition Cleaning the Stones, inspired by the death of a goldfish, offered as the comic song of the night had more existential depth than she let on. Eliza’s powerful voice offered a rich womanly tenor to the ensemble’s choral range.

Nowhere more effectively than in the powerful synthesis of Over the Border, a song which crossed the marches between England and Scotland, Lowland and Highland and emerged from its time of writing in 2015, post-independence referendum when the call of home and the achingly necessary trudge across borders for folk from the Middle East became yet again more pressing and tragic.

Kate Young’s extraordinary vocal range seemed quite at home in a Bulgarian folk song while Jenn Butterworth’s fluid guitar playing anchored the many rich string arrangements.

The delicate harmonies of Rowan Rheingans’ and Hannah Reid’s The Road less Travelled inspired by a Robert Frost poem were given a delicate backdrop by their banjo and plucked fiddle arrangement.

With regular sprinklings of fairy dust from Mary Macmaster’s harp and her beautifully expressive Gaelic songs, the evening never forgot its Hebridean conception on the Island of Eigg and the importance of its pierhead Tea Room and late night libations for the creative process.

The tribute paid by the women to the island as both inspiration and catalyst for Songs of Separation was loudly endorsed by the enthusiastic Eigg contingent in the audience – an island which has itself become a symbol of self-determination and the power of community.

While inspired by separation, the women conveyed the beauty and power of connection and left their audience with a warm and shared glow.

Click here to follow Anni Donaldson on Twitter, and click here to visit the Celtic Connections website for more information about the festival. Follow Songs of Separation on Twitter: @SSeparation



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:


365 in Dumbarton Women's Aid Refuge

365 in Dumbarton Women’s Aid Refuge

Colm Dempsey’s Violence Against Women 365 International Poster Exhibition, now in its tenth year of touring, visited Dumbarton Women’s Refuge as part of their International Women’s Day 2014 celebrations.

In an interview with GlasgowAnni, Dubliner Colm tells how the Exhibition came about and the impact it has had over the years.

Colm Dempsey

The idea for the exhibition came to Colm after meeting the late Ellen Pence during a visit to the world famous Duluth Domestic Violence Intervention Project in Minnesota and touring the San Diego Family Justice Centre in 2001. Back at his job as a Garda officer felt that Ireland was ‘centuries behind the U.S. in its approach to domestic violence.   It was like going back in time to the eighteenth century’.

‘Ireland was centuries behind the U.S. in its approach to domestic violence.

It was like going back in time to the eighteenth century.’

Colm’s visit the U.S. in the first place was instigated by his feelings of helplessness as a friend and as a police officer when his former (and first) girlfriend disclosed to him about the domestic abuse she was subjected to by her Garda officer husband. Colm describes how his friend had nowhere to turn and how her difficult situation was made much worse by her husband’s position in the force, describing him as ‘a criminal in uniform’, Colm wanted to know ‘how to do my job better’.

‘a criminal in uniform’

The posters Colm brought back from the States formed the germ of an idea that saw the first 365 exhibition open in Dundalk Museum in 2004 with financial support from the Irish Department of Justice and the attendance of two senior Government Ministers. The exhibition was endorsed by Tanya Brown the sister of Nicole Brown who was murdered by O.J. Simpson.  Tanya wrote the foreword to the exhibition brochure. This created a media storm and generated a great deal of publicity for 365.

Among the visitors to the exhibition was Jan MacLeod of the Women’s Support Project in Glasgow and an invitation to visit Scotland soon followed.

‘I blame Jan MacLeod for everything’

‘I blame Jan MacLeod for everything’ jokes Colm who has since taken his exhibition all over Scotland returning several times to raise awareness of violence against women in Fife, the Western Isles, Glasgow, Edinburgh and West Dunbartonshire. Colm is impressed by Scotland’s national approach to tackling violence against women and thinks people here ‘get it’.

The exhibition has toured the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, has visited thirteen countries to date including U.S.,Canada, Cyprus, Russia and Taiwan and has the prospect of a visit to Norway and a return to Scotland in 2014. Having seen so many different national approaches to violence against women Colm’s view that Scotland is the most advanced of the UK jurisdictions is encouraging. Ireland, in his view, has a a bit of catching up to do.

The impact on the audiences who have seen 365 has often been profound. The visual impact of the at times very hard-hitting posters campaigning against domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse can be disturbing. The many different approaches and designs speak loudly of each country’s priorities and courage in confronting people with such difficult issues. Visiting the exhibition can be demanding for the visitor and comes with a health warning to alert them to what may disturb. Colm recalled the story of one woman from Dumbarton for whom seeing the exhibition was life changing. She told Colm during 365’s second visit to the area that she had been inspired by the exhibition to rethink her life and had since left her abusive partner.  Now happy and settled with a new partner, she put it all down to that first eye opening visit to 365.

Exhibiting 365 in the Women’s Refuge in Dumbarton was a gamble for Colm and organisers Moira Swanson, Chair of the Refuge Management Committee and Refuge Worker Janine Jardine. According to Moira, ‘All of those who attended commented on the visual impact of the exhibition’. Hosting it there also raised the profile of the valuable work being done by Dumbarton District Women’s Aid. ‘Members of the public and local politicians who visited said they didn’t realise all the services offered by West Dunbartonshire Council and also the range of services provided by Women’s Aid…the “not just refuge thing! “’, Moira added, highlighting a common underestimation of what Women’s Aid Groups actually do in addition to running refuges.

local politicians who visited said they didn’t realise… the range of services provided by Women’s Aid…the “not just refuge thing!”

Moira Swanson,  Chair, Dumbarton District Women’s Aid Management Committee 

When he is not touring with his exhibition, Colm is a researcher and Children’s Rights and Child Protection Specialist and Trainer working with  organisations across Ireland. His expertise in domestic abuse and violence against women continues to be focussed on improving the lives of children and young people experiencing domestic abuse. Happily relocated to Galway, Colm can be assured that 365 will continue to inspire people to do their jobs better, to get people talking about the unspeakable and to encourage people to speak out and get the help they need to live their lives free forever of abuse.

365 in Dumbarton Women's Aid Refuge
365 in Dumbarton Women’s Aid Refuge
Dumbarton District Women’s Aid:
CONFIDENTIAL Domestic Abuse Helpline 01389 751036

Visit Violence Againsnt Women 365 International Poster Exhibition on Facebook


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.

bfadancefemale wrrior


‘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.

Image by Lynne Connor Photography

2013 was a good year….. for exposing domestic abuse perpetrators… but 2014 has started out less well for those on their tail.  That darling of the right and consummate wealth creator the ‘great’ Charles Saatchi and, the now no longer  ‘good’,  Bill Walker, showed the Scottish public  that the occurrence of domestic abuse is no respecter of  class, position, celebrity  or privilege.  However, while Abbas Nikabady, an obsessively  jealous man was recently  jailed for life at the High Court in Glasgow for the murder of his wife of 22 years Fatemeh Bostani, George Park, an officer with Police Scotland, is still on their  payroll.  Park served  an 18-month sentence for battering his wife Frances and leaving her in fear of her life.  Police Scotland are in the horns of a dilemma.  Whilst  rightly being ‘relentless’ in their pursuit of domestic abuse offenders and showing an extraordinary sea change in the way the Force deals with the issue nationally, they are struggling to square that with their role as the employer of any such offender.  The SNP was quick to act in removing Bill Walker from his seat following his conviction, but the Scottish Government were limited in their powers to remove the  MSP.  Thankfully, Walker resigned from public office.  Park however shows no intention of doing any such thing.   Police Scotland were hesitant to disclose this tricky internal domestic issue.

Chief Superintendent John Thomson formerly Divisional Commander of this parish now heads up the Force’s  Licensing and Violence Reduction Division.  Charged with extending Strathclyde’s successful approach to domestic abuse offending nationwide, he recently confirmed that  ‘We want to transfer some of the fear that victims experience to perpetrators’. This new victim-centred approach appears to be working well.   As victims’ confidence grows, the number of reported incidents and prosecutions continue to rise. Before Christmas, the Chief Constable made it clear that ‘we will do everything within our power to target offenders and bring them to justice’ and ‘we want them to know they have nowhere to hide’.  Paying similar close attention to domestic abuse offenders among their workforce would send out a strong message that Police Scotland are willing to set their own sprawling ‘House’ in order (pun intended) and to show, beyond reasonable doubt,  whose side they are  on.

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