Archives for posts with tag: Scotland

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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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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


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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



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.

women's lib  in scotland book cover

Scottish Review of Books Vol 10 Issue 4 November 2014

Sarah Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland c 1968-c.1979, Manchester University Press

Book Review by Anni Donaldson

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This article first appeared in The Conversation 2 July 2014

Read the full article  here


The March of the Undecideds?  Scottish Women #indyref

Another Post from A Women’s Place

Recent polls suggest that a woman’s place is rather further from the ballot box than is good for them ahead of September’s independence referendum. By all accounts, they could be spending more of their precious time studying political form and making up their minds. While some claim that women voters hold the key to Scotland’s future if they turn out to vote in equal numbers to men, other surveys suggest women are among the many ‘undecideds’. Cue some old chestnuts: women are not natural risk takers, are more pessimistic, don’t like rocking the boat, are worried about the future, are unable to make up their minds….blah blah. More childcare ladies?   Are women being offered anything more than the same old same old?

Women are skilled commanders of perpetually rocky boats. The work they do is invisible until it stops, their unpaid contribution to the Scottish economy rarely included in high-end budget calculations and economic forecasts. Without all that free childcare, parenting, cleaning, cooking, house-keeping, homework, elderly care, health care and transport services…..phew….the whole economy would probably grind to a halt. And that’s before women get to their paid work, organised around THEIR childcare responsibilities (not Daddy’s). Watching the clock, afraid to miss the school bell they have probably done the food shopping in their lunch hour. Ask any woman. One glich in the system – a sick child unable to go to school that day or that 8.30 meeting your boss insists you attend – and the whole system crashes.

Scottish women may be aye working, but they are making up their minds.   With many turning out to local meetings, those without babysitters are on social media or blogging, chipping in their tuppenceworth when the weans are in their bed. Doing nothing is not an option – positions are being considered.

Scottish women still have a long way to go in the equality stakes, there are acres of unequal territory still to cover and the politicians need to know it according to Engender (   Women are listening for proposals which acknowledge the immense value of their contribution to keeping Scotland working, learning and healthy and to mothering the future workforce. Tangible proposals for a more equal future can transform indecision. Women need a hand – politically, economically and practically – More childcare isn’t the half of it.

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


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