Archives for posts with tag: Scotland

‘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.


The Lennox Herald 19 February 2014

What’s love got to do with it..?  We may well ask as red Valentine’s day hearts  festoon our shop fronts and dining a deux dominates the slightly desperate meal-deals on offer in local eateries.  Love did not have much to do with Beyonce’s duet with her rapper husband Jay-Z at the recent Grammy’s as they crooned about a scene of brutal domestic violence by Ike Turner against his then wife in the Tina Turner biopic, “I’m Ike turner, turn up/ baby know I don’t play/now eat cake Anna Mae”. It was not only the gender inequality implicit in Beyonce’s choice of a skimpy outfit worn alongside her fully-suited husband which drew media attention but the sight of married love disappearing down the drain dragging Beyonce’s newly sampled  feminist credentials with it.  Celebrities like Beyonce and Jay-Z really ought not to sexualise and glamorise intimate partner violence.  Are their creative imaginations so depleted that they are not longer inspired by the joys of love and affection? Have we reached the limits of ‘the moon in June’?  Are media assumptions that there is a voracious public appetite for interpersonal violence correct?   Is sex alone, heaven help us, no longer enough to sell things?  While the conflation of sex and violence and the mainstreaming of pornographic imagery in our popular culture proceeds apace, it does not, however, go entirely unchallenged.
The mass media campaign of One Billion Rising against violence against women and girls is one such challenge.  On St. Valentine’s Day, women and men, young and old all over the world will come together to celebrate women, their lives and their achievements. They rise, they sing and they dance with joy; love is definitely all around when they do.  The  Youtube videos are a treat –  a powerful antidote to the twerking brigade (
Valentine’s name is derived from the Latin word valens meaning strong, worthy, powerful. He was martyred, say some, for marrying Christian couples at a dangerous time for the new faith during Roman times.  He promoted love and affection in a climate of cruelty and oppression for those who shared his beliefs and way of living.    Just in time for Valentine’s Day 2014, love was definitely in the air around the Scottish Parliament on February  4 2014 when the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill was finally and  overwhelmingly voted into law.   The love that dared not speak its name publicly until 1980 in Scotland (yes –  1980!) can now also be celebrated in full legal marriage.   St. Valentine may have approved.  Love?  I hear it’s all you need…xx


Irene Campbell 

Born: 22 March 1954 Died: 13 September 2013

Counsellor and Feminist Activist

Irene Campbell who has died at the age of 59 years was a person-centred counsellor and feminist activist who worked to end domestic abuse and violence against women.

Irene grew up in Milngavie in a large family.  The highly acclaimed work of Irene’s mother,  Scottish writer Agnes Owens, provides an insight into Irene’s early influences and the values in which she was immersed from an early age.

Having settled in the Vale of Leven, Irene joined Dumbarton District Women’s Aid in 1990.   Irene was an active member of the wider Women’s Aid movement in Scotland campaigning to bring the issue of domestic abuse into the public arena, to change public attitudes and to provide better services for women and children.

In 2003, Irene moved on to establish West Dunbartonshire Council’s CARA (Challenging and Responding to Abuse) Project. Now a person-centred counsellor, Irene specialised in working with women survivors of domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse.  Irene was one of the early pioneers in Scotland who introduced the 3-stage Trauma Model developed by American feminist psychiatrist Judith Herman into their work with women recovering from the impact of domestic abuse. Irene’s work combined trauma-informed counselling with new models of advocacy also developed in the US for use with domestic abuse victims and survivors.  The subsequent success of these approaches has led to their widespread use in many specialist violence against women services around the country, and to their incorporation in new methods of policing and prosecuting domestic abuse in Scotland.

Irene Campbell developed the CARA service as one of the key domestic abuse support agencies in West Dunbartonshire – an area with high rates of domestic abuse.  Irene was at her best listening to women with  kindness and a sensitive professionalism that was often rare in their lives.  Her collaborative and training work with a wide range of local support agencies including social work and housing, health, the criminal justice system and the police has gone on to make a significant contribution to improving local multi-agency responses to all forms of violence against women.

Irene was a kind, generous and loving woman, who always supported people who were being treated unfairly or cruelly.  She was razor sharp in seeing and cutting through red tape.  Irene’s passions for her garden, for art, photography, music, reading and the  Scottish landscape were reflected in the home and life she shared with her extended family.

Irene Campbell leaves a great personal and professional legacy in the life she lived,  in the body of work she created and in the difference she made to many people’s lives.

Irene is survived by her husband Gordon and her son Calum


Scottish Review 17 September 2013

Nick Smithers (SR 10 September) rightly highlights the plight of male victims of domestic abuse in Scotland, although I have never maintained that domestic abuse is exclusively perpetrated by men against women. While women comprise the majority of victims in Scotland and throughout the world, I fully acknowledge that men are also victims of domestic abuse (as the harrowing account by a male survivor, SR 12 September, showed) and that it can occur in same-sex relationships.

To suggest that the reticence of male victims to come forward is the result of a false ‘public story’ about women’s inequality in a service sector dominated by violence against women services is, however, stretching things a bit. The United Nations recognises that domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women are both cause and consequence of women’s inequality. The Scottish Government does too. The debate about male victims of domestic abuse needs to mature beyond gender mud-slinging around that tired old binary, ‘who is the most victimised – men or women?’. What is important is to understand what is going on and to prevent it.

The growth of specialist violence against women services in Scotland is due in the main to women’s public activism, campaigning for services and research activity over the last 35 years. In that time, workers and researchers have developed sensitive, ethical and robust methodologies which encourage women and children to come forward and tell their stories.

As a result of listening to women and children, we have a more nuanced understanding of the complexity of domestic abuse, its calculus of harms and its impact. This has been central to the development of specialist domestic abuse services, more sensitive professional practice and increased public awareness. Police and criminal justice services are now better able to disentangle exactly who is doing what to whom when attending domestic abuse incidents, to keep victims safe and prosecute perpetrators. More victims are reporting abuse and seeking support than ever before.

Substantial public funding for domestic abuse services has been available in Scotland since 2000 and is based on the provision of a strong evidence base of statistics, what is needed and whether services are working. If large numbers of Scottish men are currently living silently in fear in their own homes that is quite simply a national disgrace. More research needs to be done to better understand their lives and why they are unable to come forward.

The experiences of those working with other excluded and marginalised groups may have lessons for those seeking to end the isolation of abused men. As with domestic abuse services for women, the need for Mr Smithers’ organisation and for the Men’s Advice Line may continue to grow alongside an increased understanding of the extent of the problem among Scottish men and how they may be supported.

However, last year’s Scottish police figures still tell us an important public story. While 10,000 male victims is a shocking figure by any measure, we should not forget the remaining 50,000 female victims and the many uncounted and innocent children involved in those incidents and their aftermath. That’s a gendered crime story in my book.

Anni Donaldson is a writer and visiting research fellow at Strathclyde University


If we were a’ sensible, there would be nae fools

Traveller’s Life – The Autobiography of Sheila Stewart

Published April 2011

Birlinn £9.99

Maybe this book is not like other people’s biographies.  But it has to be different…because a travellers’ life is different from anyone else’s.’   And so it is.  A Traveller’s Life by Sheila Stewart is a life’s story we should know about.  The joys, tensions and traditions of a member of one of Scotland’s best known Scottish Traveller families provides a welcome antidote to the negative press reports of Traveller conflicts with settled or ‘scaldie’ communities such as the long running Dale Farm dispute and of the extravagances displayed in Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.

Born in a stable in Blairgowrie ‘into a world of poems and stories and songs’, described as ‘the voice of Blairgowrie… a raven-haired beauty, envy of many traveller lassies and the dream girl of the laddies…with a perfect voice’, Sheila’s spirit as a tradition bearer for travelling people was recognised by her uncle Donald when she was only five years old.  Sheila’s autobiography is also full of songs and tales from her Traveller community and is the next best thing to hearing these tales told with the smell of wood smoke in the air.  The transience of the Traveller way of life with its deeply felt communality is held together by the long bonds of this shared lore and spoken in Cant.   Sheila also provides a glossary of Perthshire Travellers’ Cant.

Sheila and her family moved around a great deal, earning money by raking dumps, gathering rags and selling them, seasonal farm labour, lifting potatoes, berry picking, making, hawking and repairing tinware,  basins and pea strainers.   Despite living with the deeply ingrained prejudice and casual violence of people in settled communities and the sheer grind of making a living, there is no resentment, not a trace of self-pity and a great deal of black humour in this book.   ‘Although we were persecuted in Blair, and got beaten up for being travellers, my mother loved Blairgowrie, and I would like the people of Blair to remember that.’  Travellers were sustained by loyalty, a shared oral culture and language.   Storytelling and ballad singing, woven into the fabric of Traveller life, carried the values of a nomadic community living on the margins of settled society.  Sheila recounts many of these tales in her book: morality tales about how to be human and what sort of human to be, songs and stories celebrating the close relationship Travellers have with nature and its mysteries, fantastic tales full of spirits and demons, lighthearted fables full of fun and high jinks.  Tales told to instruct and to entertain or given as gifts, created a welcoming hearth shared by a seemingly endless stream of characters flowing with the seasons and the harvests.

The customs and daily habits of Travellers, deeply rooted in history, experience and nature, kept its members healthy and often alive in the absence of medical treatment.  Remedies were derived from generations of accumulated knowledge:  the healing properties of plants and herbs – how to  tempt a  tapeworm from inside someone’s stomach with a piece of meat placed on their tongue – how to mix a simple and highly effective  earth and water poltice held in place with dock leaves to treat someone’s badly scalded legs – the importance of cleanliness and never washing anything in a sink and always using a basin.

Although not always a wholly biddable daughter, independent and highly intelligent, Sheila describes how her life, like other women’s in her community, was mainly defined by others and her expectations clearly proscribed.  Loyalty to parents and family were extended to her husband on marriage.   Marriage and childbirth were not straightforward – although Sheila’s husband Ian was not a Traveller, he was accepted by her family and became a willing convert to the way of life.  Ian’s jealousy and fondness for drink [peeve] were clear even before they married and he often blew his wages in the pub with his friends.   A volatile and occasionally violent man, Sheila describes theirs as a ‘peculiar kind of love…very deep.  We couldn’t agree, yet we couldn’t stay away from each other.’  Iain ‘was not husband material. Although he adored his kids, he wasn’t very family-oriented. But I loved him and I was his wife. I had made my bed, and I would have to lie in it.‘

Acting without her consent, Sheila’s  mother and husband gave permission for her to be sterilised, ‘I had no say in the matter of my own body…I was used to my life’s decisions being made for me and so I just accepted it.’  She had wanted to breast feed her newborn daughter but when she came home from hospital the baby was already being bottle fed and Sheila’s milk had gone. ‘I was so sad about that.’  Sheila was not allowed to choose any of her children’s names.   Women with children still had to do their share of the work – even during potato lifting. Sheila and her husband Ian worked together, dividing the field up between them and keeping a fire at one end to boil kettles for tea and to cook and keep warm when it was cold.  Sheila describes having one child walking about the field, one in a basket and another in a pram while she worked in the field.

Obligations to her husband led to conflict about her performing at home and abroad. Ian’s reluctance to let Sheila travel was usually overcome by the prospect of the money she would earn.  The contradictions in Sheila’s life were well summed up by this conversation with her father, a noted piper, Willie Stewart, ‘You were in America, met royalty, and were made the blood-sister of a Comanche Chief.  Then you come home and go raking a midden, and give your blood to an auld traveller woman to glue her clay cutty [pipe] tegither.  How do you feel about that?  Daddy, I was born a traveller and I will die one, I prefer travellers any day, they are my folk. I will never change.’   

After the death of her mother Belle, instead of becoming a ‘bingo granny’ Sheila started performing again and felt ‘liberated for the first time in her life, and it was a great feeling’.  She could sing where and what she wanted and soon overcame her anxiety about speaking to audiences directly as her mother used to do.   Against the advice of some academics, Sheila wrote her mother Belle’s biography ‘Queen amang the heather’ and has now written her own.

Now in her seventies Sheila is rightly acknowledged as one of Scotland’s great folklorists, teaching and performing all over Scotland and abroad and still speaking out on behalf of Travellers and the continuing prejudice they face. Sheila has found common ground with traditional singers and musicians from other nomadic cultures around the globe, who also experience discrimination at the hands of settled communities.    Sheila has rightly been inducted into the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame – an accolade she cherishes – and has been awarded the MBE.

Sheila Stewart continues to thrive on people and life and her singing and story telling are still best experienced in the flesh. Her rich voice, singing unaccompanied, redolent of the countryside, is like a full-throated songbird.  It carries history and tradition and connects us to a time when we lived close to nature and respected its gifts and dangers.  In that listening moment, time is suspended in the presence of our shared humanity and in appreciation of our world. This reader is grateful to her for her gift of this life and its story.  If you have not heard her live then this book will make you want to hear that astonishing voice sing its conyach [heart music] – it really should have an accompanying CD!

Anni Donaldson

Book Review of the Month  Published by Glasgow Women’s Library 2012

ImageIf it’s a summer’s day of peace and quiet you’re after, you won’t find the latter on the outermost of the innermost of the Hebrides.  You can’t escape the racket.  Best heard from your bicycle on a summer day bowling along the low-rise contours of Tiree, this innermost of the Atlantic’s easternmost islands. Tubby, almost-grown lambs still bleating for their Mas,  cattle all low and lowing.  The birds in full concert and chorus:  the nervous trilling of soprano swallows,  the seagulls skee-aw skee-awing, the prrrreeppeepeepeepeep of the oystercatchers catching nothing of the sort.  Cream crescent beaches catch the waves’ roaring blue rhythm as their cymbal-sounds crash to the shore.  And the wind! They say if the wind drops, a Tiree man falls over. It roars in your ear, whips your hair into tugs and disguises the tanning your face is taking from the eye-narrowingly bright sun.  There’s no escape from either in this surround-a-sky land of no-night summer days.   People voiced the lives of these places… Balephuil…Balevuillin…Caolas….Balephetrish … Cornaigbeag….soft, labial, aspirant tones kept harsh lowland consonants at bay – Tiree’s mouth-music silenced this keelie’s twang. Er falalalo – the land of the heedrum-ho fair put her gas right at a peep.

Anni Donaldson

Published in Scottish Review’s Summer Special June 2013

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