Violence against women is an ‘epidemic’ in Scotland, campaigners warn

Campaigners urged for workplaces to stop tolerating men whose behaviour towards women constituted harassment.

Violence against women is an ‘epidemic’ in Scotland, campaigners warn Kittisak Jirasittichai / EyeEm via Getty Images
Epidemic: More than a third of women said they were harassed or assaulted at work.

Violence against women is an “epidemic” in Scotland, as barely more than 10% of sex assault victims reported attackers to police and more than 75% of rapes went unreported, it was claimed.

Campaigners urged for workplaces to stop tolerating men whose behaviour towards women constituted harassment, and claimed men chose not to face the scale of the problem.

Data from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2019-20 showed only 22% of rape victims and 12% of women who were victims of other sexual offences reported it to the police.

More than a third of women said they were harassed or assaulted at work.

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Alys Mumford, spokeswoman for Engender, said: “Violence against women is an epidemic in Scotland and has been for a long time.

“It is absolutely as much of a problem in Scotland as elsewhere.

“Harassment and violence against women in a public places ranges from things like cat calling to a murder like Sarah [Everard].

“More needs to be done to recognise the scale of the problem.

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“It is a consequence of massive inequality and we need to be tackling this at all levels.

“This includes individuals calling out this behaviour when they see it, such as if you have a colleague or friend with a nickname that suggests harassment against women, call them out.

“The police, local councils and so on, need training on violence against women and organisations like the police need to take a really long, hard look at themselves and how they understand women.

“This case will have an impact on some people on reporting harassment.

“Some people already harbour a distrustful view of the police.”

She said the alleged inaction on two reports of indecent exposure by Met Police officer Wayne Couzens shortly before he murdered Sarah Everard in March 2020 was not uncommon.

Ms Mumford said: “We all know situations like this, where a man has been given chance after chance and this is the result.

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“We need to take action when it happens. It is too often seen as one of these things that we have to deal with.”

A report found around 60% of women in Scotland experienced sexual harassment or assault and more than two thirds felt unsafe walking alone after dark.

The results of the ScotPulse survey found 40% of the women said it happened on the street, while 35% said the incidents occurred in the workplace.

SNP MP Hannah Bardell, who has campaigned to support victims of domestic violence, said: “At its core, it’s systematic and societal and we have to change the narrative away from what women should be doing to protect themselves.

“It all swims in the same pond as locker room chat.

“There’s no doubt that the fact that it’s systematic in society is one part of it, but the other part is challenging things on and offline.

“A lot of men don’t want to face up to the scale of it.

“They find it difficult to comprehend. But there are genuinely a lot of men out there who want to understand and want to help.

“The uniqueness of the Sarah Everard case, when someone is in a position of trust and responsibility and abuses that, is shocking.

“Sex and relationship education is absolutely crucial in this, teaching children and young people what a healthy relationship looks like and giving boys and girls the tools to challenge each other.”

Rachel Adamson, co-director of charity Zero Tolerance, said at least seven women in Scotland were killed by men in 2019.

She said: “Men abuse, attack and kill women because society lets them.

“We excuse the behaviour of men, and distance extreme violence from everyday misogyny by presenting them as isolated incidents perpetrated by ‘monsters’.

“But all forms of violence against women and girls – such as domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment – are a symptom of an unequal society, one where men hold the power, and women are valued less.

“The only way to prevent violence against women is to end gender inequality for good.”

The Scottish Government’s Delivering Equally Safe Fund, launched in August, includes more than £28m for frontline services which provide direct support to women.

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Violence against women is abhorrent and totally unacceptable, and our Equally Safe Strategy sets out our ambition to eradicate it in all its forms.

“Our focus is on preventing such abuse, building on the £23m we have invested in violence prevention since 2008.

“We are working to ensure all young people have access to evidence-based prevention education on consent and healthy relationships, and are modernising the criminal law that holds perpetrators accountable.

“We have laws in place to tackle sexual violence, stalking, threatening or abusive behaviour, non-consensual sharing of images and domestic abuse.”

Deputy chief constable Fiona Taylor, of Police Scotland, said: “Women should never be scared or reluctant to report any crime to us and can be assured that we will listen, support and carry out a robust and impartial investigation.

“Our officers work with absolute professionalism to protect the vulnerable and keep people safe in line with our core values of integrity, fairness and respect and a commitment to upholding human rights.

“The appalling circumstances of Sarah Everard’s death have deeply affected people and many are now rightly concerned about verifying an officer’s identity.

“Police officers always carry photographic identification and will be happy to provide reassurance about who they are and their reason for speaking with someone.”