Gender Recognition Reform Bill: Predatory, abusive men like the paedophile who stole my soul will exploit proposed legislation – Susan Dalgety

March is Women’s History Month. It coincides with International Women’s Day on Tuesday and is designed to mark the many achievements of women over the centuries.

Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison says violence against women and girls is caused by 'predatory and abusive men not trans people' (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)
Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison says violence against women and girls is caused by 'predatory and abusive men not trans people' (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

I was going to write about the Duchess of Atholl, Scotland’s first woman MP; about Nicola Benedetti, appointed the first woman director of Edinburgh’s International Festival earlier this week; and several other Scottish women, some now long forgotten, some household names, who have changed our world for the better.

Instead, I am going to focus on the personal history of one woman. She’s not famous, or special, just a woman, born and brought up in a rural corner of Scotland.

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She was a serious child, who preferred books to running around, and from a very early age lost herself in a world far away from the mundane but happy reality of her life.

Today, she would have been an avid Harry Potter fan. Back then, she immersed herself in Enid Blyton’s boarding school books, dreaming of Mallory Towers and of becoming best friends with the naughtiest girl in school.

She ached to be a member of the Secret Seven, and to this day finds crime thrillers a welcome release. When she grew up, she wanted to be a detective, or a journalist.

She breezed through her class work, revelling in the little red grammar book that her peers struggled to understand. Project work was her favourite subject. She still remembers fondly her opus on Britain’s coal and steel industry and her treatise on Northern Ireland, compiled just before the Troubles broke out.

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Life was sweet. Her parents had very little money, but her home was suffused with love, and the vanilla scent of her mother’s home baking.

Then at the age of 11, on the cusp of adolescence, her world shattered, yet stayed the same. She was sexually assaulted. Not once, but relentlessly. Once or twice a week for a year until she went to high school. The abuse continued for another year after that, but only sporadically as she learned how to avoid the man who had stolen her soul.

The worst part was when he had finished. He would press a damp sixpence into her shaking hand and grunt, thank you. As if it was a consensual act, one that she, a small child whose breasts had not yet started to bud, had agreed to share with him.

The shame of those sixpences still haunts her. As soon as she was free of her abuser, she would rush to the village sweet shop and spend his money on sugary treats. Even now, she wonders why she didn’t throw those coins in the dirt, where they belonged.

In the decades since, she has shared her story sparingly, with her mother first, when she was 18, drunk and desperate.

Her sister knows. Her husband. A good friend. But that’s about it. She has spoken of her single parenthood, her poverty, her spell as a homeless young mother, but never publicly of the man who destroyed her childhood, and with hindsight, her adolescence.

The first in her family to go to university, she dropped out, and at 19 gave birth to her first son. Experts will now tell you that chaotic behaviour is a reasonable response to abuse. In the 1970s, she was simply considered badly behaved.

That young girl was me. And on Thursday, I heard a woman, a mother, proclaim in our Parliament that there is no evidence that “predatory and abusive men have ever had to pretend to be anything else to carry out abusive and predatory behaviour”.

Never mind that Social Justice Secretary Shona Robison spoke these words in a cynical attempt to justify her government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill which will allow men to change their legal sex simply by affirmation.

Never mind that some MSPs – the people we elect to care for our country and its people – applauded her crass statement. Or that LGBT campaigners later hailed her “line” as brilliant.

Robison spoke these words on the first anniversary of Sarah Everard’s murder. A young woman slaughtered by a predatory and abusive man in a police uniform, who pretended to arrest her before killing her.

She spoke these words to the women and girls of Scotland, many who know only too well that sexual predators hide in plain sight, like mine did. That throughout history, abusive men have used their positions of power, their uniforms, their standing in society to pretend to be something they are not.

There are young girls this morning who, last night, will have endured abuse at the hands of an abusive man masquerading as a family friend, as a step-father, as a man of the cloth.

I have no idea why Shona Robison and her close friend and boss, Nicola Sturgeon, refuse to believe women when we say we fear the consequences of a law that redefines what it means to be female.

I have no idea why trans campaigners and their allies call us bigots, transphobes, right-wing shills, when all we are doing is pointing out, as the Equality and Human Rights Commission did recently, that the Bill will affect women’s rights.

What I do know is that on Thursday, two of the most powerful women in Scotland betrayed every other woman and girl in the country. All 2.7 million of us.

For what? A Stonewall seal of approval? Supportive tweets lauding them as progressive? I wish I knew. I wish I understood.

I recovered from my ordeal. Or at least I found a way of dealing with it by not speaking about it, by pretending I was not a victim, but a strong, powerful woman. I won’t speak of it again.

But really, I am still that scared little girl, terrified of the predatory man pretending to be my friend. On Thursday, Shona Robison broke my heart. But she won’t break our spirit.

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