Donald Morrison: Anti-violence campaign takes its message to betting shops and it's proving a winner

The festive season is a time of celebration and goodwill, but for many people '“ women, in particular '“ it can be a living nightmare. While most of us are enjoying a relaxing time with friends and family, others live in fear. The festive period is traditionally the time of year when incidents of domestic abuse are at their highest.

Maryann McCue (William Hill), David Lovatt (Coral), Christina McKelvie MSP, Kevin Nelson (Ladbrokes) and  Davy Thompson (White Ribbon Scotland).
Maryann McCue (William Hill), David Lovatt (Coral), Christina McKelvie MSP, Kevin Nelson (Ladbrokes) and Davy Thompson (White Ribbon Scotland).

Figures from Police Scotland show that reports of domestic abuse in Scotland fell by more than 6 per cent over Christmas and New Year in 2017. But despite the welcome drop, the scale of the problem remains a concern, with 366 reports on New Year’s Day alone.

Although domestic abuse spikes during the festive period, it is a year-round problem. Police Scotland attend to nearly 60,000 reports of domestic incidents a year – the equivalent of one every nine minutes. The majority are perpetrated by men against women.

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This year, ABB Scotland and its members William Hill, Ladbrokes and Coral have been supporting the work of White Ribbon Scotland, a charity which campaigns against gender-based violence.

Donald Morrison, Scottish Media & Public Affairs, ABB Scotland

Specifically, White Ribbon Scotland is a campaign to involve men in tackling abuse against women. It encourages men everywhere to sign its pledge ‘never to commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women in all its forms’.

Betting shops are a perfect fit for such a campaign. Like pubs and sports venues, they are places where men gather in large numbers.

“Engagement through local bookies has been shown to reach large numbers of men who step up to take the pledge and make it clear that they will not ignore this issue,” explains Davy Thompson, campaign director for White Ribbon Scotland.

The first evidence of this came in August when ABB Scotland and White Ribbon Scotland joined forces with Glasgow Maryhill and Springburn SNP MSP Bob Doris, a long-standing campaigner against domestic abuse. It was his idea to engage betting shops in his constituency in support of White Ribbon Scotland and it proved a masterstroke.

Launching the campaign, he said: “It is crucial that all men, the majority of whom would never dream of perpetrating gender-based violence, take a vocal stand against those who do. In doing so, we don’t just reinforce the unacceptable nature of violence against women and girls, but we hopefully also create male role models to inspire others.”

Shop staff proved to be enthusiastic ambassadors for the campaign. In the course of one week in August, they encouraged more than 750 customers to sign the White Ribbon Scotland pledge, far exceeding expectations.

But, as has often been said, we cannot afford to stand still on this issue. Too many lives remain blighted by domestic abuse, so we have continued to spread the message that violence against women can never be condoned or ignored.

In late November, a second campaign was launched in Hamilton to coincide with the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Ahead of the launch, betting shop staff took part in a White Ribbon Scotland training workshop in Hamilton attended by Christina McKelvie, SNP MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse. A former co-convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross 
Party Group on Men’s Violence against Women and Children, she has been a passionate campaigner on the issue and an ardent supporter of White Ribbon Scotland since its launch in 2006.

“We need a real shift, a real cultural change to end the notion that men’s violence against women is just ‘one of those things’ that we have to accept,” she says. “It absolutely is not. And it is the normal, average kind of men who need to stress that reality. Only from within that broad group – men – where the perpetrators exist can we make that message real. It’s that peer pressure that brings about change.”

Domestic abuse can be a difficult subject to talk about. But the success of the campaign to date illustrates the role that betting shop staff can play in reaching out to men on this and other issues. Earlier this year, staff from William Hill’s 310 Scottish shops took part in a four-month campaign to raise awareness about prostate cancer, a disease which still kills around 1,000 men in Scotland every year. As a result of their efforts, more men are now aware of the disease – some have even been diagnosed and begun treatment as a result of the campaign – and more than £25,000 was raised to help fund Prostate Cancer UK’s life saving research.

In the New Year, we intend to continue our campaign with White Ribbon Scotland, taking their message to betting shops elsewhere in Scotland and, hopefully, changing lives for the better.

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Donald Morrison, Scottish Media & Public Affairs, ABB Scotland