The number of domestic abuse cases in Scotland will shock you – Christina McKelvie

As the UN launches 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, Scottish Government minister Christina McKelvie urges people to never stop being shocked by the sheer extent of domestic abuse in this country and sets out the action being taken to reduce it.

Student Emily Drouet, 18, killed herself in 2016 after being abused by her boyfriend at Aberdeen University (Picture via SWNS)

Gender-based violence is an affront to human dignity, damages health and wellbeing, limits freedom and potential, and is a violation of the most fundamental human rights.

It is as fundamental as that. As countries around the world mark the beginning of the United Nations’ 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, we all have an opportunity to reflect about the actions we should take to end such violence.

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Gender-based violence can take numerous forms that result in physical and psychological harm or suffering to women and children and includes threats, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty in public or private life.

Fiona Drouet at the 2018 launch of practical guidance for universities to tackle gender-based violence on campus. The toolkit takes forward the principles set out in the #emilytest campaign set up by Fiona Drouet, in memory of her daughter Emily. (Picture: John Devlin)

And we should not stop being shocked that such violence is prevalent across the world including here in Scotland.

For example, did you know there were 59,541 incidents of domestic abuse recorded in Scotland (2017/18) and 82 per cent were female victims? These figures are stark. And should remind us all that each and every part of government, the public sector and wider society has an important role to play in tackling this violence.

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Specialist organisations like local women’s aids and rape crisis centres remain key in supporting those affected by violence and abuse, but it is not just an issue for them. It needs the engagement of local authorities, Police Scotland, the NHS, local authorities, the justice system, social work, housing, media, the business sector, trade unions, third sector organisations and individuals and communities too.

Equally Safe, our joint strategy with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), has a strong focus on tackling the underlying attitudes that create the societal conditions for gender-based violence to flourish.

Improving the justice system

We are working to raise awareness of all forms of gender-based violence at a community and an institutional level. It is through our work on preventing violence and abuse and tackling the inequalities that women and girls experience, that we will help to create the fundamental change we are all looking to see.

Our strategy is backed up with investment of over £12 million a year to support prevention work, frontline support and advocacy services, and perpetrator programmes. We also continue to invest in important work to improve the justice system response to victims and survivors.

Making sure the law works to safeguard those at risk of domestic abuse has been a significant focus.

Our flagship Domestic Abuse Act, passed last year, creates a specific offence of domestic abuse that covers not just the physical but also other forms of psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.

And recently, the First Minister announced that we would bring forward further legislation to ensure that the police and courts have new powers to remove suspected domestic abusers from the homes of their victims.

Many people fleeing abuse and violence of themselves and/or their children, become homeless in the process, and this new protection order will change the reality for so many women and children whose only way of escape is to leave their home.

Our partners are taking important steps too. Police Scotland has established a National Domestic Abuse Taskforce to target the most prolific perpetrators. They are taking forward the training of over 14,000 police officers on the new Domestic Abuse offence in partnership with a consortium led by domestic abuse charity SafeLives.

Fiona Drouet’s relentless work

More broadly, we are working with schools, workplaces, universities and colleges to embed efforts to tackle violence against women and promote gender equality. In secondary education, we are funding the Equally Safe project in schools which is being taken forward by Rape Crisis Scotland and Zero Tolerance.

We have given guidance that all universities and colleges in Scotland are expected to adopt and adapt the Equally Safe in higher education tool kit towards their approach to this issue.

We’ve also supported Universities Scotland to produce gender-based violence support cards for staff and mental health support stickers for students. I would pay tribute in particular to the important work of Fiona Drouet, who tragically lost her daughter Emily to suicide following domestic abuse, who has been relentless in driving forward change in this area.

Ultimately, it is men that, in the vast majority of cases, are the perpetrators of violence against women and girls and we want them to stop. That is why we announced new funding of £2.8 million last year to expand the innovative Caledonian System domestic-abuse programme so that more male perpetrators of domestic abuse can receive specific rehabilitation services.

The UN’s 16 Days of Activism is the perfect time to highlight the steps we are taking to eradicate every form of violence against women and girls. Everyone in society has a vital part to play in ending this violence and abuse for good. We know that across the world women and girls are not afforded the same protection as in Scotland and so we must also provide a voice for those unable to speak out. If we do this, then surely we can one day soon see a Scotland – and a wider world – where everyone is equally safe.

Christina McKelvie is SNP MSP for Hamilton, Larkhall & Stonehouse and Scottish Government minister for older people and equalities