Sexist conspiracy theories are putting women's freedom of speech and ability to get justice at risk – Laura Waddell

As you’ve probably heard by now, Gordon Jackson QC was found guilty of professional misconduct for revealing remarks in public during the 2020 trial of his client Alex Salmond (ultimately acquitted of several sexual offence charges).

The aim of social justice movements like MeToo is not to punish men but to ensure women have equal rights (Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)
The aim of social justice movements like MeToo is not to punish men but to ensure women have equal rights (Picture: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Jackson’s comments, overheard on a train, breached a court order protecting anonymity of complainants. What is being lost in all the noise is why that anonymity is essential.

Throughout the whole sorry saga, furious commentary on social media has illuminated precisely why nobody should be playing fast and loose with identities of complainants: it dissuades other victims of sexual violence, watching on, from coming forward.

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That a lawyer should not be publicly blabbing details of a live case at all should, you would think, be a straightforward concept to get one’s head around, not least if happens to be the most high-profile news story in Scotland at the time.

But holding one’s tongue in general, even about sensitive subjects involving vulnerable people, has not been in vogue since the advent of Twitter and public figures publicly losing the plot.

That's a heady mix combined with the culture war ‘grift du jour’ of whipping up a frenzy about being ‘silenced’ (as a generation ago they bemoaned political correctness) and those who interpret strides made by social justice movements such as MeToo as punitive to men suddenly shouldered with the ever-so-tedious burden of being expected to treat women with respect.

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Alex Salmond's QC guilty of professional misconduct over train footage

Anyone with reactionary tendencies is easily convinced he too should be able to say whatever he wants without consequence. Misogynists, like racists, like the far right in general, love tending to delusional fantasies of persecution; there they harvest their excuses for lashing out and kicking down. Some even come to believe any pushback they face in the course of spouting off online to be a human rights injustice on par with the fate of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

In the lively world of Scottish political discussions, some loud voices have seethed all along about complainants being afforded anonymity. Political conspiracy theories swirling around exploit misogynist world views, telling those eager to hear it women can’t be trusted.

From there, it was simply a short, angry hop to thinking that tearing into complainants was fair game, or harassing women journalists who covered the case. But this is not just a local phenomenon.

You don’t have to look far in any direction to find the grotesque belief women are acceptable collateral damage when it comes to man’s right to do and say whatever he wants, wrath awaiting she who gets in his way. This belief is wrong.

Leaks from the Scottish Parliament’s inquiry, particularly sessions with complainants, received less coverage than Jackson’s loose lips, but I have not forgotten about it. It's perhaps even more disturbing that we don't know how this confidential information got out, and I still want to know how it did.

Believe me, Scottish women have been watching, taking everything in. Our political, cultural, and social institutions must do better to support women coming forward with testimonies of abuse, violence, and intimidation. Our freedom of expression, and our ability to seek justice, depend upon it.

Support for those affected by sexual violence is available from Rape Crisis Scotland

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