Scotland’s top prosecutor has spoken of the Crown’s “seriousness of purpose” in tackling sexual crimes, as he backed an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls.
Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC delivered a keynote speech at Napier University on Wednesday evening on the subject of “Law, Democracy and Fundamental Rights”.
The address coincided with the 16 Days Of Activism campaign, an international drive to tackle gender-based violence.
Mr Wolffe told the audience in Edinburgh: “Serious sexual offences now make up 75 per cent of the cases which we prosecute in the High Court.
“By contrast with most other areas of criminality, we are seeing a significant increase in the reporting of serious sexual crimes.
“That means that victims are coming forward, that cases are being prosecuted and perpetrators are being brought to justice.
“No one should doubt the seriousness of purpose which we apply and will apply to these cases, which are among the most serious which we prosecute.
“The victims of sexual offences include men and women, and every one of those cases will be treated with equal seriousness, but the reality is that these crimes disproportionately affect women, where identifiable, 94 per cent of the crimes of rape and attempted rape and 87 per cent of the crimes of sexual assault in 2015-17 had a female victim.”
The Lord Advocate spoke of the importance of a victim’s evidence in resolving cases involving sexual offending.
He said: “Unless victims of these crimes, which are among the most serious which we prosecute, are willing to come forward and to give evidence, we cannot prosecute the perpetrators of sexual violence and sexual crime, and if we cannot prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes, then we cannot fulfil our public responsibility to provide effective protection to the victims, including children and vulnerable adults who have been the victims of abuse, and women and children who have been the victims of sexual violence.”
Mr Wolffe also spoke of the role of men in combating violence against women.
“This lecture provides me with an opportunity, during these 16 Days of Activism to say publicly that tackling gender-based violence is an issue for every one of us, but it is particularly an issue for men; it is, after all, about the behaviour of men, some men, towards women and girls,” he said.
The prosecutor spoke about legislative changes within the last decade surrounding sexual offences and threatening behaviour and reflected on the Scottish Parliament’s current consideration of a Domestic Abuse Bill.
“This Bill will create a specific offence of domestic abuse which will cover not just physical abuse, which we would currently prosecute as an assault, but coercive and controlling behaviour which can destroy the victim’s autonomy, but which cannot easily be prosecuted using the existing criminal law,” he said.
“When one thinks about the rule of law and the protection of fundamental rights, it is easy to talk in the abstract.
“But they matter ultimately because of the practical effect which they have on the ground to peoples’ lives.”