09 November 2006

S2M-5109 Violence Against Women

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 9 November 2006

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

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Violence Against Women

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-5109, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on violence against women.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The experience of this man—I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the debate—as an MSP is probably, alas, not dissimilar to that of others. I think of one instance of a woman sitting across the desk from me at my constituency surgery, shaking from the stress of telling me of her experience: I face a woman to whom I cannot offer a physical hand to hold because, as a man, I may too closely represent the source of her legitimate fears. She shows me photographs of the bruises and cuts that cover her torso and limbs, but which do not cover her face, because the violent man in domestic circumstances is too clever to beat his partner where it will show.

As other members can justifiably be, I am proud to have been party to some of the legal changes that Parliament has made that go some way towards helping with what happens in public. I will quote another politician—my namesake Adlai Stevenson, the late US Secretary of State—who said:

"Laws are never as effective as habits".

The public policy that we are discussing intersects with private practice, because violence against women is largely a secret vice that is conducted behind a front door and is observed by no one other than the violent man, the beaten woman and perhaps by a wide-eyed and mystified child, whose immature mind may be imprinted with the idea that violence is normal as a model for their future behaviour in another generation as a dominant male or as a female who is expected to be submissive.

When children watch television or play video games on a computer, violence is increasingly a large part of the experience. The reason for that is encompassed in Alfred Hitchcock's comment that

"Drama is life with the dull bits cut out".

In a sense, that is the reason for the temptation for too much drama and too many video and computer games to be violent—the dull bits have been cut out. Too much drama passively absorbed with too little engagement, as a contrast to positive energy-consuming activity, reinforces the adverse experiences to which too many of our children are exposed.

Figures that I have used previously suggest that less than half of all the violent incidents that are reported to the police lead to an offence being recorded or a conviction. Private violence, which includes sexual violence, violent shouting and bullying in all its forms, is the least likely type of violence to be reported because people are much less confident that cases involving such violence will be successfully pursued. A public fight at a pub door, by contrast, may have been witnessed by people and people might know that witnesses exist; the injured party will then be confident that the matter can be dealt with.

Violence against women is a huge problem, and I say to Cathy Peattie that it should shame all men. Some 40 per cent of members who are present for this debate are men. If we take into account the total number of members who are men, perhaps pro rata not as many men are present as we might wish for, but we are not doing too badly. For the first time, I commend the Tories—their team today is all male.

I particularly welcome something that not everyone may have noticed. Recently, in considering a bill, we decided to criminalise men who use 16 or 17-year-old prostitutes. I hope that we will move the burden of illegality away from providers of sexual services to users of sexual services because sexual abuse is at the heart of much of what we are discussing.

The last time I participated in a debate on violence against women was on 25 November 2004. The title of that debate was exactly the same as the title of this debate and the same member moved the motion—even the source of one of the amendments was the same—but there has been a different emphasis in this debate. I hope that I will not participate in many more such debates as a result of the need for them diminishing as the scourge of violence against women is eliminated from the too many households in which it takes place. However, I am not overoptimistic about that and should not hold my breath until it happens.

I close by quoting Molière, who said:

"The greater the obstacle, the more the glory in overcoming it."

There is much glory to be earned by all of us in tackling violence against women, but earning that glory is, as yet, a distant prospect.


Stewart Stevenson
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