Violence against women

The last few years have seen significant movement on criminal justice and policy responses to men’s violence against women, but women’s lives remain constrained by the threat and experience of rape, domestic abuse, stalking, sexual harassment, and other forms of this violence. Violence against women remains a human rights violation experienced at epidemic levels in Scotland.

Women’s inequality is both a cause and consequence of violence against women. Eradicating violence against women in Scotland will require us to tackle entrenched gender inequalities, but it also demands that we ensure that men cannot abuse and assault women with impunity and that women who experience rape and domestic violence are provided with adequate support and services.

In the last twenty years of devolution, we have seen representatives from the violence against women movements making change happen in the parliament, in Scottish Government, and in our public bodies. We have seen decision-makers who share our values and our sense of outrage that so many women have their space for action reduced by men’s violence advocating hard for violence against women prevention and services.

Equally Safe, Scotland’s violence against women strategy, entrenches a feminist analysis of men’s violence. It is one of few such strategies around the world to link women’s equality and violence against women. Its boldness of analysis must now be matched by boldness of action as the women’s sector, Scottish Government, and public bodies work together to realise its ambitions.


By 2030 women and girls in Scotland have access to justice when they experience men’s violence.

Scottish Government should:

Enable access to justice

As it is everywhere in the world, violence against women and girls (VAWG) is endemic in Scotland. At least one in five women in Scotland will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime and an average of four rapes is reported per day, yet this figure masks the extent of sexual violence due to underreporting. A crucial dimension of systemic violence against women is lack of equal access to justice and discrimination within the criminal justice system. This is reflected in low conviction rates for rape, domestic abuse, trafficking of women for sexual exploitation and FGM. There are also gaps in redress for newer presentations of violence against women, including the misogynistic harassment prevalent on social media and crowdsourced digital domestic abuse.

Access to civil and criminal justice for women who have experienced violence against women in Scotland is undermined by some features of the criminal justice system.

Although there is leadership from Scottish Government and within the Crown Office and Police Scotland on ensuring an effective criminal justice response to violence against women, the attrition rates for domestic abuse and sexual offences are high. The vast majority of perpetrators will never face any sanction, and justice remains elusive for most women.

Other jurisdictions point the way to bolder structural shifts that might be possible in a Scottish context. With research forthcoming on jury deliberations in rape cases, the question of whether violence against women cases should be heard without juries is likely to become a pressing one. The success of the Glasgow domestic abuse court and sexual offence courts in other nations raises questions about whether dedicated sexual offence courts would enhance access to justice in Scotland.


By 2030 public services around housing and homelessness and child contact are sensitive to domestic abuse.

Scottish Government and local government should:

Ensure public services are domestic abuse-sensitive

Facilitate safe decision-making

Domestic abuse is the fourth most common reason given for a homeless application in Scotland.

Research has highlighted that these figures are likely to significantly underestimate the scale of the problem, as women may not disclose that they are experiencing domestic abuse when making a homeless application, often making several moves to family and friends before doing so. Prevention of homelessness is a key priority for the Scottish Government and addressing the issue of women and children’s enforced homelessness as a result of domestic abuse should be specifically addressed within current housing options prevention policy. We want to see housing policy that treats women with dignity and respect and that enables women (where possible) to remain in their own homes.

Residency and child contact are also areas of huge concern to violence against women services. For years local Women’s Aid groups have supported women and children dealing with the danger and fear generated by perpetrators of domestic abuse who use contact with their children to continue controlling and abusing their ex-partners.

Children have a right (but not an obligation for) contact with both parents where the contact is safe for both the child and the non-abusing parent; benefits and is in the best interests of the child, and occurs in a safe and nurturing environment.

For too long, the harm to children caused by domestic abuse has been treated as irrelevant to court decisions about residency and access to children. Domestic abuse by a parent must be understood as a parenting choice to cause harm to a child, and evidence that abusers understand and have taken responsibility for their parenting choices must be requested and required by child protection and court systems. The safety, well-being, and recovery of the child and non- offending parent must be given the highest priority in any domestic abuse related contact decision.


By 2030 violence against women services and prevention work are sustainably and comprehensively resourced.

Scottish Government, working in partnership with violence against women organisations should:

Resource services and prevention work

Create a statutory underpinning for equally safe

Violence against women changes women’s lives. The trauma of sexual violence, including childhood sexual abuse, and domestic abuse resonates through women’s daily experience of work, transport, housing, education, and health and wellbeing. In the context of epidemic levels of violence against women, ring- fenced funding to resource VAW advocacy and support services, and the VAW sector in Scotland including Women’s Aid groups and Rape Crisis centres, is clearly vital.

As a result of austerity and downward pressure on public budgets, rape crisis and women’s aid services are experiencing unprecedented levels of demand from women with increasingly complex needs. The work to expand provision must be accelerated. Both Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid are committed to meeting the specific needs of BME, disabled, and lesbian, bisexual and trans survivors, and have dedicated, badged services or mainstreaming protocols in place to achieve this. However, there are additional barriers to public services for these groups of women, and plans for service expansion must take account of this. Scottish Government has now committed to three-year funding for violence against women services, placing these on a more sustainable footing. Most, however, have been operating with standstill budgets for over a decade, and require substantial additional investment to meet demand.

Work to prevent violence against women is also in need of investment. Equally Safe commits Scotland to primary prevention, in which women’s inequality is understood to provide the conducive context for men’s violence. Consequently, Scotland intends to end violence against women by ending women’s inequality.

No state or nation has ever ended women’s inequality, so the scale of the challenge is almost unknown. However, it is clear that it will not be met without the resources of the state being oriented towards it. There is an urgent demand for effective gender mainstreaming, and additionally for funding targeted at specific, intractable inequalities.

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Gender Matters Roadmap - towards women's equality in ScotlandGender Matters Roadmap - towards women's equality in Scotland

Key terms


Attrition rate refers to the number of criminal cases initially reported to the police which do not proceed for a number of reasons including the complainant deciding not to proceed, or the police deciding there is insufficient evidence.


Devolution refers to the transfer of powers and competencies to a lower level of government, for example transferring powers from Westminster to Holyrood. Powers which lie at Westminster are referred to as ‘reserved’.


Domestic abuse-sensitive protocols refer to official systems or rules which have been created to recognise the signs and impacts of domestic abuse.


FGM comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. it is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.


The Safe and Together Model is a framework for improving how agencies, particularly those involved in child protection procedures deal with situations of domestic abuse.


Underreporting refers to the phenomenon where official crime statistics do not represent the true number of crimes committed as evidenced by anonymous reporting or service-provision statistics.

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