Yesterday (November 25th, 2017) was officially the Launch of our 16 days of action against gender-based violence (GBV) Campaign! We were honoured to host a variety of inspirational speakers at the Edinburgh Sheriff Court.
Our Launch speakers were Ruth McQuaid (Equality Lead, COPFS), Gordon McCreadie (National Lead for Domestic Abuse, Police Scotland), Thanos Karatzias (Director of Research: Domestic Abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Edinburgh Napier University), Becky Kaufman (Justice Policy Officer: Scottish Trans Alliance), Linda Rodgers (Member of the Executive Group of the Edinburgh Violence Against Women Partnership and CEO, Edinburgh Women’s Aid), and two incredibly brave survivors of gender-based violence, Aisha and Katarzyna.
After 16 Days Campaign Organiser, Nhabeela Rahmatullah, gave a heartfelt introduction to the Campaign and explained why tackling GBV is so important to her and her fellow Campaign organisers, Ruth McQuaid took the floor.
Ruth, gave a stirring call-to-action for all those in and outside the criminal justice system. To do this, she emphasised the importance of understanding how inclusive gender-based violence is. By this, she meant that gender-based violence does not discriminate based on age, physical appearance, socio economic status, or even gender. But she made it a point to recognise that women are disproportionately affected by GBV, and therefore GBV should be tackled accordingly – and more robustly than it currently is. Ruth mentioned that this less-than-
robust treatment of domestic abuse, in particular, is often a problem of terminology – ‘domestic’. The comforting word ‘domestic’ should not be a word that perpetrators can hide behind, or a word that limits the criminal justice system or society’s role in combatting it. Abuse that happens between partners in a private residence, as well as abuse that is sexual in nature should not be considered a private matter. Ruth inspired us all by emphasising that it is all our duty to de-stigmatise the dialogue on and reactions to these forms of abuse.
Next, we heard from Detective Superintendent Gordon McCreadie as he presented information on the prevalence of domestic abuse in Scotland. He said that although Police Scotland accept domestic abuse remains significantly under-reported and that they continue to encourage reporting, it is still the single greatest demand on the service, taking up around 20% of all operational time. He also reported that on average there is one report of domestic abuse every 9 minutes and that on average it takes officers 9 hours to deal with a call of domestic abuse. That time does not even include time and resources spent on things such as follow up investigations, case writing and court preparation et cetera. Gordon admitted that (although it seems counterintuitive), the Police Service hopes to see a short term increase the number of domestic abuse reports – simply because that would indicate that this ‘dark figure’ of unreported domestic abuse incidents was finally being revealed and therefore enabling it to be addressed. He also discussed different barriers to reporting domestic abuse, the need for national consistency when it comes to addressing it, as well as the capability and capacity of Police Scotland to combat domestic abuse. Throughout he reiterated two things, the need for a focus on prevention in addition to intervention and also the importance of true collaboration. His presentation resulted in a shocked audience – we were all taken aback by the extent of domestic abuse problems in Scotland but impressed by the seriousness the police treated reports alongside partners.
After Gordon’s presentation, Thanos Karatzias gave a rigorous overview of the psychological trauma that results from interpersonal violence. He explained how major the effect of adult interpersonal violence is on children. Children witnessing abuse, Thanos revealed, is very common and very widespread. This trauma then can lead to depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder – which encompasses numerous behavioural and mental health issues. More than that, the audience learned that there is no behavioural problem which is not somehow associated with interpersonal childhood trauma. Although this topic is emotionally heavy, Thanos communicated his complex work on this topic poignantly and in a way that was easy to understand – a good example of that is his opening line: ‘adverse life events violate our positive perceptions of ourselves and other, and belief in a just, meaningful, and benign world’.
Becky Kaufman then took our attention and gave an impassioned speech on the dire state of affairs for those that are different or historically disenfranchised. Women are oppressed for being women, transgender people are oppressed for being transgender, non-gender conforming for being non-gender conforming, and the list goes on. Becky declared that we are at a nexus in history right now. We have unprecedented access to information and each other but we continue to strip the rights from the so-called ‘minority’, which in actuality just means the ‘Other’ – those that do not fit the rigid, normative identities that currently monopolise power and representation. Becky ended her inspirational talk by suggesting a way to go forward: ‘At the end of the day, to become better and stronger, we start with our children. We need to empower every single human being on the planet. We need to look at the hate-mongers and ask about the children. I have never met a child who had to be told how to love another person. Love is a natural instinct, hate has to be taught.’
The next two speakers were gender-based violence survivors. Katarzyna had experienced coercive control and physical violence at the hands of her ex-husband. And Aisha had experienced domestic abuse and female genital mutilation at the hands of her husbands and family. They bravely recounted their stories, which have caused them tremendous pain and fear for many years – even decades. We all applauded their courage and remain moved by their testimonies long after they finished telling them.
Following these stirring and enlightening talk we saw a short clip of Adam McVey (Edinburgh Council Leader) endorsing the Campaign and emphasising the importance of work and events like this.
And lastly, Linda Rodgers wrapped up the Launch by talking about the Violence Against Women Partnership and their developing services for GBV survivors. She also led us in a short workshop which prompted us to work collaboratively to identify ways to take concrete action against GBV within our community.
We ended the Launch by getting everyone to sign the 16 Days GBV Pledge – which states that those who sign, commit to helping eradicate GBV in their personal and professional lives. The pledge is a symbol of solidarity and commitment to living in a way which upholds equality, security, and safety for women, girls, and non-binary people around the world.