Preventing Violence Against Women: Role of Men [4 February 2016]

It is genuinely a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship here today, Mrs Gillan. I am also grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) for securing this debate.

The debate is timely, given all that has transpired in Scotland over the past week and the media coverage that has focused on a certain individual whom we have come to know as Roosh V: a name that many people would not have been aware of until this week. Judging by the overwhelmingly negative public reaction to his media coverage, I can confidently declare that the vast majority of men are appalled at his suggestion that rape should be legal on private property. Roosh V’s views are clearly abhorrent, but the events organised in his name offer us an important reminder. No matter how much progress we have made or continue to make on preventing violence against women, we can never become complacent.

Unfortunately, the views of too many men remain stubbornly fixed in the ancient past, and sometimes such views will become uncomfortably apparent to us. We have all been there when—some day, some place—a person makes a joke that we find offensive. When we do not laugh or we perhaps express our dismay, the response is usually the same: “It’s just a joke”. However, we know better; it is not just a joke. It is a reflection of something deeply hidden: a misplaced and perhaps unintended view against a person, situation or aspect of life that we believe is not suitable to be mocked or laughed at.

Why is it, though, that I believe one thing and another person can be comfortable believing another? You may think in this Parliament that we might have a greater understanding of a person’s views and how they originate. After all, we as parliamentarians spend practically all our waking moments expressing our views, opinions and beliefs. But dissecting an opinion into its constituent parts to find the root cause is not an exact science. And so we all go on, stumbling in the dark, trying to understand the human condition.

What makes a man violent? What makes a man violent against a woman? Is it nature or nurture? Is violence a fundamental part of the male psyche? Does it emanate from prehistoric times when the leader of the tribe felt that violence was an acceptable tool at his disposal? If that were a simple truth, all men would be violent against women, and we know that that is not the case. So, rather than making excuses for the unforgivable behaviour of a minority of men, we need to address nurture and the reasons why some men are violent.

Violence is a choice. It is something undertaken by some men who continue to accept outdated views of women: views that should never have been tolerated in the first place. Other factors undoubtedly contribute to this choice, whether that is mental health issues, stress or substance abuse. Studies also suggest that exposure to domestic violence as a child increases the likelihood that an individual may be violent within their own family. We should be adamant, however, that while it is important to understand these factors, they can never be used to excuse or justify violence against women. Equally, we must recognise the scale of the problem, and the ramifications for individuals, families and the country if we fail to take effective action.

The white ribbon campaign reports that one in four women in the UK will experience physical abuse in their lifetime, with almost 1 million children in the UK witnessing domestic violence every year. Across the EU, it is estimated that around 62 million women have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15.

A consultation on a specific offence to tackle domestic abuse across Scotland was launched last December. The consultation is a significant leap forward in tackling domestic abuse in our communities. It will make Scotland world leading in responding to this most heinous of crimes and protecting those who are some of the most vulnerable in our society. Scotland will be one of only a handful of countries across the world to introduce dedicated legislation that will not only capture types of conduct that are already criminal, but other forms of psychological abuse and control that cannot usually be prosecuted under the existing criminal law.

There is also Clare’s law, which is being implemented across Scotland. Clare’s law allows people to contact the police and request information on their partner’s background if they suspect that they have a history of domestic abuse. The scheme was trialled for six months in Ayrshire and Aberdeen, with a total of 59 applications received and 22 disclosures made. Each case is considered carefully by Police Scotland and other agencies to determine whether disclosure is lawful, necessary and proportionate to protect the individual from their partner. The initiative was named after Clare Brown, who was murdered by her violent ex-boyfriend in Greater Manchester in 2009. She was unaware of his history of violence against women. The initiative was brought about as a result of a campaign led by Clare’s father, Michael Brown. It is a powerful example of men’s constructive role in preventing violence against women.

At a national level, the Scottish Government have shown a firm commitment to tackling domestic abuse. Between 2012 and 2015, more than £34 million has been invested in a range of measures to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls. Although this financial support is welcome, if the Scottish Government, or any Government, are to achieve its long-term goals of bringing about social, cultural and attitudinal change, men need to take a more active and positive role.

The role models of our young men should not be those who threaten and attack women. It must be those who are caring and take their family and community responsibilities seriously. Men are in a unique position to speak out and step in when male friends or relatives insult, abuse or attack women. By doing so, we can create a culture of zero tolerance and a culture that reflects the position of those who think that domestic abuse can never be justified.

Roosh V and his handful of supporters want us to regress to an earlier age. I stand alongside the vast majority of men who reject his views. It is encouraging that a growing number of men are finding their voice on this issue. With effective action, we can permanently change attitudes and ensure that violence against women is consigned to the past for ever.