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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, September 22, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 22 September 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Standing Safe Campaign, Business Motion, Local Taxation, Events, General Question Time, Decision Time


Contents


Standing Safe Campaign

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-01290, in the name of Margaret Mitchell, on the standing safe campaign. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the campaign Standing Safe, which is being launched by the University of the West of Scotland on 14 September 2016; understands that the campaign is a student-staff partnership initiative raising awareness about and warning against sexual violence on campus; notes that the campaign states that incidents of sexual violence have seen an upward trend in Scotland since records began in 1971; acknowledges that the campaign, which will be led by students across the university’s different schools and supported by the university’s senior management, the Dean of Students, Student Services, SAUWS and Student Ambassadors, aims to address peer-on-peer violence in universities; recognises that it has established a number of external links, including with Lanarkshire Rape Crisis Scotland and NHS Lanarkshire, with the purpose of working collaboratively through focus groups and student-led workshops to tackle sexual violence on campuses and the harmful attitudes that underpin it; further understands that a collaboration with local artists as a means of providing the students with learning experiences is planned; wishes all those involved in the campaign success across all the university's campuses, including the campus in Hamilton, and notes the view that other university campuses across Scotland would benefit from a similar campaign.

12:48  

I welcome to the Parliament Dr Kallia Manoussaki and students from the University of the West of Scotland who have been involved in the launch of the standing safe campaign. In particular, I commend Kallia for the invaluable work that she has done, which has led to the promotion of the campaign.

I pay tribute to the University of the West of Scotland for being prepared to raise its head above the parapet and highlight and seek to address the issue of sexual violence on university and higher education campuses. That is known to be an issue not just in the United Kingdom but worldwide, but the university’s public acknowledgement of the problem has led to both the issue being debated today and the recent launch of the campaign.

By way of background, according to Scottish Government statistics, since records began 45 years ago in 1971 there has been a continuous upward increase in the number of incidents of sexual violence, including rape and sexual assault, in Scotland. The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 was passed in response to the worrying increase in the number of sexual offences. The legislation aims to provide a more robust legal framework in which to deal with perpetrators.

To recap, sexual violence and harassment is a widespread, yet largely hidden, problem, which is no respecter of persons as victims are drawn from diverse backgrounds. It is a sobering revelation that—according to Rape Crisis, which commented in a recent BBC report—one in seven female students experiences sexual violence and/or sexual assault while at university, and that 68 per cent have experienced sexual harassment. Those figures do not include the sexual harassment and violence experienced by men.

Quite simply, if it is already recognised that such incidents are prevalent in the student age group and at that stage of life, it makes absolute sense for universities and further education institutions, whose ultimate goal is to educate, to address the issue with their student populations. However, there is a concerning lack of specific and explicit guidelines to which student victims of sexual assault can be referred for support. Most UK universities lack a clear strategy to support students to learn about and tackle the root causes of sexual violence and to understand what they can do about it.

All of that brings me to the launch of the standing safe campaign on 14 September at the University of the West of Scotland’s Paisley campus, which I was delighted to participate in as the convener of the Justice Committee. The campaign is a student-led initiative in which students, aided and facilitated by staff, are working in partnership with key stakeholders such as the Lanarkshire rape crisis centre and the NHS Lanarkshire gender-based violence prevention unit.

The aim of the campaign, through focus groups and student-led workshops, is to tackle sexual violence and harassment on campus by crucially addressing the harmful attitudes that underpin it. Sadly, those attitudes are not new and are linked to rape myths and victim blaming. The project seeks to aid students’ learning through collaborative working and employing innovative ways of engaging with students such as the use of creative artwork.

The standing safe campaign has three main aims: to engage students in an attempt to make them analyse and think about ways to change attitudes that can be harmful; to support and teach about safe bystander intervention; and to provide a practical toolkit to ensure that students know how to access help should they require it.

To further those aims, at the campaign launch last week, Ann Hayne, the manager of the NHS Lanarkshire gender-based violence unit, gave a fascinating presentation on how to help victims to cope with and recover from trauma, which is a crucial factor for them to deal with in order to move on with their lives.

The unit has produced an excellent award-winning video of an animated film called “Trauma and the Brain”. Police Scotland is using the video to train officers, which is a mark of its practical value. Promoting the video among the student population and making it available to student counselling services is just one example of the innovative and collaborative working that is at the core of the campaign.

In conclusion, the University of the West of Scotland’s standing safe campaign represents an immensely important and groundbreaking initiative that will potentially lead to identification, early intervention and, crucially, the prevention of sexual violence and harassment on UK campuses.

It is to be hoped that, by tackling harmful attitudes within the 17 to 25 age group, we can reduce instances of sexual violence not just for this generation but for future generations of students as they go on to enter the world of work as adults. However, that will happen only if other further education campuses adopt a similar campaign.

It is a privilege to have had the opportunity to raise awareness of this pioneering campaign through today’s parliamentary debate and to give my whole-hearted support to it.

I welcome you to your role as convener of the Justice Committee. I enjoyed that role and I am a bit regretful that I cannot do it any more.

12:55  

I welcome Margaret Mitchell’s debate on this subject. She and I attended the event in Paisley last week. I want to acknowledge the work of Hannah Brown and the stamp out media patriarchy—STAMP—group, the Students Association of the University of the West of Scotland and the staff who are working with them to change attitudes at university.

As a former co-convener of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on men’s violence against women, and as a campaigner on the issue, I believe that a woman’s right to feel confident about her own safety—to stand safe—should be automatic. However, of course, it is not. That is why I have campaigned to get Clare’s law enforced in Scotland and to make revenge porn a criminal offence, working with a range of statutory and voluntary agencies to keep on getting across the message that sexual violence against women has no place in Scotland, including in its universities, colleges and other learning establishments.

It is never okay to use violence on someone in any context. However, the reality remains that at least one in every four women in this country will encounter some sort of sexual violence in their life. There is still a stigma about being a victim, and we hear a lot about victim blaming, the underlying message of which, even though it is rarely stated, is that somehow the incident was the woman’s fault and that she really wanted it. No, she did not. Not in any way did she. She took the violence only because there was no possibility of her fighting against it. She was just as much the victim as the elderly priest who was shot in France recently. Sexual violence can be as fatal as that gunshot.

I joined the staff and the students at the University of the West of Scotland’s Paisley campus last week, along with my colleague Margaret Mitchell, and I think that we learned more from them than we gave to them, and we are grateful for that. They were launching their own standing safe campaign—a microcosm and a great example of how we can work together to raise awareness while shifting attitudes on gender-based violence and forcing it out of our lives so that it is no longer the natural consequence of an old firm match or a joke to snigger over in the pub. If we can get to that place, we will see a real sea change. There is a movement—a shift—that is kicking down the historical tolerance of sexual violence, and I think that campaigns such as the one that we are discussing today are exemplars of that change.

In the Scottish Parliament, we are setting out a concrete, visible series of measures that are designed to get us closer to that ultimate aim of personal safety and of ensuring that people can stand safe from any violent or sexual assault. I am sure that members across all parties will work together to ensure that that happens.

Just last week, we were in the chamber debating the potential of a new specific criminal offence of domestic violence. That legislation will help to bring justice for victims and will also cover sexual violence of the mental and emotional kind—coercive behaviour of the sort that young people can experience when they are at university. They are coerced and then they think, “My goodness, I cannot be a victim”, but they are a victim, and we need to show that they are and blaze that trail.

The only effective method of creating a safe environment is to use two complementary sets of tools: local community groups working to eliminate this criminality; and a clear justice system that works to enforce the law. I am sure that Margaret Mitchell will take forward that endeavour with great gusto.

The Scottish Government has achieved a lot and continues to argue for more protection for victims and a more robust legal system that can deliver guilty verdicts for a very precise crime of sexual violence. I really welcome the work of STAMP, the UWS students and their staff and partners.

All of us who are involved in whatever way in working towards the eradication of these heinous attacks stand safely together. Having the right legislation in place is important and so is the kind of community action that standing safe is promoting. As a result of awareness raising and through peer contact, young people will be better able to protect themselves from risk, and those who suffer will have better access to support services. Further, hopefully, they will not be bystanders.

I am a realist. I do not think that men’s violence against women is suddenly going to end, but I firmly believe that we are on the right road towards making it completely and totally unacceptable. There is no acceptable level of sexually motivated gender-based violence. I hope that we all stand safe with the students of the University of the West of Scotland.

13:00  

The motion lodged by my colleague Margaret Mitchell comes at a particularly relevant time as Scotland continues to suffer from a reported upward trend in sexual violence. As my colleague said, it is worrying that the number of reported sexual assault crimes has increased by 10 per cent over the past 10 years, including a 9 per cent rise in the year to 2015. Reported rape and attempted rape continues to follow the same pattern, including a 5 per cent rise over the same year.

Colleagues will surely agree that those figures are stark and paint a picture of Scotland as a country that is failing to deal with the problem. As one of my party’s spokesmen on justice issues, I want effective efforts to be made to tackle the root causes of that. Laws alone cannot do that, and I am pleased that today we are paying tribute to a campaign that recognises that and seeks to address the root causes.

When it comes to sexual violence, a particularly vulnerable demographic is the 17 to 25 age group. That is a time in a young person’s life when they are finding themselves as a human being in many senses. Sexuality is part of that and can be greatly affected by circumstances. As young people leave school, many will be leaving home for the first time and will come into closer contact with their peers and generally have greater flexibility to do what they want without seeking parental guidance.

Young people can sometimes be impressionable and open to views both good and bad, which can set them on different courses. Without a guiding hand, a combination of those factors can pose dangers for some. That can happen even when they have grown up with the benefit of good moral principles. What is often missing is a means through which mutuality, fairness and respect can raise awareness among those who are at risk of causing danger to others and themselves.

Sadly, as has been said, a culture of victim blaming continues to exist in some parts of society, which can lead to people taking the wrong path and one that they will later come to regret. At the same time, there are those who suffer sexual violence or are close to those who are the victims of sexual violence. Such experiences can deeply affect and change lives for the worse. Again, we must ensure that there are adequate resources to help victims and potential victims who, with some guidance, can avoid finding themselves in situations that they cannot get out of.

The standing safe campaign is a joint effort of the staff and students of the University of the West of Scotland. By working with experienced external organisations such as Lanarkshire rape crisis centre and NHS Lanarkshire, the campaign can bring extensive experience and ability with these issues to the university campus. That experience is being used to deliver a number of innovative projects that seek to inform the students. As Margaret Mitchell said, there have been focus groups, workshops and social events.

I thank all those who have been involved in the project, and Margaret Mitchell for bringing the matter to the Scottish Parliament. As I have pointed out, sexual violence is moving in the wrong direction and we will not tackle its prevalence in society without looking at the full picture. I therefore welcome the joined-up approach of the standing safe campaign in tackling the causes as well as the consequences of sexual violence among a particularly at-risk age group. I hope that this framework can provide some inspiration elsewhere, where it may be helpful in other university contexts.

I repeat my thanks to all those who are involved in the project and wish them the best in their endeavours.

13:04  

I thank Margaret Mitchell for bringing the debate to the Parliament and highlighting the work of the students and the campaign at the University of the West of Scotland.

The years spent at college and university are meant to be life expanding, stimulating and very challenging. They are often remembered fondly as a time in a person’s life when they had fewer responsibilities, good times with new friends and studied and achieved goals and qualifications that supported them throughout their lives. For too many women that is not the case, and sexual violence and harassment are a serious threat on campuses across Scotland.

Reported crime in Scotland may be at a 40-year low, but crimes of sexual violence, domestic abuse and rape are on the increase, even though they are historically underreported crimes.

The recent figures on the introduction of Clare’s law reveal that almost 1,000 women in Scotland felt the need to check their partner’s history, and that 42 per cent of them received information about a potentially dangerous partner. That has shown the importance of transparency and the law’s relevance to students, given that they are often away from their own community and familiar networks.

It is difficult to accurately measure the scale of the problem of sexual violence on campus, but research carried out by The Telegraph suggested that a third of female students had experienced sexual assault or harassment as a student. Research also suggests that stalking, which is often a precursor to sexual violence, is high among student populations.

Although there is a lack of recent data, the National Union of Students 2010 study “Hidden Marks: a study of women students’ experiences of harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault” showed that the perpetrator in 60 per cent of sexual assault or stalking cases was a student, and that in 49 per cent of those cases they were at the same institution.

Sexual violence can have a devastating impact on someone. Although most cases involve a male perpetrator and a female victim, I recognise the vulnerability of all students to sexual violence and the need to challenge threatening behaviour.

Universities and colleges must tackle sexual violence; they must have clear pathways for students to raise concerns, so that the students can be confident that their complaints are taken seriously. Institutions must not shy away from strongly challenging unacceptable behaviour. An institution’s reputation is vital to the recruitment process and its international standing, and there are concerns that some cases are downplayed. That is not acceptable. I welcome the positive examples of some universities in Scotland taking a very strong position on unacceptable behaviour.

There is a need for more significant cultural change, which will be difficult to achieve, but it is crucial if we are to see a reduction in the figures. The rise in lad culture has led to everyday sexism often being laughed off and accepted, leaving women—often young women who are away from home for the very first time—being verbally assaulted and sexually molested.

The crime pattern is changing. We have seen an increase in hate crimes and sexual crimes. Indeed, crimes that are in many ways more individual and intimate are on the increase. The environment in further and higher education institutions can leave women vulnerable and at risk. It is to be welcomed that universities and colleges are taking proactive steps to make it clear that sexual assault and violence will be correctly dealt with as criminal matters and that there will be steps to support victims and to challenge a culture of accepting sexual harassment.

Institutions have a duty to ensure a safe environment for all their students and campus campaigns have a key role to play in making sexual violence and harassment unacceptable and taking positive steps to change our culture. Although campuses have a unique set of circumstances in terms of the age profile and living arrangements of students, their behaviour does not happen in isolation. We all have a responsibility to challenge sexism and misogyny in our society—attitudes that underpin much of the unacceptable behaviour—and make our society safer and more equal for all our sons and daughters.

13:09  

I welcome Margaret Mitchell’s motion and restate this Government’s full support for it. I join her in welcoming the staff and students from the University of the West of Scotland to the chamber today.

Violence against women and girls is a fundamental breach of human rights, and we are committed to doing all that we can to prevent and ultimately eradicate it. Sexual violence causes untold trauma to victims and to survivors. Let us be clear: it is not about sex; it is about power and control. The victims of rape and sexual assault are almost always female, which demonstrates clearly that this is an issue of gender inequality that is based on the norms and the assumptions of our society.

As Margaret Mitchell, Christina McKelvie and Gordon Lindhurst mentioned, there is still too often a focus on the victim’s behaviour and choices, rather than the perpetrator’s behaviour and choices. We must continue to challenge those norms and assumptions because there is simply no excuse for sexual violence, and perpetrators of such violence must be fully held to account for their actions.

That work has to start early—indeed, even earlier than university. We are working to tackle gender norms and stereotypes in schools so that children and young people can enjoy mutually respectful, responsible and confident relationships with their peers.

In 2014, we published updated guidance that encourages respect from an early age and supports teachers dealing with the issues in schools. We also support initiatives in schools, including Rape Crisis Scotland’s national sexual violence prevention programme, and are providing additional funding to accelerate delivery of the mentors in violence prevention programme across schools in Scotland. That programme aims to engage more young people across secondary schools to talk about gender-based violence because we want young people throughout Scotland—no matter where they go after school—to be aware of the issues, have the opportunity to consider and challenge the thinking behind them in a safe and open dialogue and be empowered to stand by their peers and be leaders among them to effect social change.

Through that work, we want to create the conditions for young adults who enter further and higher education to have healthy respect for others and an understanding of consent, but there remains much to do. Rape and sexual assault reports have steadily increased year on year. We believe that that is partly due to more people feeling confident of reporting. Initiatives such as Rape Crisis Scotland’s support to report project have made a significant difference. However, one incident of sexual violence is one too many, and we must make further progress to stamp it out for good. That is why I commend the University of the West of Scotland on the standing safe campaign and its strong focus on prevention and early intervention.

As I have had the pleasure of visiting university and college campuses over the past couple of weeks during the freshers fairs, I have been struck once again by the importance of the campaign. Claire Baker summed up nicely how students—both male and female—feel about the excitement of their new stage in life, which must be how we see the time at university.

The standing safe campaign is a fine example of a collaborative, university-led approach to the issues. That aligns with the Government’s equally safe strategy for preventing and eradicating all forms of violence against women and girls. Our strategy takes a gendered approach that recognises the fact that systemic women’s inequality is at the heart of the problem and that a focus on changing attitudes and tackling inequality is needed. That is as true on our campuses as it is elsewhere in society. Only through that will we achieve our vision of a strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and respected and where women and girls live free from all forms of violence and abuse and from the attitudes that help to perpetuate them.

Under that strategy, we are taking action. Last year, the First Minister announced an additional £20 million over the period 2015 to 2018 to tackle violence against women and girls and put in place better support for survivors. Furthermore, £1.85 million has been allocated for Rape Crisis Scotland to enhance awareness and the support that is available for survivors of sexual violence across the country.

In addition, we have allocated just over £292,000 this year to the University of Strathclyde to develop a toolkit for the prevention of violence against women, for the purposes of embedding the equally safe strategy in higher education institutions. The University of the West of Scotland will have much to offer the development of that programme through its standing safe campaign. The University of Strathclyde project that we are funding is considering all forms of violence against women and girls—including domestic abuse, which some young people will also experience.

In the recent programme for government, the First Minister confirmed that a domestic abuse bill would be introduced in the coming parliamentary year that will make Scotland one of only a handful of countries around the world to have criminalised psychological abuse and coercive control. The creation of that new offence will bring clarity for victims so that they can see explicitly that what their partner is doing, or their ex-partner has done, to them is wrong and can be dealt with under the law. It will also improve the police’s ability to intervene in specific cases.

Through explicit acknowledgement that psychological abuse is a criminal offence and is unacceptable, we aim to shape and develop society’s attitude towards what is domestic abuse. That was debated in Parliament last week, and I am very pleased that the Government’s motion received unanimous support across the chamber.

We are strengthening the law in other areas, too. The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016—the Parliament passed the bill in March—creates a specific offence of sharing private intimate images without consent. It also includes statutory jury directions for certain sexual offence cases, and we are taking the necessary steps to enable the act to be commenced in the first part of 2017.

I conclude by reiterating the Government’s strong support for Margaret Mitchell’s motion, for the work of the University of the West of Scotland and, indeed, for everyone in the further and higher education sector who is taking action in this field. It is for all of us to play a part in creating a Scotland that is truly equally safe for all.

Thank you. That concludes the debate. I suspend the meeting until 2 pm.

13:16 Meeting suspended.  

14:00 On resuming—