Speech on Domestic Abuse : Scottish Parliament 22nd. November 2007

Johann Lamont : As ever, it is an immense privilege to contribute to the
debate, which marks the United Nations 16 days of action on violence against women.
It is always important to remember the violence and fear that women and their children suffer.

We need to recognise the scourge that remains in far too many homes and take the opportunity to reinvigorate our commitment to act at every level of government and in our communities to eradicate the suffering that is the closest companion of too many families.
I appreciate the consensual approach that the minister has taken, but the irony is that domestic violence is a difficult issue—one that has not always gained the recognition or agreement that is often displayed in this place.

We must be alive to the fact that, although we seek consensus, the reality for women is of having to live in a world where they are not respected and where violence against women is a weapon of choice, not a matter of regret.
There was a time when domestic violence was not seen as a matter for politics.

We must commend those who forced the issue on to the political agenda.
We commend the women survivors and others who spoke out, organised, and reached out to other women and children.
We recognise that, far from being lauded for doing that, they were often condemned.
When they spoke, they revealed a dark truth about the nature of the power relationship between men and women, and the nature of power in our society.
It is important to look at the impact of domestic abuse on children, but we need to place that consideration in the context of the nature of domestic abuse, where women are overwhelmingly the victims and men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators.

We also need to place domestic abuse in the context of violence against women in all its forms, including prostitution and trafficking.
Violence against women is the sharpest confirmation of the fact that women remain unequal and that to live as a woman is to have more limited life chances and economic and other opportunities than a man.
We recognise the work of women in engaging in shaping policy at Scotland level.

We salute, too, the women on the front line, whether in the ASSIST project, Women's Aid, Say Women, or the national domestic violence helpline.
All those women work closely with some of the most vulnerable women in our communities, and they do so because they recognise the importance of that work.
They also work with women who are not seen as the victims of first regard.
We have to be conscious of the fact that groups such as Say Women, which have raised funding concerns, fear that the women with whom they work are seen as problematic and not necessarily worthy of sympathy.
The Labour amendment highlights the need "to review the effect of current enforcement measures" that seek to protect women and children.
In particular, it highlights the need for the equalities and justice portfolios to share responsibility rather than pass the buck. In conjunction with the ASSIST project, we need to support the roll-out of domestic abuse courts.
The project provides the critical risk assessment information that makes court decisions part of the solution rather than a means of reinforcing the problem for women and children.
I ask the minister to confirm that the Government recognises the critical value of multi-agency risk assessment work and multi-agency partnerships.
In particular, I ask the minister to respond to the concerns of the women's organisations that have expressed fears that the decision to lift ring fencing at the local level, particularly for supporting people, has the potential to wipe out all local women's aid provision and services.
I ask him to acknowledge—as those groups do—that ring fencing was put in place for a purpose, which is to protect services that are not necessarily popular at times of budget constraint.
Why was there no consultation with Women's Aid and others before the decision to lift ring fencing was taken?

Will women's groups and equalities groups be represented on the monitoring bodies that consider the single outcome agreements?
If the minister could point out the relevant outcome agreement in the concordat, as I have already asked him to do, that would be immensely helpful.
We also seek reassurance in relation to the prostitution legislation.

The challenge is not simply to legislate to support women who are suffering in prostitution, but to provide funding to support women out of prostitution.
What role will Scottish Enterprise and other agencies play in supporting those women's specific needs as they move into employment and in providing them with opportunities to move out of prostitution?
We seek the minister's assurance that the three-pronged approach continues, combining protection, prevention and provision.

I trust—the minister has given us some comfort in this regard—that he will support a review of all the enforcement measures and that justice measures will be seen as part of that process; not as a bonus to the courts in their support to the women, but as a critical means by which women as complainers achieve real access to justice in our courts.
Will the minister immediately address the funding concerns of a range of women's organisations that support vulnerable women?

Will he outline—and confirm—how his budget will deliver services and measures to address the broader issue of equalities and the rights of women across the range of our responsibilities, to ensure that in addressing those inequalities we begin to move the process on so that we can challenge the issues of violence against women, which are the sharpest and most difficult expression of violence in our communities and for vulnerable groups?
As I have said, there is an important debate to be held, but I challenge the minister to recognise that consensus is built through action, and I look forward to hearing about the actions that the Government will take.
I move the amendment, to insert after first "violence against women" :
"acknowledges the need to review the effect of current enforcement measures to tackle violence against women, in order to ensure that women and children receive the protection and security that they require".