ASLEF Consultation Response - Scottish Labour - Ending Violence Against Women & Girls

Scottish Labour consulted on their paper outlining how to end violence and sexual harassment against women and girls in Scotland
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Scottish Labour produced a paper and consultation on plans to tackle violence and sexual harassment against women and girls in Scotland.

The consultation closed 01/09/23 and below is ASLEF's response.


ASLEF Response – Scottish Labour Consultation Paper – How to Change the Future for Women & Girls

  1. The Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) is the UK’s largest train driver’s union representing just under 2,000 members in train operating and freight companies in Scotland. Of our membership just over 5% are women and we have highlighted the issues that women can face in the workplace in such male dominated job roles and work to address these issues with the employers and government.           
  2. We welcome Scottish Labour’s consultation paper on ending violence and sexual harassment against women and girls and commend the work that has been done to outline a holistic approach to addressing these issues that women and girls face in Scotland.         
  3. We have highlighted at STUC Women’s Conference how the Government’s Equally Safe Strategy has helped create a pathway to prosecute offenders and tackle some of the issues prevalent in society, however, despite a known increase in those seeking assistance for support around sexual harassment and violence  during the COVID-19 pandemic this did not result in an increase in reporting to the police and we welcome Scottish Labours efforts to try and tackle the barriers which stop victims from reporting the abuse and violence that they receive to build upon the work of the Equally Safe Strategy.              

Young Women and Sexual Harassment         

Question 1: How can we tackle these issues with young men and women? Is this key to long-term change?

  1. We believe that a holistic approach needs to be taken to tackle these issues with young men and women through the regulation of social media, improvements to the school curriculum and targeted community services.       
  2. The Equally Safe at school programme has brought with it some success as was highlighted by the outcomes of the pilot programmes and the subsequent uptake by other schools. Ultimately we believe this needs to be expanded upon and will go in to further detail under question 2.   
  3. Alongside education in schools, more should be done to reach young people in their communities through the use of community centres and youth centres. Where a local authority has control / ownership of a community/youth centre that is used by a third party for youth services it could be insisted upon by the authority that the third party promotes the work of or uses an accredited module from a certified organisation such as equally safe at school which addresses violence against women and girls, to expand the work to tackle these issues beyond schools.        
  4. The prolific use of mobile devices and social media among young people has unfortunately led to increases in revenge porn, which in itself is often the tip of the iceberg with other forms of online abuse such as trolling, cyberstalking and threats of violence and sexual violence being disproportionately targeted at women and girls. This highlights the need as outlined by the Equally Safe Strategy for early interventions to stop abuse escalating, this in part can be addressed via the work in schools and communities to bring about a cultural change to not view sexual harassment as the norm among  young people as revealed by Professor Kirstin Mitchell’s investigation[1].    
  5. The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced a way to prosecute those abusing women through the use of revenge porn, we have however seen many victims deciding not to pursue their case whilst revenge porn itself has increased year on year[2]. This in part highlights the issues with the justice system with many cases not being dealt with in a timely manner and highlights that simply introducing legislation to enable prosecution isn’t enough and that, as outlined above, more needs to be done to address behaviours and attitudes, particularly at a young age to stop abuse being seen as the norm and escalating to violence.       
  6. Further to education, community outreach and prosecution of perpetrators, more needs to be done to ensure that social media owners protect their users from abusers. We will expand upon this under question 2 of the next section  
  7. Ultimately we believe the need to tackle the delays and issues experienced in the justice system along with the work to address and change attitudes and behaviours among young people via schools and youth community groups will be key to long-term change.            

Question 2: What have been the benefits of the Equally Safe programme in schools? How could these be built upon or developed further? Should there be a programme built into the school curriculum?         

  1.  As outlined above, we believe the Equally Safe programme is a successful initiative and ultimately should be expanded to reach more young people. We hope that in the coming years the benefits of this programme will be felt through cultural changes to the acceptability of sexual harassment amongst young people in Scotland. Perhaps a follow up of Professor Mitchell’s survey could be carried out to measure any progress in attitudes among young people.
  2. Currently not all schools are opted in to the programme we believe this should be expanded or at the least the schools encouraged to opt in. Beyond this, building in the programme to the curriculum would ensure that the same lessons will be taught to all young people in Scotland, allowing the programme to reach more people and ensure a consistent message is heard across the nation.   

Online Crime

Question 1: Does the new Online Safety Bill do enough to protect girls and women from online abuse / sexual abuse? Should the offence of ‘cyberflashing’ be created for Scotland?

  1. The online Safety Bill looks to, in the first instance, enforce restrictions on children under 13 opening accounts by ensuring social media companies are enforcing age limits. Whilst this is a step towards protecting children from harmful content it does not address the real issue which leads to the harmful content being created and shared. We hope that, as outlined above, efforts to change the culture around violence against women and girls can be used in tandem with legislation such as the Online Safety Bill to protect women and girls from online abuse / sexual abuse.     
  2. The Online Safety Bill takes steps towards protecting women and girls by enabling them to stop anonymous trolls from contacting them by filtering out unverified users and requiring social media companies to assess how their platforms allow abusers to create anonymous profiles and take steps to ban repeat offenders. This however does not address the main issue which is the culture towards women and girls with many girls in particular experiencing abuse from people that they know, so whilst they will be able to stop anonymous abuse they can still receive it from people they know, with the abuse being felt and impacting on the victim before it is removed by the social media company.            
  3. Ultimately we believe that legislation alone can’t protect women and girls and work is needed to change cultures through education in schools, community interventions and a shift across the whole of Scotland as to what is viewed as acceptable behaviour.           
  4. Whilst the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 made it illegal to coerce a person into looking at a sexual image, which would cover ‘cyberflashing’, it was not introduced to address cyberflashing specifically as the technical capability for such offences to be committed was not the same then as it is now with smart phones becoming the norm in the years since. Currently, the law frames cyberflashing as a sexual offence with a potential penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment, whereas cyberflashing in England and Wales carries a penalty of up to two years.        
  5.  Unfortunately there has been a rise in reports of cyberflashing in Scotland with only one in 20 reports resulting in a conviction[3] further investigation is needed in to whether the thresholds for prosecution are too high for cyberflashing under Section 6 of the Sexual Offences Act 2009. Thought needs to also be given to the changed use of technology as to whether it would be sensible to introduce the offence of cyberflashing in Scotland with appropriate thresholds to ensure that perpetrators can be prosecuted, this could address the barriers that prevent the many reported cases being pursued and the perpetrators convicted. This could also help to reduce the frequencies of this offence once prosecutions begin to take place. The fact that three quarters of teenage girls have been sent unsolicited nude photos[4] highlights how cyberflashing itself presents an issue serious enough for it to be a specific offence in Scotland, with the further investigations feeding in to the writing of a Scotland specific legislation to ensure perpetrators are prosecuted. 
  6. With the introduction of new technologies we have seen the use of ‘deepfakes’ and in response amendments to the Online Safety Bill have been tabled to address this[5]. When considering the introduction of a new offence for cyberflashing it is also worth reviewing current legislation to see if it is adequate to keep up with developments in technology. 

Question 2: What further types of technology could be used to keep women and girls safe online? What could be done specifically in Scotland to better address and tackle online/cyber sexual crime?

  1. From our perspective as a rail union, the British Transport Police can work in conjunction with rail operators and Police Scotland to assist in tackling and prosecuting offenders through the use of extensive CCTV networks at stations on trains and with the use of bodycameras worn by staff at stations and on-board services, where it is agreed. This collaborative working will help stop and prosecute abusers who carry out their crimes such as cyberflashing via Bluetooth / airdropping whilst on trains.
  2. Police Scotland could invest more resources into addressing and tackling online/cyber sexual crimes and build upon advertising campaigns such as their campaign targeting online sexual predators[6] to create awareness of their initiatives to tackle crime in conjunction with appropriate charities such as Stop It Now! Scotland[7].   


Domestic Abuse

Question 1: Are there ways that Clare’s Law could be strengthened? Should Clare’s Law be reviewed to encourage police officers to proactively visit the new partners of those convicted of domestic abuse?

  1. It is possible to strengthen Clare’s Law by reducing the timeframe for police to disclose information about an individual’s violent or abusive behaviour, this is something that the UK Government has indicated it is intending to do[8] this should also be applied to guidance for Police Scotland.       
  2. Whilst half of domestic violence incidents reported in 2020-21 were committed by reoffenders, we think more work is needed via the Caledonian System to address this issue rather than police officers proactively visiting new partners of those convicted of domestic abuse. This is due to the complications that proactive visits would cause with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the need for the police to exercise their powers in conformity to relevancy, necessity and proportionality.

Question 2: Do you think the Caledonian System should be more widespread? Should there be more programmes to work with men who have perpetrated domestic abuse in order to cut rates of re-offending?

  1. The Caledonian System offers a way to provide support to women and children whilst working to address the behaviour of abusive men, this in our view should be more widespread rather than reviewing Clare’s Law to introduce proactive visits.
  2. In the first instance the Caledonian System should be expanded to all authorities as soon as is practicably possible. With a view for Police Scotland to work with local authorities to encourage men reported to have been abusive to self-refer to the system to try and encourage behaviour change and capture abusers before their abuse escalates and results in criminal convictions and prison sentences.


Men’s responsibility

Question 1: Are there new offences that would assist in combatting violence against women? If so, what types?

  1. The introduction of a Misogyny and Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act inclusive of a new offence of stirring up hatred against women as recommended by the Misogyny – A Human Rights Issue report[9] would help to tackle the recent growth in misogyny on social media platforms.

Question 2: How else can we tackle society’s attitudes to abuse and violence against women?

  1. Work needs to be done to counter the toxic influence that certain social media ‘influencers’ have on young men in encouraging misogyny as seen recently with Andrew Tate amongst others. This can be addressed in part through education and the use of the Equally Safe Programme but it also requires work to change attitudes in society.            
  2. These societal changes can be delivered in part through advertising campaigns which increase awareness of misogyny and by the public broadcaster producing and broadcasting content which does not promote misogyny and promotes changes to attitudes and behaviours with regards to misogyny.     
  3. Along these lines the public broadcaster could also promote and broadcast content which utilises men’s’ voices in speaking up against violence against women. In particular, to reach younger men and boys, social media content would need to be created to reach them on their platforms of choice and to counter the toxic right wing misogyny which can be promoted on social media.     

 Women’s Experience of the Justice System

Question 1: Do you believe that court backlogs will discourage women from reporting sexual offences?

  1. The backlogs will naturally discourage women from reporting sexual offences if they believe or even know that they will be left waiting a long time for their case to be resolved, particularly when the offender is known to the victim and they have a personal relationship with them. The torment that the victim could be faced with of having to potentially interact with their offender or friends / acquaintances of the offender whilst pending a case to be resolved with the current backlog not expected to be cleared until 2026 could discourage reporting.            
  2. Whilst the backlogs can discourage women, the low conviction rates and a belief of not being taken seriously by the police or the courts can also discourage women from reporting sexual offences, these can be combatted via some of the points we have made above through societal change and education.

Question 2: Do you believe court backlogs may discourage victims from pursuing justice, and withdrawing from the court system?

  1. As mentioned under point 27 when the victim knows their offender, the torment that the slow judicial system can have on them could discourage the victim from pursuing justice and they could be encouraged to take the quickest route out and may withdraw from the court system.

Question 3: What measures could be taken to improve women’s experience of the justice system when they report a sexual offence?

  1. Building upon and delivering some of the recommendations of Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain KC would be a good first step with the complainer having the right not to be identified expressly set out in legislation.
  2. Coupled with the above recommendation, ensuring that juries are given plain language directions and rape myths and stereotypes are explained to jurors to avoid misconceptions and prejudices clouding their judgment will help to improve women’s experiences of the justice system by helping to avoid the continuation of any victim blaming cultures.


Proposals for Justice Reform   

Question 1: would a pilot for single-judge trials for sexual offences be justified due to the long delays before cases come to trial and due to the disproportionate impact this has on women and children? What is the risk to fairness for the accused if juries were removed?            

  1. Whilst the recommendations from Lady Dorrian’s Review provide steps to begin to address the cultures and backlogs which impact on the managing of sexual offence cases, we hold concerns with serious sexual offences being tried by a single judge. As such serious cases such as rape would be best handled with a jury to remain compliant with Article 6 of the ECHR convention.   
  2. We are disappointed that we are in a situation where the use of single-judge trials is being considered to clear a backlog however due to the issues this backlog can cause for women and girls in Scotland we would be cautiously open to a pilot being run if it can be shown to be fully compliant with Article 6 of the ECHR.         
  3. Any case relating to a serious offence should ideally not be tried by just one judge as this leave the judicial system open to abuse by a prejudiced judge and could also result in the convicted person launching appeals due to a perceived lack of fairness in their trial due to the removal of a jury. The jury in such cases can all bring with them their unconscious biases with but the fact that there are 15 people in the room helps to balance out any preconceptions or biases, especially if the recommendations from point 32 are implemented. As such we are cautious to this approach but understand its suggestion due to the current backlog.  

Question 2: Would it be beneficial to establish a new specialist criminal court dealing with serious sexual offences?

  1. Unfortunately due to the high level of sexual crimes that the High Court presently deals with, it can almost be considered a specialised court. Whilst we understand the current requirements to clear the backlog we are concerned that creating a separate criminal court to deal with serious sexual offences could result in a court that is perceived to hold less weight than the High Court.     
  2. We would be cautious of multiple specialist courts being created to deal with specific types of crime as and when society changes and certain crimes become prevalent and end up taking up the majority of the High Court’s time.           
  3.  Whilst we have outlined the concerns above, it could be beneficial to establish a specialist court, assuming it is appropriately staffed and resourced, to tackle the backlog if it was made clear that the court had the same weight of the High Court. Ultimately though, the current backlog is a failing of the current judicial system and simply creating a separate court does not necessarily address the issues which have led to this backlog building.        

Street Harassment

Question 1: Do you agree that there should be a new offence to deal with street harassment in Scotland?

  1. We are in agreement with Scottish Labour that the offence of street sexual harassment should be introduced, learning the lessons from a similar offence’s introduction in France.

Question 2: What other measures do you think might help women to feel safer on our streets?

  1. Measures beyond those already mentioned can be simple steps such as ensuring that streets are well lit and maintained to discourage abusers from feeling safe in being hidden when engaging in street harassment but it is hoped that with a cultural change from the other measures, these behaviours will begin to change.     
  2. Better lit public streets delivered alongside a street sexual harassment offence which is introduced with lots of publicity and awareness campaigns should help women to feel safer on Scotland’s streets.


Lack of Data on Violence against BME and Disabled Women and Girls          

Question 1: What are the ways in which policy making would benefit from more data, with the goal to bringing down the levels of violence against women and girls in BME communities as well as disabled women and girls?

    1. Policy making would benefit from knowing the extent or at least the reported / expected level of violence against women and girls in BME communities as well as disabled women and girls. A lack of this data will mean that any solutions presented will be generalised and may miss opportunities to tackle issues which are specific to BME communities and disabled women and girls.     
    2. We know from other studies such as Amnesty International’s 2018 study that black UK women are 84%[10] more likely to experience online abuse than white women. More data that specifically looks at the intersectionality of misogyny would enable policy makers to tackle the issue holistically. Along these lines Glitch have recently published their Digital Misogynoir Report[11] which analysed almost one million social media posts to examine the widespread prevalence of digital misogyny that targets black women. Working with such organisation to encourage their research will help policy makers to address the issues face by BME women which these reports highlight.


Question 2: What other ways are there to bring down the levels of violence against disabled women and girls as well as women and girls in BME communities?

    1.  In the first instance the implementation of proposals listed in this response will help to bring down levels of violence against women and girls across the board.   
    2. In terms of more targeted approaches, buy in from BME communities and targeted awareness campaigns and community outreach will help to change attitudes and normalised behaviours towards women and girls.        

Mick Whelan
General Secretary
77 St John Street