Gina Davidson: The male ‘ownership’ mindset must change

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HE will get a life sentence for murder. It’s the least you would expect when a man douses a woman in petrol and sets her alight.

And thankfully it was a British court which tried Ahmad Yazdanparast for the killing of his ex-wife Ahdieh Khayatzadeh in her Stirling beauty salon. If they had been living elsewhere, let’s say Pakistan, then it is likely that next to nothing would have happened.

It would have been his right as a man to treat his “property” in any way he chose – just ask the father of pregnant, 25-year-old Farzana Parveen, whom he stoned to death alongside her brothers and a former fiancé – in front of police and outside a Pakistani court – because she married a man she loved.

But let’s not get smug. When women are subjected to violence in this country so regularly that it now goes by an acronym VAW, things are far from right. When on Twitter there’s a feed which counts the number of women who die through male violence – 63 so far between January and May, that’s one woman every 2.4 days – then things are deeply wrong.

Yes it’s true that young men are still more likely to be victims of violence, at the hands of other men, mostly strangers and drunken ones at that. Such appalling acts are tied up with low self-esteem and status, with society’s warped view of what being a “man” is all about, and with alcohol.

For women however, violence and the threat of it is insidiously prevalent given that includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape, female genital mutilation, forced marriage, stalking, commercial sexual exploitation, murder in the name of “honour” and domestic abuse.

And women who are killed are most likely to have been killed by a man they know. Statistics suggest that 78 per cent of murdered women are killed by someone they know – most likely a partner or former partner.

How can it be that in the 21st century, in one of the richest, most liberal countries of the world, women are subjected to such violence? Not just from strangers, but from men who are family, who are supposed to love them?

Unsurprisingly violence against women has been historically ignored, seen solely as a “women’s issue”. That, thankfully, is changing due to massive campaigning and by recognition in police forces that a “domestic” is actually an assault. Edinburgh police’s recent crackdown on domestic abuse is proving extremely successful, in particular in making sure the past victims of abusers are traced and able to give evidence in the hope of showing a pattern of dangerous behaviour which will lead to lengthier sentences.

It’s the punishment meted out to the perpetrators of violence where the real problem lies. While Yazdanparast will be in jail for a very long time, many other incidents of VAW are not dealt with in the same robust manner by our courts.

Mohammad Ashraf, pictured right, was jailed for just five years this week for the rape of a 14-year-old girl in his Edinburgh flat. Five years for an attack which the teenager will have to carry with her all her life, which could realistically destroy any chance of her having a normal relationship with a man in the future. And yet he’ll likely be out in half that time.

The High Court in Edinburgh this week also sentenced another man, Jimmy Sainte, to six years in jail for the repeated rape of a seven-year-old girl whom he babysat. Six years for a violent, paedophile act? It’s not enough.

And serial sex attacker Michael McGowan who raped a primary schoolgirl and assaulted four other young girls for more than a decade – he was sentenced to ten-and-a-half years. Again, he’ll likely be out in five, no matter that the judge said his horrific actions would “haunt” the lives of the young girls.

This paper is never short of stories of sexual assault. Week after week it carries appeals from police looking to trace men who have “indecently assaulted” women – an e-fit of one such man was just issued yesterday after two assaults in Livingston, one in a woman’s home as she was sleeping. And a 20-year-old man was arrested earlier this week after attacking a woman as she walked along Henderson Street.

The problem is endemic, as Operation Yewtree appears to be revealing. Men – not all, but many – feel able to carry out assaults, abuses, sexual violence, rape, against women because they feel “ownership”, they feel, perhaps like Elliot Rodger in America who turned the gun on himself after killing six people, that it’s their “right”, and of course, the fact that they won’t be too heavily sanctioned for their crimes adds to that belief (murder excepted).

Violence against women needs to stop. It needs to be accepted as a problem by society and faced with proper, lengthy sanctions against the perpetrators. It needs to be taught at schools that it is completely unacceptable, that views of women “asking for it” are Neanderthal.

Women and girls should be able to walk through their lives without fear of attack. Without constantly looking over their shoulders when alone. Without having to clutch their keys in their hand just in case. Without having to remove their headphones so they can hear footsteps. Without having to live with the threat of violence from the men in their lives.

It’s time things changed.