Malcolm Chisholm: We can not tolerate a future of abuse

The Zero Tolerance Campaign poster
The Zero Tolerance Campaign poster
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Reported cases of rape and domestic abuse are on the increase, and we have been reminded recently of the horrors of child sexual abuse, so it was important for me last week to introduce a debate on the great campaign that started in Edinburgh 20 years ago to tackle these evils head on.

The Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust still does exceptional work in this city and I wanted to congratulate it on its outstanding contribution to the primary prevention of violence against women over the last 20 years.

The original Zero Tolerance campaign, strongly supported by detailed coverage in the Evening News, was a ground-breaking initiative that shone a light on something that had been in the dark for a very long time. It emphasised the prevalence of violence against women and the way in which it affected all sections of society. It was also the first campaign to challenge men and related all forms of violence against women to gender inequality in society and unequal power relations between women and men. “Male abuse of power is a crime” was one of many provocative messages that appeared on billboards all along Princes Street and at other locations such as Easter Road and Tynecastle.

The driving forces behind the campaign were Frankie Raffles, who tragically died in 1994, Evelyn Gillan and Margaret McGregor, chair of the council’s women’s committee. The campaign went on to be adopted in countless cities throughout the UK and further afield while Zero Tolerance in Edinburgh, now under the inspirational leadership of Jenny Kemp, has gone on to support many other campaigns and develop prevention materials for use in different settings such as schools and workplaces.

Early intervention is a particular priority now and that is why the relaunch of the Respect materials for schools in a few weeks’ time is so important. I find it disappointing that so little work on the prevention of violence against women is carried out in schools and I hope that many local authorities will encourage their schools to use the superb Respect pack.

Another particularly important priority for Zero Tolerance now is those forms of violence against women that are more socially tolerated than rape, domestic abuse and child sexual abuse. These include pornography, prostitution and other forms of commercial sexual exploitation, all of which involve the abuse and exploitation of women. Lads mags, for example, are found in most newsagent shops, but at a recent talk on rape prone societies by Professor Miranda Horvath we were given what seemed like a simple task. We were handed statements by convicted rapists and sentences found in various lads mags but were not told which was which. We found it very difficult to assign them to the correct source and another distinguished professor sitting beside me, who is an expert in the academic study of rape, said she found it completely impossible.

The headlines recently have reported rape in India, but we must never see rape as someone else’s problem because it is our problem as well. As long as rape and sexual abuse are so prevalent we shall desperately need the services of the Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre and that is why I emphasised its funding crisis in the debate last week and visited it on Friday to find out more.

The centre currently receives £330,000 in funding from various sources but even with that there is a nine-month waiting list for counselling and support. Only £100,000 of funding is in place from May 31 this year and if the funding gap is not filled, 75 per cent of specialist counsellors and support staff will have to be laid off. Its work in training a large number of public sector staff will also come to an end, as well as a superb project working with teenage women.

Prevention work and the provision of services must go hand in hand. The Evening News and the people of Edinburgh rallied round the original Zero Tolerance campaign and I hope they will also rally round the vital work of the Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre.

• Malcolm Chisholm is Labour MSP for Edinburgh North and Leith.