September 7, 2011

IconLecturer criticises gendering of Scottish abuse law

An academic based at the University of Dundee has claimed that the Scottish Government’s definition of domestic violence renders lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people ‘invisible’.

Brian Dempsey argued that the wording used in Scottish law reinforces the idea of male abusers and female victims, making it harder for LGBT people to access services.

“My impression is that both politicians and people involved in delivering domestic abuse services are sympathetic to lesbian, gay bisexual and trans people but are generally pretty unaware of our needs – especially so in relation to transgendered people,” he wrote in the Edinburgh Law Review.

“But the overwhelming emphasis on presenting domestic abuse as something that men do to women means that people such as accident and emergency nurses or GPs or housing officers just aren’t picking up on the signals that an LGBT client might need help.”

“For LGBT people themselves it’s often not worth the risk of raising the issue in an atmosphere where you don’t know if you will be taken seriously and where services all seems to be geared to female victims of male abusers. To say ‘I’m a male victim’ or to say ‘my abuser is female’ is often just too risky.”

The official definition states that: “Domestic abuse (as gender-based abuse), can be perpetrated by partners or ex partners and can include physical abuse (assault and physical attack involving a range of behaviour), sexual abuse (acts which degrade and humiliate women and are perpetrated against their will, including rape) and mental and emotional abuse (such as threats, verbal abuse, racial abuse, withholding money and other types of controlling behaviour such as isolation from family and friends).”

In contrast, guidance provided by the Westminster Government explicitly states that domestic abuse can take place “regardless of gender and sexuality”.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government defended their approach. “Domestic abuse must not be tolerated in any form and the Scottish Government has committed over £55 million during the period 2008-12 to tackling domestic abuse and violence against women,” she said.

“We have received international recognition and praise for our gendered definition, which does not exclude or deny other experiences, but does focus on the majority experience, that 83% of domestic abuse incidents recorded by the police in 2009-10 involved a female victim and male perpetrator.”

“In addition, we have funded a helpline for male victims and the LGBT youth domestic abuse project.”

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