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Domestic violence affects men in Scotland too. At last here's some good news for male victims

This is my latest column in the Scotsman, published on 16th January 2023.

The case of Eleanor Williams was unusual to say the least.

Ms Williams was the young lady from Barrow in Furness recently convicted of maliciously accusing a group of men of abducting and raping her. The details were lurid, the young woman had even inflicted injuries on herself to back up her claims.

A strange case, but the consequences for the accused men were severe. One spent a considerable time remanded in custody, while community tensions simmered in Barrow. We should be grateful that Cumbria Police got to the bottom of this case, it could have ended very differently.

This was an exceptional event, but it reminds us that while we should always believe the complainer, the police must also investigate thoroughly. There are no shortcuts to proving a case beyond all reasonable doubt.

It also reminds us that men can be victims too. In fact, our young men are the main victims of violence, of murder, of drug-deaths, and the group in our population most likely to kill themselves. Men also comprise 20 per cent of the victims of domestic violence. This last category is problematic for some women’s groups, who see domestic violence as a gender-based crime, a black-and-white issue where women are victims and men are perpetrators.

It’s understandable as, for centuries, the problem of violence against women and girls was ignored. It’s only 30 years ago that police started to take domestic violence seriously. I know because I was part of that change.

Since then, there have been vast improvements in women’s services, but now the pendulum has swung back to the opposite extreme. The simplistic notion of gender-based crime is widely accepted, while phrases like ‘toxic masculinity’ are commonly applied. Funding is similarly skewed, with services for male victims routinely ignored, and little or no government support.

But now, at last, this inequality has been challenged. Last month a petition was brought before parliament by William Wright, himself a victim of domestic violence. In a hard-hitting critique, Mr Wright argued that “the Scottish Government’s ‘gender-based crime' narrative for domestic abuse is labelling innocent men; harming them, hurting them, destroying them, and their families too”.

It was a powerful petition and, to her credit, our equalities minister Christina McKelvie responded positively, promising that a review of domestic abuse against men and boys was under way. This is good news, it is high time the pendulum swung back to a more realistic balance. If we take the minister at her word, we can expect change.

So let’s be positive this early in the new year. Let’s look forward to our government setting aside the obvious inequalities of a gender-based policy to follow the evidence. We know that all violence is linked and starts in the home and the early years. We know that violence is a deep-rooted and nuanced problem requiring carefully judged, long-term interventions.

We must maintain and improve services for our women and girls, of course, but we must also recognise that our young men are in trouble. We must stop the name-calling and help them too.

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