By Lucy Ashton
Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain used her speech in the Westminster Parliament’s International Women’s Day debate to call for action to address domestic abuse and misogyny and reflect on her own experiences as a police officer dealing with sexual offences.
West Dunbartonshire has the highest rate of domestic abuse in Scotland and the Council has set up a special committee in an attempt to change that.
Ms Chamberlain said: “International Women’s Day is supposed to be a celebration. But even before the last 24 hours, given, for example the progress of the Scottish Parliament’s inquiries into the handling of harassment complaints, and more generally the notably more negative impact of the pandemic on women across so many areas of their lives, it didn’t feel like something worth celebrating.
“The Speaker reminded us earlier today that it would be inappropriate for us to comment on the live investigation in relation to the tragic disappearance of Sarah Everard, but I can’t help but reflect that, of course, it’s not all men, but, particularly where men in public positions of trust are guilty of committing acts of violence against women, it could be any man and women feel compelled to act accordingly.
“I retweeted a tweet expressing that sentiment last night and my 16 year old daughter liked it. She never likes my tweets. The fact that she chose to like that one makes me incredibly sad.
“I also reflect on my own time in the police service, and indeed I was a sexual offences trained officer. Early in the 2000s.
“I recall my force ran a bus advert in Edinburgh advising women to think about what they drank and who they were with when socialising – basically to plan to prevent sexual assault. And in my early 20s as I was then, I probably thought that was reasonable – it shows how conditioned we all are.
“As part of my sexual offences role, I was responsible for taking the victim’s statement and then attending any medical examination. Securing evidence, productions and maintaining a chain of evidence is crucial. I also witnessed the impact of this initial investigation of the women involved.
“Time is a factor. The length of time for a sexual offences officer to travel to wherever the assault has taken place for example. To take a statement – hugely distressing. Travel to the place where the medical exam will take place, the exam itself. Not being able to wash or change in that time in order to preserve evidence.
“It’s an incredibly invasive process. And no matter how empathetic the investigating officer is, they’re not your friend; they’re not your family member.
“The real tragedy is that, a lot of the time, all that comes to absolutely nothing. And of course, that’s just in the cases of those women who feel able to contact the police and disclose in the first place.
“So how do we #ChoosetoChallenge?
“The challenge to the Government is – pass the Domestic Abuse Bill – it’s been in the offing for four years. Legislate to make misogyny a hate crime. Make sure that those occupying positions of trust are people we can really trust.
“Men need to step up. They need to be active allies. International Women’s Day is just as much about my 13 year old son as my daughter.
“And the final challenge is to ourselves. Because we need to do much more to ensure that when we are talking about women, when we are talking about discrimination, and violence – that we are inclusive. Wenjing Lin, 16, died at her family’s takeaway restaurant in Wales. The man accused of her murder appeared in court this morning.
“At the root of much of our debate around single sex spaces is the fear of sexual violence perpetrated by men. Changing men’s behaviour changes that debate.
“And that, on this International Women’s Day, is a challenge which faces all of us.”