The response of Strathclyde police to the latest in a series of shocking rapes and sexual assaults in Glasgow city centre was depressing enough. “Don’t go off alone” might seem like sound advice but it, as usual, puts the onus on women to keep themselves safe and fails to address the bigger issue, that of men’s continued violence towards them, and the failure of our society to prevent it or to tackle attitudes which permit it.
It negates much of the good work being done by the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) that is attempting to shift the terms of debate – that violence is preventable, not inevitable – and to encourage a philosophy by which men – all men – take responsibility for the violence that some perpetrate against women and children, but also against each other. Domestic and sexual violence is not a women’s issue, it is a men’s issue. The VRU is interested in adopting the bystander approach advocated by “anti-sexist activist and educator” Jackson Katz and Scotland’s first such programme is currently being piloted by Scottish Women’s Aid alongside a host of partners.
But it’s clear we still have a long way to travel, particularly when there are politicians like Bill Aitken MSP around to shock and appal by questioning the morals – and therefore, the impact and seriousness of the crime – of this particular woman and women in general, who by dint of daring to be alone in a city centre are apparently inviting horrific gang rape. Why this woman was in this part of the city centre, or indeed any part of the city centre, and for what purpose is of no matter. It does not excuse nor trivialise this atrocity, at least not for most right minded folk.
There is no excuse and no justification for Bill Aitken’s comments, made in a telephone conversation with a Sunday Herald journalist. They are unacceptable and he must resign from his convenorship of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee. By these comments he has proven himself unfit to hold the post. It does not matter that he is about to retire nor that there are only a few weeks of parliamentary activity left. If the institution itself is not to be brought into disrepute, he must resign. If he fails to do so, then other committee members must effect his removal.
It is not just Aitken’s inappropriate verbosity that is suspect; Annabel Goldie’s continuing silence on the matter is fast becoming an issue too. There is nothing on the Scottish Conservatives’ website, neither an apology from Aitken nor an opinion nor condemnation from Goldie. If he refuses to do the honourable thing and resign his position, then Goldie must act for him. She must remove him from his portfolio responsibility for justice and insist that he resign the Convenorship. Then, on behalf of the Scottish Conservative party, she should apologise – to the victim, her family and to women more generally. If she does not, then her own position becomes untenable.
The First Minister has made plain his disgust, as has Labour’s Depute Leader, Johann Lamont. Good. If Aitken has not resigned by the time Holyrood returns from recess next week, the burd hopes that the two main political parties will work together – for once, at last – and take the appropriate action to remove Aitken from his post.
Anything else is a travesty. And belittles and undermines all attempts to have the crimes of rape and sexual assault treated much more seriously, the impacts of such crimes addressed much more effectively, and the causes of such violence tackled and prevented.
Not ever requires much more than glossy commercials and websites to become a reality.