News Blog #16DaysofActivism: it’s time to start taking ‘Cyber VAWG’ seriously 6 December 2017An interview with Dr. Marsha Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid. (Conducted by Heenali Patel, Communications Officer at Fawcett) This blog was published in partnership with the UK-based, black feminist organisation Imkaan, to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. If you live in Scotland and have been affected by abuse, including online abuse, you can speak to Scottish Women’s Aid’s on 0800 027 1234, or email [email protected]. Marsha, you’ve been Chief Executive at Scottish Women’s Aid for two and a half years – and have been working to end violence against women for about 30 years. What first led you to working in this sector? Marsha: It’s very hard to work in community-based services and not see the importance of tackling this. My professional career started out as managing a family planning agency in the US. The agency was working in a rural area with a lot of poor people, providing free care for adolescents and poor women. We did a lot of work with adolescents, trying to prevent adolescent pregnancies and too-early pregnancies. We provided HIV testing, regular reproductive health and counselling around abortion too. It became immensely clear to me that until we were willing to address the violence and abuse and substantive issues in the lives of the young women we were working with, then we were not going to be able to change the world in any significant way for them. When we did HIV testing, we were asking question that are considered incredibly intrusive... But we weren’t asking them about whether they were or had been a victim of domestic or sexual violence. I began to think about the questions we were never asking. When we did HIV testing, we were asking question that are considered incredibly intrusive, like: “How old were you when you first had sex?”, “Did you engage in oral and anal sex?”, “Did you exchange fluids?”, “Did you exchange sex for money or drugs?”. But we weren’t asking them about whether they were or had been a victim of domestic or sexual violence. We weren’t asking them about their use of alcohol and drugs. Those were the two big things that hadn't been grasped. As Liz Kelly from the End Violence Against Women Coalition has always said, ‘violence against women is a cause and consequence of women's inequality and women's inequality is a cause and consequence consequence of violence against women. You cannot address violence against women in any form unless you address the oppression of women.’ This July, Scotland passed a new law to prosecute anyone who shares or threatens to share someone else’s intimate images or videos without their consent with up to five years in prison. What is your view on ‘image abuse’, commonly known as revenge porn? We try not to call it ‘revenge porn’ as it's neither one, it's really just another form of abuse in the context of abusive relationships. It's just another tool. If you look at the context in which non-consensual sharing of images happen, it's like abuse. It weaves in and out of women's lives, in and out of the online and offline parts of women's’ lives, just like abuse always has. It's about control, it's always about control. Just as – naturally - all of women's lives now, mostly weave in and out of our online presences, so does abuse. Image from a public awareness campaign developed by Scottish Women's Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, ASSIST, Police Scotland and the Crown Office, launched when the legislation came into force in Scotland. The sharing of non-consensual images comes under the umbrella term ‘Cyber VAWG’. What else does Cyber VAWG entail? There's stalking, there's use of mobile phone and GPS technology to control women, it’s anywhere where the internet and online intersects with daily life. It would also include harassment of women online, both by their abusers and someone they know, but also where women are trolled the minute they lift their head over the parapet. It's a much broader thing than just the non-consensual sharing of intimate images and it needs to be taken much more seriously than it has been in the past. It's always about her, to constrict her own public space rather than for the community to respond to the abuse. In terms of non-consensual sharing of images, I think the problem that we've had is very similar to the problems with those taking the wider problem of Cyber VAWG seriously, which is that women's experiences have been very minimised. For instance, it's not at all uncommon for a woman to contact the police and say, “my ex partner is doing this” and to be told “why don't you just come off of Facebook”. It's always about her, to constrict her own public space rather than for the community to respond to the abuse. That's changing a little bit now, but not anywhere near the level it needs to. Do you think the new law in Scotland it goes far enough in tackling this? I think if you define far enough by how many years in jail someone would get, five years is a long time. I think, however, that’s not a good measure, of ‘far enough’. A ‘far enough’ measure will be how robustly people are reassured of their rights and how robustly training happens, so that when a women does disclose (and its women of all ages who experience this), there's a huge confidence built up in the response of the Crown Office and the police and the courts to women's experiences. The culture of victim blaming around this, how have you as an organisation seen how this affects victims? I wish I could say I was surprised about the victim blaming but it has been a feature of our culture’s response to men's violence against women and girls from since I've been doing this work. It is another extension of “why doesn't she just leave?”; “why doesn't she just come off the web and social media?” (With) victim blaming, our work around that is trying to make it transparent and explicit about how gendered victim blaming really is, and how attitudes about women drive miscarriages of justice It's all about what she has done to either deserve or fail to control the abuser. I think Scotland has done some great work around gender, both in the social media world as well as with other women's organisations to begin to help us have a dialogue about challenging victim blaming. There's also an independent review of hate crime legislation that's going on now, so I think the victim blaming, our work around that is trying to make it transparent and explicit about how gendered victim blaming really is, and how attitudes about women drive miscarriages of justice in Scotland routinely. On an individual level, what can someone do if they want to help tackle this particular issue of image abuse in Scotland? In Scotland you could get in touch with Engender or with Scottish Women's Aid and we would connect you with quite a few small but perfectly formed powerful campaigning charities, depending on where you are in the country. What can someone do if they have been a victim of this themselves? This is especially one of those things where women think “am I going to be blamed if I say something, what are my rights under the law, what's going to happen to him etc…”. We strongly advise people to call our helpline. We have a fabulous helpline, and the women who staff the calls for women are really warm and accepting, and happy to give as much information or as little as you want. People can absolutely manage what happens next, if anything, if they call us. If you are a victim of abuse, including cyber abuse, you can call Scottish Women’s Aid’s free helpline on 0800 027 1234, or email [email protected].