Rhoda's speech in the Scottish Parliament debate
- Making Scotland Equally Safe




28 November 2017

The debate is an annual event that marks the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence.

Violence against women is rooted in women’s inequality.

Every time that we take a step to counter that inequality, it feels like a new front opens up.

This year we have been faced with revelations from every walk of life of the sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

The practice is used by some men to undermine women and to put women in their place—one where they cannot progress in their career without providing sexual favours and where they should always remain submissive to men.

Until a couple of months ago, a woman who spoke out about harassment would have been quickly denounced.

Her career would have been over and she would have been marked as a trouble maker or a prude.

It may be a step forward that that is no longer the case, but the revelations show vividly the despicable behaviour that has gone unchallenged for far too long.

We need true equality to ensure that that cannot happen to another woman, and the change in culture must be led by men as well as by women.

The vast majority of men are horrified by such behaviour, and they must speak out now.

Sexual abuse is not a woman’s problem; it is a problem with some men.

Our society must stop giving out mixed messages.

We must stand for total equality and have zero tolerance for all aspects of violence against women.

It is surely a mixed message to say that it is okay for men to buy a woman in prostitution but not okay for men to demand sexual favours to enhance a woman’s career.

Both are wrong and both should not be tolerated.

That stark inequality demeans women.

Until we put it right, we will continue to be plagued by violence against women, which is a symptom of an unequal society.

When we look at other countries, it is clear that those that prohibit the purchase of sex create more equal societies.

Those societies have equal pay and equal maternity and paternity leave, and are much fairer societies because of that.

Basic human respect for our fellow humans breeds kinder societies and the willingness to work together for the greater good.

It is no coincidence that domestic abuse starts with financial control.

That is followed by degrading behaviour and physical and sexual violence.

It is a process that perpetrators use to gain control of their victim.

As a society, we must not tolerate that in any guise.

No human should have control over another human, and we must build fair and respectful societies.

In Scotland, we have prided ourselves on our measures to combat violence against women—indeed, we are legislating again, this time on coercive control—but we still have a long way to go.

Ireland—north and south—has made the purchase of sex illegal, and that has led to more trafficking of women to Scotland to feed prostitution.

We warned of that at the time.

We need to deal with prostitution in a way that has equality at its core.

Currently, our laws penalise those who are forced into prostitution and do nothing whatsoever to protect them.

They are penalised and criminalised, while those who feed the industry walk away scot free.

It is simply not good enough only to say that prostitution is wrong and a form of violence against women and to do absolutely nothing at all to stop it.

The equally safe strategy makes it clear that violence against women includes commercial sexual exploitation, which includes prostitution, lap dancing, stripping, pornography and trafficking.

The party policy of a majority of the members of the Scottish Parliament is to criminalise those who buy sex and to decriminalise those who sell sex.

Prostitution feeds off poverty, which is growing.

Poverty makes people vulnerable, and they struggle to survive.

Prostitution also feeds off abuse.

It is no coincidence that those who work with survivors of childhood sexual abuse find that many of those survivors have also been prostituted.

Their treatment as an object for someone else’s gratification in their childhood leads them into the same as an adult.

Some argue that every aspect of prostitution should be decriminalised and that pimps and brothel keepers should be free to abuse without sanction.

If prostitution were legalised, would it be okay for a careers adviser to recommend it as a job?

Would it be okay to sanction somebody if they turned down work as a prostitute?

It is predominantly women who are exploited, but some men are, too.

However, it is clear that it is always men who do the exploiting.

I ask every member to consider whether prostitution is okay for them, their parents, their partner or their children, and to do something that I heard Linda Thompson from the Women’s Support Project tell an audience to do, which really brought the reality of prostitution home to me.

She told us all that, when we left that gathering, we should take note of the next 10 men we met.

She said, “What would it take for you to sell sex to them? How desperate would you need to be? What price would you accept? Now tell me that it is a choice—a simple transaction between buyer and seller. Frankly, if it is not good enough for you and yours, it is not good enough for anyone.”


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