Members’ area

Violence against women

VAW people graphic

What is violence against women?

The term violence against women (VAW) refers to violence and/or abusive behaviour that is predominately carried out by men and directed at women because of their gender. This behaviour includes physical, emotional, psychological, sexual and economic abuse and stems from systemic and deep rooted women’s inequality. It’s an abuse of power and privilege and can be used to control women.

VAW is usually not a one-off experience. It’s often repeated and continuous behaviour that can occur over many years.

Equally Safe at Work focuses on forms of VAW that are most likely to impact the workplace, this includes domestic abuse, stalking, sexual harassment, rape and sexual assault, and ‘honour-based’ violence.

Who does it affect?

It affects women from all backgrounds irrespective of age, sexual orientation, race, education level, culture and socioeconomic demographic.

Women’s multiple, intersecting identities affects their experiences of violence against women. For example:

How common is it?

  • VAW is perpetrated at epidemic levels, with three million women in the UK affected each year.
  • One in four women in Scotland experiences domestic abuse in her lifetime.
  • More than half (52%) of women have experienced sexual harassment, with this figure rising to two thirds of women aged 18-24. Experiences range from unwelcome sexual comments to serious sexual assaults.
  • Research found that 70% of women in Scotland had witnessed or experienced sexual harassment.
  • In the Equally Safe at Work survey of employees in the pilot councils, three quarters (75%) of respondents had either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment in the last 12 months.

How does it impact women’s experience at work?

VAW has a profound impact on women’s capacity to do their job and victim-survivors are often targeted in and around the workplace. Women report experiencing trauma, stress, anxiety, and depression as a result of VAW and can struggle to find appropriate support in the workplace. VAW can also affect victim-survivors’ capacity to work with men, particularly in situations where there is an existing gender or power imbalance.

Why is violence against women underreported?

  • Most women don’t report VAW out fear of not being believed, fear of being judged, or believing nothing will change. As well, women may not come forward because they are unclear about the reporting procedure, are unsure who to report to, or worry it will not be kept confidential.
  • Some victim-survivors are unable to recognise their experience as VAW because of the normalised nature of VAW.
  • Research on experiences of sexual harassment at work is likely to be affected by under-reporting as most women will never report it because of a fear of being blamed and a lack of confidence in the complaints procedure.