Violence against women
What is violence against women?
Violence against women affects three million women each year in the UK with many more women living with past experiences of abuse. It is a violation of a women’s human rights and an enduring social problem that undermines workplaces and communities.
Equally Safe, Scotland’s national strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls, defines violence against women as:
- physical, sexual and psychological violence including domestic abuse, rape, and incest;
- sexual harassment, bullying and intimidation in any public or private space, including work;
- commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, pornography and trafficking;
- child sexual abuse, including familial sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and online abuse; and
- so called ‘honour-based’ violence, including dowry-related violence, female genital mutilation, forced and child marriages, and ‘honour’ crimes.
Experiences of violence against women
Women’s mulitple, intersecting identities affects their experiences of violence against women. For example:
- Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse, particularly when the abuser is also their carer, and sexual violence than non-disabled women.
- Black and minority ethnic women face additional barriers to accessing race-sensitive support; and they may be unwilling to seek help from statutory agencies because of fear of racism or that their culture will be judged.
- Older women are less likely to report their experiences of domestic abuse.
- Lesbian and bisexual women can be vulnerable to abusers who threaten to out them to colleagues or employers, and family members.
- Younger women are more likely to experience sexual harassment, and are less likely to feel able to report because of their propensity to be in insecure work and think that their job would be at risk if they did.
- Trans women are particularly vulnerable to transphobic emotional abuse, and can be reluctant to access support services or contact the police for fear they may be met with prejudice or that they may not be understood.
- Pregnancy can be a trigger for domestic abuse and existing abuse may get worse during pregnancy or after giving birth.
The impact of violence against women
Violence against women is perpetrated at epidemic levels; it affects all aspects of women’s lives, and the workplace is no exception. One in five women in Scotland experiences domestic abuse in her lifetime, and three quarters of women are targeted at work. Perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking often use workplace resources such as phones and email to threaten, harass or abuse their current of former partner, acquaintance, or a stranger. Perpetrator tactics such as sabotage, stalking and harassment at work, affect women’s productivity, absenteeism and job retention.
The prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace is now a high-profile issue and there is increasing pressure for employers to take action. In the UK, 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. 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.
Women report sexual harassment as having a negative impact on their mental health, making them less confident at work, and inducing them to avoid certain work situations in order to avoid the perpetrator. All of these effects and responses are likely to diminish their performance at work, and their propensity to apply for and be appointed to promoted posts. Sexual harassment therefore contributes to the glass ceiling, to women’s subordinate role in the workplace, and to the gender pay gap.
Experiences of sexual assault or rape can significantly impact on women's ability to hold down a job, as a result of needing to take extended periods off because of emotional and physical impact. Victim survivors often experience trauma which can make it increasing difficult to be in work situations which involve groups of men or being alone with men.
The impact of so-called 'honour-based' violence on women's experience at work is similar to that of domestic abuse. In addition, women can also be shamed or judged for wanting to have a job, or by being coerced into specific occupations. They can also be threatened with being deported or sent away unless they stop work. So-called ‘honour-based’ violence can include preventing women from going for a promotion because it is seen as inappropriate for a woman, or because they will be expected to interact with men.