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18 March 2008

Scotland leads the way

Scottish Labour politician Margaret Curran on how she ensured that Rape Crisis north of the border g

By Margaret Curran

One of the most satisfying decisions of my ministerial career was my decision to provide Rape Crisis Scotland with the funding it had been crying out for.

Rape and sexual violence are amongst the most hidden of crimes, and the Labour–led Scottish Executive had taken action to examine ways to improve conviction rates and court processes to help vulnerable witnesses.

Nonetheless, the work of Rape Crisis was to me, as minister for communities, an integral part of any response to such pervasive and horrendous acts of violence.

Such assaults can be hard to speak about, let alone report. Pursuing justice can be intimidating, and can have frightening and humiliating consequences. Almost all victims are required to be very public about the most intimate and private of matters.

To support those who provide the most sensitive of services and help women through these traumas seemed to be an act of humanity, as well as a necessity if we are striving to improve reporting and conviction rates.

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Most would agree with this, but the question is how is it accomplished. In Scotland it is possible, I believe, to fund a national programme because it is deemed to be of national importance and a strategic priority for government intervention.

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I had learned from seeing some areas actively resist the establishment of women’s aid refuges that the lack of a national programme can leave patchwork provision.

Where there were no local champions in the political process, delivery was just too slow, and it looked as if the same was happening with Rape Crisis centres.

Overall existing funding schemes were just too fragile and too limited. This does not mean that no local authorities were involved in combating rape crimes and helping victims.

Rather, in Scotland we set a minimum standard and local authorities worked to enhance as appropriate. In fact, Glasgow City Council is just one example of a local authority delivering interesting and comprehensive approaches to preventing violence against women. A partnership approach is clearly the best way forward.

So I decided to go for it and provide direct funding for a network of services to be provided by Rape Crisis Centres throughout Scotland. I knew the organisation, the people and the work that they do, so rather than wait I made the decision when a key opportunity arose.

After years of experience I knew what the right course of action was, and what’s the point of ministerial power if you don’t use it! We had already identified a programme that wasn’t working in another field and I decided to shift the money almost (but not quite) overnight to Rape Crisis Centres. Perhaps it was the size of Scotland, perhaps it was the priority Labour had given to tackling domestic abuse and violence against women (a priority it has had since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament), or perhaps it was the fact that I knew I would have the support of my ministerial colleagues that made this task easier. In any event it has worked and we now have services in place that offer vital support to women in profound need. As far as I am aware few have criticised and most have welcomed this move. In fact it appears as if this model of funding is here to stay, but it isn’t enough and the decision to fund was only the beginning. We are only beginning to grasp the actions required to actually tackle the scale of sexual violence far too prevalent in our society. Funding Rape Crisis is one small but necessary part of this initiative. The support is still not enough and I’ll be pressing for more.