The power of zero: how a bold Scotland-based campaign changed the world’s thinking about sexual violence – Sunday Herald article

On Thursday 29th June we hosted an afternoon of conversation at Glasgow Women’s Library in celebration of our 25th anniversary. We spoke about the original Zero Tolerance campaign in 1992, the impact it had and how Zero Tolerance can move forward to end violence against women.

Annie McLaughlin, the Write to End Violence Against Women bursary award winner, wrote about the event for the Sunday Herald. You can read the original article in the Sunday Herald here

Take a look at a social media round up of the event here.

The power of zero: how a bold Scotland-based campaign changed the world’s thinking about sexual violence

ON a dreich summer’s afternoon, a series of black and white photographs are projected onto a screen on the back wall of a Glasgow Women’s Library committee room. As women file in one by one, shaking out wet umbrellas and shrugging off raincoats, scenes of cosy domesticity slide by: an elderly woman in an armchair reads to a young girl; a woman reclines in front of a fireplace in an expensively furnished sitting room; three smiling teenage girls sitting cross-legged in a bedroom.

Were it not for the two lines of text accompanying each image, stark white on a black background, this could easily be an exhibition of treasured family portraits.

“From three to 93,” reads the caption on the photograph of the girl nestled in the crook of her grandmother’s arm, “women are raped.”

3-93 poster

“From three to ninety three, women are raped.” (Zero Tolerance poster, 1992)

In another scene, two small girls play on a rug, surrounded by toys. “By the time they reach 18,” reads the caption, “one of them will have been subjected to sexual abuse.” That statistic is as jarring today as when the image first appeared on billboards across Edinburgh a quarter-century ago.

18 sexual abuse

“By the time they reach eighteen, one of them will have been subjected to sexual abuse.” (Zero Tolerance poster, 1992)

This Glasgow Women’s Library gathering is being held to mark the 25th anniversary of Zero Tolerance’s groundbreaking 1992 campaign, in which the anti-violence against women charity’s dragged the issue of domestic violence out from behind closed doors and onto the streets of Scotland’s capital city.

In a radical departure from previous anti-domestic and sexual violence initiatives, which typically featured mocked up photographs of bruised female faces and placed the onus on women to protect themselves against rape, the project paired positive images of women and girls in everyday domestic settings with stark messaging and statistics on assault, murder and rape.

During the six-month campaign, Edinburgh was adorned with posters, billboards and banners which demanded that the public, politicians and the legal profession confront their own prejudices about men’s violence against women and take responsibility for eradicating it.

A quarter-century on, Aberdeen University psychology student Angus Milligan has just received a non-custodial sentence for assaulting and threatening his 18-year-old girlfriend, Emily Drouet, who later committed suicide.

In an interview with the Daily Record prior to Milligan’s sentencing, Emily’s mother Fiona Drouet said: “He slapped her if he decided she was lying about something. He would tell her one minute she was the most beautiful girl in the world and the next call her vicious and obscene names in text messages.”

Only after law student Emily’s death, she said, did the family discover the extent of the abuse she had suffered: “He isolated her from us, so that she would not tell us about the violence. He made her think that our love for her was conditional.”

The case is a tragic reminder that women of all ages and from all backgrounds are victims of partner violence, which can take many forms including emotional and psychological abuse.

When the Zero Tolerance campaign was originally conceived by Evelyn Gillan, Campaigns Officer for Edinburgh District Council Women’s Unit and her colleague Susan Hart, the belief that domestic abuse was something to be dealt with behind closed doors – a matter between man and wife – still held sway in many quarters.

Indeed, rape within marriage had only just been criminalised in England in 1991, when the House of Lords finally saw fit to abolish a 250-year old exemption that ruled it was impossible for a man to rape his wife.

In Scotland, the matter had been settled a mere two years earlier, when the then Lord Justice General, Lord Emslie, ruled for the first time that a man could be charged with raping his wife if the couple were still living together. While two other husbands had been charged with rape in the 1980s, both had been living separately from their wives at the time.

In the 1989 case, defence counsel Peter Vandore QC had graciously conceded: “I am not suggesting that there is any right in every married Scotsman to have sexual relations with his wife when he wants and whatever his wife’s feelings might be.”

He maintained, however, that “a wife has no absolute right to say no whenever she wants” and implored Lord Emslie to consider the court’s responsibility to protect the institution of marriage and the family unit, arguing that if “a charge of this nature is to be held relevant, it is more likely to break marriages than to help them in any way”.

The Zero Tolerance initiative was devised following a survey conducted by Edinburgh District Council’s Women’s Committee, led by Councillor Margaret McGregor, which revealed that safety was a major concern for women in the city.

Feminist historian and activist Lesley Orr says that Evelyn Gillan’s determination to force Scottish society to wake up to an inconvenient truth, birthed a revolution in attitudes.

In a tribute to Gillan following her death from gastric cancer at the age of 55 in 2015, Orr said: “It was Evelyn … who saw that the problem of women’s safety was actually a problem of men’s violence and abuse of power. She had the analysis, the determination and the boldness needed to cut the crap, name the issue and develop a groundbreaking strategy for progressive social change.”

Photographer Franki Raffles was recruited to create the images at the heart of the 1992 campaign, which aimed to drive home the message that women and girls from all walks of life could be subject to abuse.

Raffles died two years later aged just 39, and to mark the campaign’s 25th anniversary, Edinburgh-based photographer Alicia Bruce has been commissioned to create a new set of images which will build on Raffles’s original work.

Although Bruce was at primary school when the original Zero Tolerance initiative was launched, she says its imagery and branding had a huge impact on her. “I remember the original campaign so vividly,” she says. “It really shifted my mindset about things that were normalised that shouldn’t be. The branding was really strong, even the phrase ‘Zero Tolerance’, that fact that these things were completely unacceptable.”

The original campaign’s creators capitalised, quite literally, on their motto’s initials, putting the Z of Zero Tolerance front and centre in a huge font on the posters displayed prominently on Edinburgh pub walls, in bus shelters and on football stadium billboards.

“That Z was like a weapon that you could pick up to defend yourself with,” says Bruce. “It’s uncompromising as a letter, not curvy, not compliant.”

Despite the campaign’s far-reaching impact, the battle is far from won. “There have been dramatic changes to public attitudes around some aspects of men’s violence against women,” says Zero Tolerance co-director Liz Ely. “However, some forms of violence, targeted at groups such as women with learning disabilities, women in prostitution, LGBT and black and minority ethnic women remain poorly understood. We are thrilled to work with Alicia in creating new work which addresses this, and retains the bold and uncompromising message of the original campaign.”

None of the women involved in getting the original initiative off the ground predicted how its impact would reverberate, with local government and women’s groups across Britain and as far away as New York and Australia taking up the Zero Tolerance baton and running with it.

Ann Hamilton, who worked as Women’s Officer at Strathclyde Regional Council from 1989 to 1996 and later went on to head up the London-based Human Trafficking Foundation, calls the campaign “one of the most important things to happen in Scotland over the last 50 years”.

The campaign’s uncompromising nature touched a raw nerve in Scottish society, and the response was not universally welcoming, with some denouncing it as malevolently anti-male.

In a 1996 article in the journal Parliamentary Affairs, academic Fiona MacKay described some of the opposition, stating that “the SNP Lord Provost of Edinburgh complained to the Sunday Times Scotland that he did not support the ‘extreme’ campaign, but was powerless to act because ‘any word of criticism is seen as male chauvinism’. He later withdrew his comments. There were some angry phone-calls and letters to the local press accusing the campaign of the message that ‘all men are rapists’.”

It’s a charge that feminist campaigners today are still having to wearily rebut. Read below the line of any article in which a woman dares to describe her experience of gendered abuse and you’ll find a clutch of male commentators bemoaning their hurt feelings with the cry that “not all men” behave this way or claiming that in advocating for an end to men’s violence against women, campaigns such as Zero Tolerance wilfully neglect male victims of domestic abuse.

If nothing else, such responses serve to underline the work that still needs done to reinforce the message that gender-based violence is not a problem of individual men, but one of ingrained structural and societal gender inequality.

Writing last year for the Huffington Post, Women’s Aid Chief Executive Polly Neate said that “when we talk about violence against women, the response, ‘but all violence is wrong’, simply misses the point”.

To frame domestic abuse as “gender-neutral” is, she said, to ignore its causes, which are about “unequal power, and the sense of entitlement, the tools to abuse and the protection from censure that this inequality brings”.

“Nearly half of women killed in the UK are killed by an intimate partner or former partner,” she added. This compares with 6 per cent of men who are killed, she said, adding that “the overwhelming majority of victims of repeated patterns of coercion and control, are women”.

On the back of the extraordinary success of the original Zero Tolerance poster series, Evelyn Gillan co-founded the Zero Tolerance Charitable Trust, which established the three pillars of protection, survivor services for survivors and prevention as the cornerstone of work to eradicate violence against women and girls.

Throughout the 1990s and into the 21st century, the charity continued to campaign for the recognition of gender-based violence. Disturbingly, research research conducted by the organisation in 1998 found that there was widespread tolerance among young people of the abuse of women. In a study of more than 2000 young people aged 14-21 in Glasgow, Manchester and Fife, it emerged that half of boys and one-third of girls thought that it was OK to hit a woman or force her to have sex in certain circumstances.

The response was the Respect programme, which provided resources to help teachers and youth workers explore messages about gender with young people and to teach respect in relationships.

Returning to the anniversary event in Glasgow Women’s Library, Lesley Orr speaks of the urgent need to protect the ground gained over the past 25 years, and the dangers of complacency. The internet – though invaluable as a campaigning tool – is also acknowledged to be widely used by abusers as a way to attack and control women, for example through stalking and revenge porn.

“While the political rhetoric around gender based violence has changed considerably,” says Orr, “where women are confronted in their every day lives with these issues, it is the same things which crop up again and again.”

Alicia Bruce hopes her work on the new Zero Tolerance campaign can have a similar impact to Franki Raffles’ original, iconic images.

“I want to look at a wider demographic and shine a light on different types of domestic violence, such as that affecting BME [black and minority ethnic] women, those with learning difficulties, people in care homes perhaps, but also young girls,” she says.

“We need to educate young people, that’s what I want to happen; I want young girls to feel empowered. There is a whole set of women that want to say something. I want to give them something to pin that to. I want to back them up.”

* Zero Tolerance’s 25th anniversary campaign will be launched later this year.

The Sunday Herald is the media partner of the Write to End Violence Against Women campaign and awards, which celebrate high-quality writing around the subject of violence against women. Annie McLaughlin was awarded a bursary by the campaign to write a series of articles for this newspaper.

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