Updated: Aug 8
Well, this is it… We’ve made it to the end of our panel events for the ‘So What?… But What If!’ campaign. Our aim has been to explore the many facets of gender-based approaches to safety in order to ensure a safer future for all. What a journey it has been! We are so grateful to all of the individuals and organisations that contributed to our campaign, and who came back one last time to get their key messages across. This blog will highlight and summarise this final panel event, which was streamed live on the 31st January, and which was split into two halves. The first included our panellists, and reflected on the impact of the campaign for themselves and more broadly; the second half included our hosts, and summarised the main takeaways from the campaign as a whole. These crucial points will be included in a formal report which will be going to the Scottish Government, so that the institutional change we’ve been striving for can be implemented from a top-down level.
Our panel included:
Amy Rew, CEO of Glasgow Girls Club
Elijah-Austen Murray, admin and social media assistant at Mind Marvels
Stuart Alladyrce, director of Stop It Now Scotland
Emily, support worker at Thriving Survivors
And our hosts Heather Offord, director of One4Growth;
Laura Maginess, CEO of Glasglow Girls Club;
And lastly, Ashley Scotland, CEO of Thriving Survivors
Stuart, whose expertise lies in reducing and preventing child sexual abuse, had this as his key takeaway from the campaign: ‘We often assume this will be from strangers, actually the research suggests that more risks are presented by people who are known to young people online. We also think the dangers are uniquely coming from adults, and of course they do, but actually more of the risk actually comes from young people themselves. [...] Simple messages like “stranger danger” don’t hang well’ (9:51-10:29). He emphasised that relationships children make on online forums and gaming platforms can actually be healthy, or alternatively, if they aren’t, then the “stranger danger” messaging isn’t helpful to the increasing number of children who make connections online. Instead, he emphasised ‘positive digital parenting’ (11:46), which includes being curious about our kids’ online interactions, connecting with your kids online, and having open-ended, shame-free conversations, so that kids can express when harm is happening or about to happen.
Elijah, who was part of the So What campaign’s youth team, provided vital perspectives as a young person who grew up in the digital age. He highlighted how positive it was to contribute to So What, as well as gaining perspectives from others: ‘It was a lot of give and take doing the youth panel, because you’re getting some valuable information from the older generation and we’re giving valuable information back to you’ (24:29-40). For Elijah, giving their perspective on safety and healthcare as a queer person was valuable because these issues aren’t widely known about, despite being hotly debated. Heather herself agreed that her knowledge was very limited until she had heard from LGBTQIA+ people, and was grateful for Elijah’s participation for this very reason.
Moving away from online spaces to public ones, Amy, who was involved in our January panel event in collaboration with Wise Women Glasgow, helped create an app that shows hotspots around the city where women feel unsafe. This data will be crucial for implementing city infrastructure that has safety in mind: ‘[Wise Women Glasgow] are working with construction companies around “how can we make this kitemark so that when you’re going to build a new development, whether it be a bridge or something in the public realm, how are you actually taking into consideration the experiences of women?” And as we know, if a space is safe for women, it’s safe for everyone’ (17:18-37). This emphasis on hearing women’s voices for the betterment and safety of all is a crucial element of the So What campaign, and one that we hope becomes the norm across Scotland.
Emily noted that this campaign has informed her interactions in a way she hadn’t anticipated. For instance, she lives near a school, and a child disclosed some information she felt wasn’t age appropriate to her in a brief conversation. Feeling empowered to speak up, she phoned the school to bring up this safeguarding issue. ‘I thought, even though I don’t have children myself, if that was my child disclosing this to someone they didn’t know, potentially that could mean that somebody could find a way in to build a rapport over and over again if they wanted to cause harm. I probably wouldn’t have been thinking like that [unless I had been a part of] this campaign’ (28:40-29:01).
Similarly, Heather later noted in the second half how this campaign has taught her so much more than she knew before, and has changed the relationship she has with her daughter for the better: ‘The changes I’ve made in the way that I talk to my daughter and the way I talk, and the way that my boyfriend talks, and the way we address things now is night and day to the way I would have before’ (1:01:30-47). She noted, for instance, being able to chat about body parts so that her daughter has the language to talk about her own bodily autonomy, a key way to prevent sexual abuse.
For Ashley, two key learnings for her were to do with Dawn Fife (from Wise Women)’s point that the perception of women as property has persisted, sometimes in subtle forms, and that can make safety for women all the more difficult. She was also impressed by the men’s panel, and felt their perspectives were invaluable in terms of moving the conversation forward beyond what women can do to stay safe: ‘Alexander [one of the panellists on the men’s panel] nailed it when he spoke about [hearing] “Just man up” [...]. As boys are raised, they’re raised not to cry, they’re raised to be tough [...] It’s took time to actually challenge that, [...] and be able to cultivate that emotional intelligence’ (1:23:09-51). She picked up on this point in particular because she feels that emotional intelligence underpins many of the campaign’s goals, including promoting trauma-informed practice, empathy, consent, and communication.
Lastly, for Laura, who oversaw the youth perspectives panels, for her the takeaway was that many of the same issues she had growing up, especially around spiking and being blamed by authorities when it happens, remained the same for this upcoming generation: ‘What really saddened me was, I’ve got experience as a 35-year-old woman of feeling unsafe, and when I spoke to [the young panellists], all of their feelings of feeling unsafe haven’t changed. [...] Spiking came up [...], and they each had stories, maybe a friend who’d be spiked or someone they know, who felt they had been penalised by a medical professional. It was a wee bit like, “No, you’re too drunk” [...]. Somebody’s friend had gone in with an injection mark, and they’d just been told: “You’ve just been too drunk, you’ve just hit it”, so they didn’t get the tests done [...]. So there was almost an element of them feeling penalised for going out and having a good time’ (1:07:15-1:08:27). The fact that institutions of care still exhibit biases against women - that they aren’t to be believed, that they’re exaggerating, or that they shouldn’t have had so much to drink - shows that more needs to be done to ensure young people get the help they need in vulnerable moments.
Our asks for the government:
While the campaign has opened up so many beneficial conversations, there are still institutional changes that need enacted if we are to fulfil the campaign’s goals. As such, we asked each panellist what their ask would be for the Scottish government. Stuart started by highlighting the extent of the problem of child sexual abuse: ‘It is a huge and complex issue that is in fact incredibly prevalent, not just in Scotland but in the UK and internationally, [...] particularly for girls, [who are] four to five times more likely to experience this’ (9:20-37). He noted that while in the previous decades, progress has been made, he also highlighted that: ‘There is no strategy around tackling child sexual abuse in Scotland. There is one in England, there is one in Wales, but there isn’t one in Scotland. We don’t have a specific portfolio in Scottish government in terms of an elected member of cabinet who has responsibilities around the protection of children from sexual harm. So this needs to have a home somewhere in Scottish government’ (36:13-45). His ask was therefore some more responsibility and ownership from the Scottish government in tackling this issue, and a specific hub as exists elsewhere in the UK. This related to another key point from him that it is not the responsibility of children to prevent abuse; adults need to step up and take prevention seriously.
Elijah too called for accountability in the Scottish government when it comes to trans issues: ‘My one ask for the government is that there’s more education and that they educate themselves and their peers in government, because there’s a lot of fear, especially right now, and not being afraid to talk about their fears but do the work, do the research, get themselves educated, and really focus in on, “what does this mean for the people at the heart of it?”’ (40:22-55).
Amy’s ask was similarly oriented, noting the need for thoroughness for any future consultations because the most marginalised are the least likely to be heard. Her ask: ‘Hearing from the most marginalised in our communities, be that the LGBT community or the communities of severe deprivation [...] because the people we’re trying to support are the people who are hardest to reach’ (33:03-23).
Emily works with survivors, so her ask centred around implementing and improving trauma-informed practice around Scotland: ‘My one ask to the government would be to roll out trauma-informed training everywhere, and I mean absolutely everywhere. It’s what’s important to me as a survivor. I still get triggered sometimes, I’m afraid to make mistakes. Just certain language like “need”, “should” [...] [It would be kinder to say] “maybe try this, maybe try things differently”’ (43:08-37).
While this more-than-a-year-long campaign has been lots of work, so much information and so many voices have been collated that we are optimistic that our report will induce at least some of the changes we’ve been asking for all this time. Again, special thanks to all our panellists, contributors, viewers, hosts/organisers, and everyone who’s gone away to have a perspective-changing conversation with friends and loved ones around these difficult topics. We look forward to a brighter future for young people in Scotland, where the mechanisms for the most marginalised and vulnerable are there to provide support, and where safety is seen as an institutional (and not individual) responsibility.
Please stay tuned to hear all about the impact of our report, and please keep these vital conversations going in the interests of long-term cultural upheaval. We’re all in it together, to have a safer future for all.