Holyrood’s shame

Holyrood’s shame

Holyrood has been considering ca. 150 amendments to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill. All the amendments must be considered and voted on in one day because the Scottish government insists the Bill be enacted before Xmas. There are many issues arising with this Bill but one – which has nothing to do with people with gender dysphoria – is worth highlighting.

It is this: should men convicted of sexual offences against women, girls or children be allowed to take advantage of the Bill’s self-ID provisions?

These provisions will be available to every person over the age of 16 living in Scotland for 3 months. Their effect is that someone can get a GRC, change their legal gender, be considered legally a member of the opposite sex (following the recent judgment by Lady Haldane), get a new birth certificate with a new gender/sex and name and, crucially, hide the fact they have a GRC and all details of their previous identity.

Russell Findlay, a Conservative MSP, tabled an amendment which would have excluded convicted sex offenders from these provisions. After all – as Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly said – the risk is not from transpeople but from predatory men. So why would you not want to exclude those predatory men, especially as they can be so easily identified by the fact of their conviction for those offences which you claim you want to protect women from? We have our answer. They don’t. The SNP, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Labour Party and the Scottish Lib Dems voted against this amendment. It was lost: 59 voted in favour, 64 against. Let’s be clear: MSPs from these 4 parties voted to allow convicted sex offenders to take advantage of the Bill’s freedoms to change identity.

The consequences of this for male sex offenders are very advantageous: they can change name, gender, birth certificate and be legally considered “women”. As “women” they can demand access to spaces designated as female single sex spaces (under the Equality Act exemptions) without any effective challenge (practical or legal). In short, male predators will be given easier access to female victims. That’s one hell of a Xmas present for rapists. One hell of a legacy for self-proclaimed “feminist to her fingertips” Sturgeon. 

At this point someone usually says that sex offenders don’t need to get a GRC to attack women. True. But of all the arguments in favour of permitting this privilege, this is far and away the stupidest. Of course, they don’t need self-ID to do this. Sexual predators didn’t need to become teachers, priests, sports coaches, entertainers, charity workers or anything else to commit their offences. But they did. If you make it easy for them to access victims and offend, they will take advantage. There is a heartbreakingly voluminous amount of evidence showing that this is exactly how sexual offenders operate. Despite this, 4 Scottish parties who cannot, surely, consist only of Hibernian third-raters, have chosen to ignore all this and provide them with another opportunity. Not just an opportunity but Holyrood’s approval and legal blessing.

The second stupid argument put forward by the SNP during the debate is that they do not expect any sex offenders to apply for a GRC. This is – according to the relevant Minister – “inconceivable”.  Let’s ignore the comment’s astonishing naivety. Let’s not ask how they could possibly know this. If this were true, there could be no political disadvantage or cost to the Scottish government from preventing sex offenders from getting one. In reality, the government is saying they don’t care: if a convicted sex offender asks for one, he should get it, despite the risks. 

The next advantage for convicted sex offenders is that this undermines the DBS process, an essential part of safeguarding, vital to protect the vulnerable. It is unlawful for public bodies to reveal that a person has had a GRC. Accordingly, any employer doing a DBS check against a sex offender’s new identity will not be told of his previous identity nor of any convictions he has under that identity. Only if the sex offender himself reveals his GRC will the employer be able to do a DBS check against that previous identity. The Scottish government thinks that convicted sex offenders will both change their identity and also reveal that earlier identity because … well … because they are asked nicely, or something. This is a pretty serious risk for all those bodies – schools, care homes etc – which have legal safeguarding duties but which will be reliant on convicted criminals deciding – for once – to comply with the law. To call this assumption foolhardy is to be exceptionally kind.

Nor does this just affect Scotland. Any sex offender who moves to Scotland for the required period can benefit from this provision. His victims can be anywhere in the UK.

When this amendment was defeated, women in the public gallery shouted “shame on all of you”. The MSPs who voted down this amendment should be ashamed. They have been repeatedly warned (by women, equality lawyers, the prison service, social workers, the EHRC, the UN Rapporteur on Violence against Women) of the risks of allowing sex offenders to take advantage of the Bill’s provisions. They know who bears that risk. Not them – but women, girls, children. They know why boundaries are needed to try to keep those at risk safe from those who pose the greatest risk. They know that sex offenders seek to abolish or breach boundaries. In actively permitting this, despite all the known risks, all the evidence of harm, all the warnings, these MSPs are willingly acting as enablers of – and accessories to – sex offenders. They share their mentality: women are not allowed to have boundaries, to say what they are, to keep themselves safe, to say “No means No” and have that respected. They have chosen to privilege convicted sex offenders. They have chosen to put women and girls and the vulnerable at risk.

Why? Albert Camus had it right all those years ago when he said: “Mistaken ideas always end in bloodshed but in every case it is someone else’s blood. That is why some of our thinkers feel free to say just about anything.”

For shame Scotland. For shame.


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