Gender Based Violence

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Gender-based violence (GBV) is a major public health, equality and human rights issue, which cuts across the whole of society. It encompasses a spectrum of abuse including domestic abuse, childhood sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking, commercial sexual exploitation and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage and so-called ‘honour’ crimes. 

Highlighting that it both stems from and reinforces gender inequality, the United Nations defines GBV as: 

‘Violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or violence that affects women disproportionately… (and) is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women.’ 

GBV cuts across all boundaries of age, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, religion and belief and socio-economic inequality. It is also important to recognise that men too can experience abuse whilst women may be perpetrators, and that abuse within same sex relationships has a similar prevalence to heterosexual relationships. 

Crucially, issues such as gender, sexuality and ethnicity intersect to shape the experience and impact of gender-based violence. 

View more information on our gender equality pages.


Since 2000, the Scottish Government has provided strategic direction and leadership on tackling GBV. The current framework for addressing this abuse is Equally Safe: Scotland’s strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls.

Within NHSScotland, a national programme of work to improve the healthcare response to GBV commenced in 2008 with the issue of Chief Executive’s Letter 2008_41

A subsequent letter from the Chief Executive in January 2012 re-iterated the need to adopt a process of continuous improvement in this area. 

Scotland’s first National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP) 2013-2017 explicitly recognises that taking action to address violence against women and girls is needed to ensure we realise the human rights of all our citizens

Two elements of GBV are covered by additional policy directives: Human Trafficking and Forced Marriage. Statutory guidance on the latter was issued in 2011.


A range of legislative provisions offer protection against GBV:

  • The Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act (2001) affords protection to individuals who have left abusive relationships by allowing for a power of arrest to be attached to an interdict.
  • The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2011 amends the Protection from Harassment Act (1997) by making provision in relation to harassment amounting to domestic abuse; makes it an offence to breach an interdict relating to domestic abuse with a power of arrest attached.
  • The Protection from Harassment Act (1997) criminalises, and creates a right to protection from, stalking and persistent bullying, including in the workplace.
  • The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act (2009) criminalises a range of sexual offences including rape and sexual assault. More generally, it provides that any sexual activity which takes place without consent (´free agreement´) is a criminal offence. It also includes male rape and has created new statutory offences concerning unwanted sexual communication and coercing a person to look at sexual images, which may be particularly relevant in cases of sexually motivated stalking or harassment.
  • The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 provides for a new statutory offence of stalking. Conduct constituting stalking may, depending on the circumstances, be prosecuted using a number of common law and statutory offences. The new offence of engaging in threatening or abusive behaviour in the act also provides more protection for victims of domestic abuse.
  • The Forced Marriage etc. (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011 provides a specific civil remedy for those threatened with forced marriage and those already in such a marriage.
  • The Scottish Government is bound by the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. The UK Government as the Member State has opted into the European Union Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, and replacing Council Framework Decision 2002/629/JHA which takes a victim centred approach, including a gender perspective, to cover actions in different areas such as criminal law provisions, prosecution of offenders, victims’ support and rights in criminal proceedings. The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill is currently being considered by the Scottish Parliament.
  • The Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation (Scotland) Act 2005 provides a definition of female genital mutilation which is unlawful and makes it an offence for UK nationals or permanent UK residents to carry out or aid and abet female genital mutilation abroad.
  • Human Rights Act (1998), Article 3 affords an ‘absolute’ right not to be tortured, or inhumanely or degradingly treated or punished.

Details of each of these acts can be found on:


Updated July 2015

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