IN the UK, 97% of 16 to 24-year-old women and girls in the UK have been sexually harassed. One in five will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

A reality even closer to home for autistic women, of whom nine in 10 will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Most who are assaulted will not be assaulted in a dark lane by a monstrous man like the movies would lead you to believe – they are more often than not assaulted in an environment that they regard as safe, by a person that they know and trust.

I purposefully started with those statistics, because they are the most important thing I will write today. If you take one thing from this week’s offering, let it be the information I just presented you with. I fear we are able to hide from the uncomfortable realities of gender-based violence too often, at the expense of the progression that is badly needed.

Priming yourself for the possibility of harassment and assault is part and parcel of growing up as a young girl – an oppression that transcends borders. While it might manifest in different ways and to varying degrees across the world, the oppression of women and girls is a universal reality and exists to a harsh degree in Scotland.

My mum, with the best intentions, drilled it into me and my sister from a young age that we shouldn’t wear headphones when we are walking by ourselves, or go out by ourselves at night. A lesson my brother wouldn’t have to learn – not at the fault of my mum who was simply doing her job as a mother to protect her daughters. But of our society, whose unforgivable passiveness ensures the enforcement of these double standards.

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To this day, my mum has my location activated and no matter what she’s doing when it occurs, will answer the phone if I find myself walking alone at night. In terms of the measures women are forced to take to protect ourselves, that is just the beginning.

If we get into a taxi alone, we are to write the number plate down. In the winter, our window of permission to feel safe outside is punishingly small. We are taught to police ourselves in every possible sense of the word – from what we wear, to what routes we choose to take home, to how we conduct ourselves. It is ingrained in the fibre of our existence to minimise the threat that we face, however we can.

It’s not a minor inconvenience, it’s a way of life that is forced upon us by a society that – as proven by statistics – isn’t safe for us, and does little to advocate for our safety despite being well aware of the reality.

Sarah Everard was the tip of the iceberg for me. Brutally assaulted, murdered and disposed of as if she was merely collateral damage in a man’s conquest to fulfil his twisted sexual desires. A tale that, chillingly, isn’t uncommon, but the real kicker in this example was that the man in question was a serving police officer. A person of authority, that was entrusted with public safety. With the safety of women.

Combined with diabolical prosecution statistics and the uncovering of institutional misogyny, laid bare is the reality that in the face of so much violence, we can’t even trust the police to protect us. So we are forced to take measures to protect ourselves.

A notion that, although oppressive, may well keep us safer from the aforementioned monstrous strangers – but will do little to protect us from those statistically more likely to cause us harm. For autistic women, there is an added layer of vulnerability.

We are more likely to have difficulties in communication, and more specifically, in decoding hidden intentions. We are more likely to process at a slower rate and can often go non-verbal in situations of discomfort due to an inability to process at a fast enough speed. And it is because of this that we are even more at risk of this kind of violence.

The Scottish Government has taken strides toward positive change, particularly over the past few years. The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act, the Equally Safe strategy, the introduction of the Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill – all of which are welcome steps towards a more safe and accessible society for women and girls, but we have a long way to go.

In 2021, the Scottish Government delivered emergency funding to tackle waiting lists across Rape Crisis services – funding that is due to run out in March 2024. In the spirit of this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence – an annual international campaign that kicked off on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and runs until December 10, Human Rights Day – I am calling on the Scottish Government to extend emergency funding and commit to long-term sustainable funding for Rape Crisis Centres across Scotland.

This year’s theme of “Invest to Prevent” is one the Scottish Government should take heed on. Though, given the above statistics, gender-based violence can feel insurmountable and so deeply embedded across our society – the solutions lie in robust, properly funded policy. If we are to really give women and girls in Scotland a chance at the safety and accessibility we deserve, then we need our government to put its money where its mouth is.

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In all honesty, the various international days or weeks of awareness often feel hollow to me. Not because the premise behind them is empty, but because they so rarely instigate real change.

We talk about an issue for its allotted time period every year, we condemn it with all of our might and our politicians post pictures with themed placards on their social media – and then it’s put back in its box until next year.

Women and girls in Scotland simply can’t afford another year of ambivalence. I don’t want to be here next year asking for the same things, and hoping that I’ll see them at some point in my lifetime. It is within our gift in this moment to deliver – and I urge the Scottish Government to do so.