Published online by Cambridge University Press: 18 December 2009
‘One in 5 women live with the constant threat of domestic abuse’. This was the shocking headline of a Scottish government campaign against domestic violence undertaken while I was writing this book. Along with posters that asked ‘Which type of woman is most often abused?’, and answered ‘The female type’, the ‘1 in 5’ statistic appeared on billboards by roads and at bus-stops, on television advertisements, in magazines and newspapers, and on a new website offering information and advice. Yet, within three months of launching this campaign, the Advertising Standards Authority (the national advertising watchdog) had forced a government rethink. The ASA had received two main sources of complaint. The first was that the campaign was biased because it only showed female victims of domestic abuse. This was not upheld by the ASA. But the second complaint was that the government had no proof to support its ‘1 in 5’ claim. Where was their evidence? The government pointed the ASA to a recent survey that had been based on 5,000 households, and had shown that one in five women had experienced domestic abuse at some point in their lives. That, argued the ASA, did not support the claim that one in five women lived in ‘constant threat of domestic abuse’. The campaign as it stood was discredited and had to be withdrawn.
As a historian, this campaign taught me a number of lessons about domestic violence, present and past.