Mar 212020
 

Three former Torry community councillors have lodged a complaint against Depute Lord Provost Jennifer Stewart with The Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life. By Suzanne Kelly (one of the three).

The Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life received a complaint from Bee Kerr, Renee Slater and Suzanne Kelly against Councillor Jennifer Stewart.
They have asked the Commission to investigate, and if appropriate, censure or suspend Jennifer Stewart on account of her behaviour following Councillor Alan Donnelly’s sexual assault of a person at a civic function.

Councillor Donnelly, who has represented Torry and Ferryhill in the past, was placed on the sex offenders register by the Aberdeen Sheriff Court. The court found him guilty of sexually assaulting a waiter.

The offence occurred while Donnelly was at a civic function in his capacity as councillor.

Donnelly tried to deny events; the court said he should be ashamed. He refused to step down despite his criminal act being a clear violation of the Code of Conduct for councillors.

Renee Slater launched a petition demanding Donnelly resign, which was signed by over 700 people.

The Standards Commissioner’s office announced his suspension one day after he voted on a crucial budget during a stormy council session, to the benefit of the council’s majority group. If he doesn’t resign, he will face a public trial.

Prior to this vote, Cllr Stewart took to radio and commented that the sexual assault didn’t sound serious.

She said:

“I would wonder if it was an attack. To me an attack is a much more physical and aggressive thing, but sentence has been passed.”

Her remarks infuriated many including councillors, residents and people connected to victim support groups.

The signatories to the complaint and experts they spoke to feel it is hard enough to cope as a victim of an assault; it is harder still to report it.  Getting to trial is stressful, and many trials end with no conviction.

It is arguably harder for a man to be a victim of sexual assault given some societal attitudes. Elected officials should not use their office to question the judgment of the courts and to add to the burden of the victim, who has had to endure the harmful insult by way of the Depute Lord Provost suggesting the assault was not serious.

It is quite probable, the complainers feel, that future sex assault victims who are aware of Stewart’s widely-reported remarks may be reluctant to come forward fearing she may weigh in to judge them too.

Undoubtedly, her comments on the assault would not have been published had she not been the Depute Lord Provost. She has not responded to a request for comment.

In press coverage almost immediately following her remarks, she accused both the SNP and Liberal Democrats of contributing to her confessed mental health problems through bullying and intimidation.

She named no names; the Liberal Democrats denied any such wrongdoing, and the SNP wished her recovery.

The complainants know the Ethics Commissioner will look into her remarks, which, as they stand, smear the entire opposition with serious accusations of breaking the Code of Conduct – accusations they cannot counter as they are not levelled at any one person or persons.

The Evening Express have been asked to explain how they verified her later claims of mental health problems caused by the SNP and Liberal Democrats; 5 days on, we still await their response

Anyone who wishes to add their name to the complaint or lodge a complaint against a councillor can contact the Commission here: info@ethicalstandards.org.uk

Mar 022020
 

Will a convicted sex offender hold the key vote on Aberdeen City budget cuts? Suzanne Kelly writes.

Disgraced Alan Donnelly was found guilty, in an Aberdeen Sheriff court, of sexually assaulting a waiter at a civic function.
Despite this completely contravening the Councillors Code of Conduct, he’s staying in power and may hold a key vote on swinging budget cuts at the council’s meeting Tuesday 3 March: and some councillors are happy with him staying put.

The council’s ‘Urgent Action’ Committee have removed him from committees he was on, and reported him to the Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland (they had to really – so many people have done so, the Commission won’t take more complaints).

However, it does not appear they asked the Commissioner to exercise the power and suspend Donnelly. Instead, some councillors have been making statements in their official capacity to support Donnelly. Many believe this is because his vote is needed.

Repercussions.

While publications such as Private Eye (Eye 1516) cover this scandal and, as the Commissioner confirms, it is investigating Donnelly’s breaking of the code, Donnelly is still being allowed to attend civic functions and represent the city – and vote.

If he hangs on, he will be the subject of a public hearing by the Commission.

The Commission may be asked to look into what the council did to protect people from Donnelly, not least as there are reports Donnelly, who once was attached to ACC social services, bought alcohol for a sex offender in violation of protocol.

Did the city really do all it could to prevent this sexual assault? Were councillors’ remarks and actions appropriate? The commission’s remit is apparently widening by the day.

A petition started by Renee Slater, a former Torry Community Councillor (Donnelly’s ward) has over 770 signatures asking for Donnelly’s swift departure from office.

Reaction: Survivors UK say ‘he should step down or be removed’

“I agree wholeheartedly that he should step down or be removed from being a Councillor,” said Alex Feis-Bryce, Chief Executive Officer of SURVIVORS UK.

SURVIVORS UK helps sexually abused men as well as their friends and family, no matter when the abuse happened, and challenge the silence and attitudes.

Mr Feis-Bryce added:

“I say this as a survivor, the CEO of an organisation supporting thousands of survivors and a former Councillor.” 

According to the group, an estimated 12,000 men are raped in the UK every year, and more than 70,000 are sexually abused or assaulted.

Which witch hunt? What Jennifer Stewart did next.

“What I see is that there is a bit of a witch hunt to get him (Donnelly) out.”
– Depute Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Jennifer Stewart

As Survivors UK’s web page says:

“we know male sexual abuse has profound effects on those who experience it and can deeply affect their mental health and relationships.”

Most people understand sexual assault does not have to be a penetrative rape or involve being beaten. Not Cllr Stewart.

Jennifer Stewart, now in Donnelly’s former role as Depute Lord Provost went to the press in her official capacity and said:

“I would wonder if it was an attack. To me an attack is a much more physical and aggressive thing but sentence has been passed.”

In other words, the Depute Lord Provost of Aberdeen went to the press to call into question the robustness of an Aberdeen Sheriff court decision and to denigrate the sexual assault victim.

She said that those seeking to get Donnelly out were on a ‘witch hunt’.

Was she trying to conflate a hysterical persecution of the innocent (witch hunt) with trying to protect people from a sex offender, protect the council’s reputation, and ensuring the code was adhered to by councillors? Surely she knows the definition of the phrase ‘witch hunt?’

The barrage of justified criticism of her words was swift. Stewart immediately took to the press again and released a story, again in her official capacity, claiming she suffered mental health problems. These, she said, were so bad she was scared to walk down certain council corridors.

Stewart said:

“The level of pressure that was brought on me by the SNP and Liberal Democrats caused me significant mental health issues and anxiety, something I have never suffered from before.

“I have been ostracised, shunned and prevented from walking down certain corridors.

“Other councillors have no right to go on a witch-hunt to try and get rid of someone.”

In her next press outing, she was praised for her work to help female victims of domestic abuse in a new initiative with the police and a charity.

(NB – The most recent figures (Scottish Government 2012a) show that in 2011/12 there were 9,569 reports to the police of a domestic abuse incident where the ‘victim’ was male and the perpetrator female and 659 reports where there was a male ‘victim’ of a male perpetrator (where the sex of the parties were recorded).

A day or two later she was portrayed in the press again sympathetically, talking about the death of a friend.

Ms Stewart was asked to comment but has not replied. If it is true, she has mental health issues which she is willing to talk to the press about while accusing political opponents of causing these problems, then the Standards Commission should be asked to investigate these as a matter of urgency.

However, if she suffers mental health problems because of bullying, perhaps she should not go around contradicting the sheriff court’s finding a man was a victim of sexual assault, and in her official role telling the press ‘an attack is a physical (it was) and aggressive (it was) thing’.

If, however she has cynically made a false claim of mental health problems caused by political opponents (who strenuously deny such claims – and Stewart named no names) as a means of garnering sympathy and to deflect attention from her contentious remarks over Donnelly’s victim, this must be investigated.

For a woman who uses the term ‘witch hunt’ about those wanting Donnelly out, she has herself started a genuine witch hunt with her claim unnamed people gave her mental health problems.

She has tarnished her every opponent and by not naming anyone has made the public wonder who is harming her mental health, thereby causing people to mistrust those who would do such a thing: with absolutely no evidence for her claims.

It is understood Ms Stewart’s conduct will be reported to the Standards Commission shortly too.

Reaction.

At least some members of ACC recognize the crime of sexual assault is serious. Councillor Alex Nicoll and Steve Delaney want Donnelly out now.

The calls came not long after Donnelly was seen at a Town House event to celebrate the success of local food bank (the ‘oil capitol of Europe’ should not need food banks, by the way).

Lord Provost Barney Crockett told the BBC the city must:

“ensure everybody is treated appropriately, and that’s what I’ll continue to do.”

How he is treating Donnelly’s victim appropriately remains to be seen.
Mr Nicoll demanded Crockett must:

“clarify why he feels the sex offender should be treated the same as everyone else.”

Responsibility.

Mr Nicoll added:

“It is utterly disgraceful that Councillor Donnelly continues to attend events, by invitation, as if nothing has happened.

“I would urge the Lord Provost to ban him from civic events if he is serious about protecting the public and ensuring Aberdeen City Council is not a laughing stock.”

When asked where the responsibility for protecting the public from a further Donnelly attack lies, a spokesman for Aberdeen Sheriff Court said

“This would be a matter for Aberdeen District Council.”

Risible.

As things stand, Donnelly is on the council, attending events, drinking alcohol, enjoying himself, laughing with other councillors.

He is poised to vote, and may be key to getting a controversial budget passed. Depending on what ACC do over this vote, it looks as if the Standards Commission is going to be very busy with investigations indeed.

But, alas for Cllr Nicoll, Aberdeen is now a laughing stock throughout the UK and is on record as being an institution callous to sexual assault victims.

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Mar 022017
 

A landmark law to tackle violence against women passed its Third Reading in the House of Commons on Friday with an overwhelming majority of 138 in favour to just 1 against. With thanks to Banff & Buchan SNP.

Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP with campaigners and MPs after the vote.

Local MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford’s Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill 2017, requires the UK government to ratify the Istanbul Convention – a far-reaching new law that puts legal obligations on the state to prevent violence against women, protect
women and prosecute the perpetrators.

The Convention encompasses many forms of sexual violence and domestic abuse including stalking, harassment, sexual assault and rape, physical and psychological abuse by a partner, forced marriage, forced abortion or sterilisation and female genital mutilation.

The UK signed the treaty in 2012 but has yet to ratify it to make it part of UK law.

The SNP MP for Banff & Buchan, who is the party’s Westminster spokesperson for Social Justice, secured cross-party support for her Bill, which has been championed by women’s equality organisations including IC Change, Women’s Aid, Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland, White Ribbon, End Violence Against Women, Scottish Women’s convention, NUS, Girlguiding, and the Fawcett Society.

The Bill also received strong support from the actor and UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, who this week wrote to all MPs urging them to vote for the Bill.

Commenting after the Bill passed its Third Reading, Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:

“I am delighted that this landmark legislation to combat gender-based violence has received such overwhelming cross-party support and now looks set to become UK law.

“This is a huge and historic step forward in efforts to tackle violence against women and has the potential to transform the lives of thousands of women right across the country.

“Women’s equality organisations and activists have been campaigning for the UK government to ratify the Istanbul Convention for many years now – so today’s vote is a cause for celebration and a testament to their sustained efforts.

“The Istanbul Convention is the most comprehensive and far-reaching framework that exists to tackle violence against women in its many forms and manifestations, and critically, it provides the legal apparatus to hold governments accountable for their progress. This is a powerful vehicle for improving policy, practices and services on an ongoing basis.

“Sexual violence and domestic abuse are neither natural nor inevitable. We can prevent it, we can challenge it and we can hold perpetrators to account. We need to do all these things if we are to end this systematic abuse of women’s basic human rights, and ratifying the Istanbul Convention is a big step in the right direction.

“We have travelled some distance in this struggle but we still have such long way still to go and we need to recognise that Ratification of the Istanbul Convention is a milestone on the journey to equality and justice for women, not an end point.”

Further reading:

 Emma Watson backs SNP MP’s bid to combat domestic abuse.
 Theresa May urges MPs to back Whiteford bill and stamp out violence against women.

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Dec 312015
 

howwesupportWith thanks to Esther Green, Tricker PR

A new project to support childhood rape and abuse survivors has got off the ground in Aberdeen – with a helping hand from Aberdeen Asset Management.
The firm’s Charitable Foundation has given a donation that has enabled the city’s Rape and Abuse Support (RAS) to set up a new programme providing assistance and relief to young people and adults who have suffered abuse.

Trained volunteers offer direct and tailored support through a 12-step programme, providing a listening ear in a safe and comfortable environment where issues and coping mechanisms can be discussed.

RAS offers support and information to anyone over 13 years old who has been raped or sexually abused at any time in their life. It works in the main with the survivors of rape and abuse who may have issues around self harm, alcoholism, self esteem and post-traumatic stress disorder. It also provides information and support to families, friends and partners to enable them to support the survivor in the long term.

The charity works with partners in the community to address rape and sexual violence, has a prevention programme and receives referrals from a wide range of organisations. In January 2014, RAS expanded its service to support men and boys.

Lorraine Dobson, the charity’s support services co-ordinator said:

“We are very grateful for this donation from Aberdeen Asset Management that has allowed us to roll out this new support project for young girls and women in the North East. This project enables survivors to discuss issues relating to abuse, and the impact it has had on their lives and to explore issues including developing coping mechanises to address this in everyday life.

“Childhood survivors can share their stories with trained volunteers who can offer direct and unique support to them. This will be an ongoing project as we aim to help as many people as we can.”

Dominic Kite of Aberdeen Asset Management’s Charitable Foundation said:

“Rape and Abuse Support Aberdeen carries out vital work in the city and surrounding area and this new support group will build and develop the service it is able to offer.”

The Aberdeen Asset Charitable Foundation was established in 2012 to formalise and develop the Group’s charitable giving globally. The Foundation seeks partnerships with smaller charities around the world, where funds can be seen to have a meaningful and measurable impact and the firm encourages its employees to use their time and skills to support its charitable projects. The donation to RAS which has enabled the setting up of the new support project totals £4,000.

For more information visit http://www.aberdeen-asset.co.uk/aam.nsf/foundation/home

Nov 302012
 

With thanks to Kathryn Russell.

To mark the United Nations’ International Elimination of Violence Against Women Day, Aberdeen Women’s Alliance (AWA) took to the streets to collect donations for Rape and Abuse Support (RAS).
They also took the opportunity to discuss with city shoppers the recent funding issues experienced by the charity and the importance of the service it provides.

RAS provides support and advocacy to female survivors of sexual violence, whether recent or historical, as well as challenging public attitudes towards rape through outreach work.

AWA chose to fundraise for RAS following news earlier this year that the charity’s Scottish Government funding had been cut by 50%.

Director for the charity and member of AWA, Kathryn Russell stated:

“Despite the weather, we had a great turn out from members of the AWA and were delighted by the generosity of Aberdeen’s Christmas shoppers.

“Sexual violence is a crime which can have a devastating impact, and it is crucial survivors have access to appropriate support and help following a rape or sexual assault. That’s why it’s essential that we retain the important service provided by RAS in the North-east.”

Following fears that the rape crisis centre would have to close after Christmas, RAS successfully raised enough funds to ensure its immediate future. Donations are still required, however, and those wishing to donate can do so at:  http://www.justgiving.com/rapeandabusesupportaberdeen

Nov 092012
 

With thanks to Gordon Maloney.

Students from the University of Aberdeen have organised a night-time march through the city for this weekend to tackle what they say is a “victim-blaming” culture around sexual violence.

The march follows the vicious sexual assault of a young woman near the main campus of the University.

The students say that the advice being given to young women, to stay safe by not walking alone, shifts the blame away from the perpetrators of sexual violence onto the victims, blaming women for walking alone rather than men for attacking them.

Lisa Frach, the Women’s Officer at Aberdeen University Students’ Association, issued the following statement:

“Many of you will have heard about the sexual assault that took place in Bedford Avenue last Saturday morning. The Grampian Police department, which is investigating in the Bedford Avenue case, has advised women not to walk alone, even in the daytime. This and similar advice have been given to women basically forever.

“However, this way of arguing forces not only the focus on the victim, but also the blame. Feminists and student groups in the 70’s started opposing this way of thinking and organised very successful “Reclaim the Night” marches throughout the world to shift the focus on the perpetrator.

“A facebook page called Aberdeen University Confessions, that was recently shut down due to questionable content, brought to light that the view women would bring sexual assault upon themselves, is still held among some students of our university. Your Students’ Association would like to remind everyone that while incidents such as the one in Bedford Avenue are rare, we would like to reaffirm that sex without consent is rape. This is equally true in the pub with your friends as it is late at night when you’re walking home.

“As reaction to the sexual assault, the advice given by the police and the persistent way of victim blaming we are organising a “Reclaim the Night” – march on November 10th. Starting at 6pm in Hillhead, we are heading to Bedford Avenue following the route the young woman took on Saturday morning.

“For women to liberate themselves from victim blaming and to emphasize the fact that women don’t need to be protected by men the march is going to be for self-defining women (including trans*-women and genderqueer persons) only.

“While we support the general safety advice we would like to encourage that if you wish to talk to someone about suspicious behaviour, harassment or violence, contact the police about criminal offences. If you don’t feel comfortable with the police you can consult the Student Advice Centre (SAC) in Butchart or RAS (Rape and Abuse Support) on 01224 620 772.

“The SAC service and RAS are both confidential services that are here to listen and offer advice if you need it, as well as give support in reporting incidents formally through the police service. Even if you have no plans to formally report an incident, it can help to discuss it with someone who is sympathetic and trained to give you non-judgemental support.

“Please, look out for each other and support one another.”