Update: Petition on accurately recording the sex of people charged or convicted of rape or attempted rape

Today the Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee considered our petition for a second time.

We are pleased that the Committee has decided to keep the petition open and welcome the next steps agreed by members. These include seeking further clarity on data recording practices from Scottish Government, both in relation to cases of rape and more broadly, following recent Inner House rulings, and ascertaining whether Police Scotland, the Courts and Crown Office have undertaken an Equality Impact Assessment on their data collection policies.

We also welcome the call for qualitative research made by SNP MSP Michelle Thomson on how data recording practices based on self-identification impact on victims. It is deeply disquieting that women feel the need to disclose their personal histories to be properly heard in public policy debates.

The impact of such policies on victims extends beyond data collection, to court procedures and media reporting, and how aggressors are described to victims. Scotland’s Equal Treatment Bench Book states ‘language used to or about LGBT people should reflect how they themselves wish to be addressed or referred to’, including pronouns. Male crimes are also reported as if committed by women. A recent Daily Record article which reported “Glasgow-born sex offender has admitted exposing her penis” is a case in point. As Fair Play For Women document, the press regulator IPSO has repeatedly rejected complaints in this area, despite being offensive to victims.

In each of these areas, policy-makers have elevated gender self-identification principles over the need for accuracy, without due consideration for victims.

Background to the session

Since the last session which considered the petition, the Committee received a submission from Police Scotland, which has defended its practice of recording as a woman “a person, born male and who identifies as a female (whether they have a GRC or not) and then commits rape (providing they have a penis)”.

We responded to the Police Scotland submission here. We argued that Police Scotland has fundamentally misunderstood the scope for misleading effects on data. We expressed our disappointment that it does not recognise this as an ethical issue from the perspective of victims and highlighted recent court judgements relating to the legal definition of “sex”.

The Committee has also received evidence from SNP MSP Michelle Thomson, calling for qualitative research into the impact on victims of policies such as that of Police Scotland. We share her concerns about the failure of COPFS, SCTS and Police Scotland responses to the committee to consider the experience of victims in their submissions. The full set of submissions can be accessed here.

The Committee also received a late submission from EHRC Scotland, which drew members’ attention to recent Scottish Government guidance on collecting data on sex, gender identity, and trans status. Given the lack of clarity in this submission, we wrote to members to highlight that the Scottish Government guidance cites serious sexual offending as an example where data on biological sex is needed.

Background to the petition

More information on the petition can be found here.

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