Dear MSPs…from survivors

The following letter was sent to all MSPs on 09 December, regarding the Lamont amendment to the Forensic Medical Service Bill to ensure survivors of rape and sexual assault are afforded the right to choose the “sex”, and not “gender” of their medical examiner:

Dear Members of the Scottish Parliament,

We are a group of female survivors of male sexual violence and we are writing to you all to express our support for Johann Lamont’s amendment to the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) Bill and to share our disappointment that Rape Crisis Scotland (RCS) has submitted a briefing opposing this amendment. In our view this briefing misrepresents the importance of the amendment and survivors’ understanding of the bill.

Although it is true that gender is often used as a synonym for sex, recent legislative and policy making efforts by the Scottish Government have shown that it treats sex and gender as two different concepts: as relating to reproductive sex classes on the one hand and sex stereotypes and sex role stereotypes on the other. Furthermore, while sex is defined in UK law (sections 11 and 212 of the Equality Act), there is no such definition of gender. That alone suggests inserting sex for gender is a sensible amendment in aid of writing a clear law.

However, what matters for us as survivors is not linguistics, but the fact that the Scottish Government has repeatedly shown its interpretation of gender is that a woman can be male or female. What matters even more to us, in light of today’s briefing, is that the Chief Executive of RCS has told members of our group in a meeting that RCS shares this view and applies it across its service—in principle and in practice—in relation to any male who makes a verbal declaration of identifying as a woman, requiring no transition of any kind, whether medical or social. Therefore, allowing survivors the right to request an examiner of a specific gender would be a meaningless provision. And given its own publicly and privately demonstrated view of the words gender and sex as different concepts, it is disingenuous for RCS to claim that this change in wording is inconsequential.

We are also disappointed that RCS thinks so little of survivors as to suggest we do not understand what the word request means or what this bill aims to achieve. We understand only too well that there are not enough female examiners to guarantee survivors the right to be examined by a female person. And that survivors, who are unable to tolerate male examiners giving them an intimate examination when they are newly traumatised and wounded to the core of their being, often face long waits until a female examiner is available. But these are issues wholly unconnected to using the word sex instead of gender in the law and can continue to be addressed through the Chief Medical Officer’s Taskforce.

Without this amendment, training providers have the legal right to request that only female candidates apply to attend and forensic services providers have the legal right to request that only female examiners apply to work there, but the very survivors for whom this bill is being written will not have the right to request that only female examiners attend to them.

Even as survivors, we are met with accusations of bigotry and hatefulness, as well as threats of violence, when we express our need for female-only provisions publicly. Your vote for Johann Lamont’s amendment would send a clear signal to all female survivors that you acknowledge our need for a female examiner, even if that cannot yet be guaranteed.

Yours faithfully,
[Name redacted] on behalf of HEAL, a survivors’ group