Zero Tolerance 1992 Campaign: The Legacy

Maria Sofou, a student in Gender Studies at Stirling University, has been researching our archives and finding out more about our 1992 campaign.

The way that the Zero Tolerance campaign successfully framed the gendered nature of violence was part of the reason it was so innovative. It began from the premise that men are the predominantly the perpetrators of sexual assault and child abuse, and women and children are usually the targets of such violence. the campaign shifted the discussion from something that was deemed private, and the woman’s responsibility, to calling on all men to assume responsibility and end all violence. However, successfully challenging the dominant discourse of the time, by articulating a counter-hegemonic understanding of men’s sexual violence against women and children, was not the campaign’s sole legacy.

The campaign, due to its vigorous theoretical base and its gendered understanding of violence, had a significant impact on raising awareness and reporting on violence. Within a year of its launch, twelve more local authorities, including the city of Aberdeen, Strathclyde, Glasgow, and the Association of London Authorities, took up the idea and run similar campaigns.

In 1994 Zero Tolerance launched the ‘No Excuses’ bus advertising and poster campaign, aimed at targeting widely used excuses for men’s sexual violence against women. At the same time, an initiative was launched, featuring star players from Edinburgh’s two football clubs proudly pledging their support for the campaign’s cause. In tandem with this, Edinburgh District Council developed a ‘within council’ strategy that was resulted in a domestic violence policy for the council’s staff, an initiative believed to be the first of its kind in the UK (Mackay, 2001). The campaign’s launch also sparked the interest of a number of social agencies, such as social work departments, who in turn, began requesting information pertaining to sexual assault and domestic abuse from Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis centres

Following the campaign’s success, the powerful speech of ‘Judy’ (not real name used), a sexual assault survivor who spoke of her assault by a bogus priest in Edinburgh at the Scottish Conservative Party Conference in May 1993, the Scottish Office designed and developed its own initiative targeting men’s violence against women. ‘Judy’’s account, who saw her attacker’s sentence being reduced from life behind bars to six years on appeal, ignited the Scottish Office Crime Prevention Council to launch a £300,000 advertising campaign in 1994 that featured a 40-second television commercial highlighting the hidden nature of domestic abuse.

Most importantly, local authorities throughout Britain reported that the campaign encouraged women to come forward and report their abuse in greater numbers than before the campaign’s launch (Mackay, 2001). Evidence from that time suggests that apart from asking for help and support in a much larger scale than before, women were more informed about the nature of male violence, as well as the continuum of male abusive behaviour.

Zero Tolerance’s original campaign is perhaps the most successful local authority campaign ever launched in the UK: its boldness and radical approach did not only encourage women to come forward and seek help throughout Britain, but it also inspired policy change through its unique gendered analysis of abuse. Andrea Dworkin (1988) wrote that “women must wage a war against silence: against socially coerced silence; against politically preordained silence; against economically choreographed silence; against the silence created by the pain and despair of sexual abuse and second class status”. The Zero Tolerance 1992 campaign remains to this day the embodiment of this very struggle for justice.

Maria lives and works in Edinburgh. She originally studied History and Theory of Art in Athens, Greece, and in 2017 received her Master’s in Applied Criminology and Forensic Psychology from Edinburgh Napier University. Her dissertation focused on campus sexual assault and institutional betrayal in the United States. She is currently a postgraduate student in Gender Studies at Stirling University.



Mackay, F. (2001). The Case of Zero Tolerance: Women’s Politics in Action? In E. Breitenbach and F. Mackay (eds), Women and Contemporary Scottish Politics: An Anthology (pp. 105-130). Edinburgh: Polygon.
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