Write to End VAW Bursary 2019/20 Poppy Watson

Every year, through the Write to End Violence Against Women Bursary, Zero Tolerance works to help launch the career of an aspiring journalist who is committed to tackling violence against women and its cause – gender inequality.

The recipient is paid to write news and feature pieces covering these topics in a sensitive and responsible way. These pieces are then published in a national newspaper.

Reporting on violence against women and gender inequality can play a vital role in increasing understanding and challenging their place in our society.

In 2019/20 we will be working with the Daily Record who will be jointly commissioning articles, our bursary winner this year is Poppy Joy Watson. We are very excited to read her articles that will be written this year!

My name is Poppy and I’m from a small village in the Highlands. I graduated with a degree in English, Journalism & Creative Writing from the University of Strathclyde in 2018, before setting off to Australia on a working holiday. I’m now studying for my NCTJ Diploma at Glasgow Clyde College. Being awarded the Write to End Violence Against Women Bursary is one of my proudest achievements and I have since had the opportunity to work with some incredibly inspiring people at Zero Tolerance and the Daily Record. I feel much more confident about my future job prospects in the journalism industry now I have experience writing for a national newspaper.

Here is my blog for Zero Tolerance for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence:

Online violence against women in politics: the cause and consequence

Here are my articles published in the Daily Record:

12 May 2021

Abuses daily for being trans

Joy tells Poppy Watson how she has suffered countless attacks because of her gender identity

Joy was enjoying a night out in Edinburgh with friends when a man approached her in the smoking area of a jazz bar.

He grabbed her crotch and said: “I want to feel your pussy”.

When Joy, now 26, slapped him across the face, he wrapped his hands around her neck and choked her until eventually his friends dragged him off.

This is one of countless times Joy has experienced men’s violence since coming out as a trans woman in 2017.

She is not alone. The Scottish Trans Alliance found that 80% of trans people have experienced hate crime at least once in their lives.

According to the Police Scotland website, hate crime is “any crime which is perceived by the victim or any other person as being motivated (wholly or partly) by malice or ill will towards a social group.”

It can fall into one of three main categories: physical assault, verbal abuse, or incitement to hatred – which means acting in a way that purposefully stirs up hatred.

Joy, an Edinburgh-based musician who goes by the stage name Lady Incarnate, said: “[Attacks] are daily, people go out of their way to disrespect me.

“I've also experienced a lot of confrontation, verbal and physical violence in public spaces.”

Reports of transphobic incidents in Scotland have doubled in the last five years, with recent statistics from Scot Gov revealing that between 2014-15 and 2019-20, hate crimes against the transgender community increased from 48 to 96.

But it is likely the true rate is far higher. Only one in seven trans people report their experience of abuse, LGBT+ charity Galop’s Transphobic Hate Crime report found.

Joy, who was born in Norwich and moved to Edinburgh at 18 to work in theatre, suffers “one or two” serious transphobic attacks a year on top of “a slew of less severe incidents like catcalls”.

Joy is self-confident and has a close group of supportive friends to lean on. But the abuse has taken a toll on her mental health.

She said: “I think I’m going to get killed on day. I flinch when men walk too close on the street and I'm often primed to fight if a stranger approaches. I do not feel safe.”

Joy was leaving an Edinburgh nightclub in 2018 when a group of men jumped her from behind and beat her in front of her friends.

She tried her best to fight them off but was repeatedly knocked down.

“I don't really remember much apart from tasting concrete a few times,” she said.

Her face was so badly beaten, she was forced her to cancel her job interview the next morning.

And more recently, she was cycling to videogame company where she works in Edinburgh when workmen shouted transphobic slurs out of their window while driving past her.

She said: “They slowed down and tried to squirt some liquid on me.

“At the time I thought it was an acid attack, so I swerved on to the next lane, putting myself at risk of getting hit by other cars.”

When they were stopped at the next set of traffic lights, she peddled over, blocked their van with her bike and shouted: “Why do you think it's ok to act like this? Do you think your family will be proud?"

After causing a traffic jam on Queen street and seeing they were “sufficiently embarrassed”, she let them pass.

She said: “I regard this as probably one of the more stupid things I have done… I was so furious, I wanted them to think twice before harassing another trans woman.”

But Joy has never felt safe reporting these crimes to the police.

She said: “The police are useless, calling them does nothing. They have betrayed minorities and queer folk so many times, I do not trust them to have my best interests at heart.”

This fear stems from their failure to prosecute a group of lads who assaulted her on a bus as a teenager, despite CCTV capturing the attack.

Joy, who sought a medical transition from male to female last year in a bid to “feel beautiful before I got old” continues to stand her ground as a proud trans woman.

“It's my world as much as anyone's,” she said.

Becky Kaufmann from Scottish Trans Alliance said: “The dramatic increase in reported hate crimes against trans people sadly reflects what we have seen in our own research.

“But things can and will change if we all speak out against those who seek to single people out just for being different.

“We can do this if we teach people from early on in life and continue to reinforce the message that everyone, whether they are like us or not, is valuable and worthy of respect.”

Co-director of Zero Tolerance, Laura Tomson, said: “Trans women are particularly likely to be the target of male violence because of a toxic combination of misogyny and transphobia.

“Gender inequality depends on the myth that biological sex determines who we are; this is what makes the existence of trans people so threatening to misogynistic men.

“No-one should have to live with the constant fear of violence, and work to prevent violence against women must be inclusive of trans women.”

A Police Scotland spokesman said: “We understand the challenges that face the LGBTI+ community as a whole and that many people within these groups are disproportionately affected by areas of crime, in whole or in part, because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“We work closely with trusted partners such as LGBT Youth, Terrence Higgins Trust and Scottish Trans Alliance who provide guidance and advice to Police Scotland in order to ensure that the voices of the LGBTI+ community are heard and acted upon.

“Any crime reported to Police Scotland is recorded and investigated thoroughly and Transgender prejudice is no different.”

If you have been the subject of hate, please contact police via 101 or through their online or Third Party Reporting provisions. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse contact Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234. Support is trans-inclusive and available 24/7.

5 April 2021

Police said I was to blame for rape

Rape victim on how her ordeal continued when reporting the attack to cops. Here, she tells Poppy Watson her story

WHEN Willow* was raped by her estranged husband, she reported it to the police, believing they would help and protect her.

It never occurred to her that the outdated attitudes of police officers on her case would prove to be as traumatic as the horrific attack itself.

Now one of Scotland’s most senior judges, Lady Dorian, has proposed a shake up of the justice system that would help women like Willow.

Her proposals, including setting up specialist sex crime courts and allowing the use of pre-recorded evidence, have been welcomed by Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid.

But the proposals are too late for Willow. Two-and-a-half years after her ordeal, she asks: “Why did I even bother?”

It was a Saturday night in 2018 and Willow, now 29, remembers curling upon the sofa with her kids to watch the X Factor. Her husband – who she had left after 12 years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse – was there too. Despite her resistance, he had insisted on coming in after dropping their four children off earlier.

At some point she dozed off. When she woke up, her husband was raping her. Willow called her best friend in floods of tears. It was this friend who accompanied her to the police station in Lanarkshire the next morning to report the rape and undergo a forensic medical examination.

This would be Willow’s first encounter with harmful rape myths that can make reporting an attack as bad as the assault itself.

A recent survey shows that these are on the way out but too many survivors are still suffering because of them.

One police officer asked Willow: “Are you sure you’re telling the truth?”

They claimed that text messages between Willow and her now ex-husband didn’t correspond with her story. The morning after the attack, she talked with him as normal because he was coming over to collect the kids.

“They didn’t realise how dangerous this man is. He had my kids. I couldn’t act any differently because then potentially I was putting them in danger,” she said.

Willow, who has suffered from PTSD and psychological trauma since she was sexually abused as a child, had a complete breakdown and self-harmed in front of the police officers.

But this only strengthened their belief she was a liar.

They went on to suggest she couldn’t remember giving consent because of her mental health problems.

This is a common misconception. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2019 found that eight per cent of Scots agreed “women often lie about rape”, down from 23 per cent in 2014.

Though a step in the right direction, these findings highlight that damaging attitudes towards violence against women still exist. The police investigation continued. Willow’s husband was arrested on suspicion of rape, her phone and clothes were taken away as evidence, and her home become an active crime scene. She and the children moved in with a friend.

Days later, the senior police officer on Willow’s case told her the investigation would go nowhere without a video recording of the attack or witnesses.

Then he uttered the words that Willow still remembers so clearly: “At the end of the day, you put yourself in the position to be raped.”

She said: “Nobody sets out to get raped or sexually assaulted or abused.”

But many consider this to be the case. The Social Attitudes Survey showed that three in 10 Scots believed a woman was “at least partly to blame” for being raped if she was wearing revealing clothing or very drunk. This is compared to four in 10 in 2014.

Six months after Willow was raped, she got a one-line email to say the case had been dropped due to lack of evidence. Her mental health plummeted and social care stepped in to ensure her well-being.

But once again, Willow was accused of fabricating her story.

Willow’s experience has left her determined to campaign for justice and prevent other survivors suffering because of misconceptions around sexual violence.

She is a member of the Survivor Reference Group (SRG) – a Rape Crisis Scotland initiative that brings together rape survivors from across the country who have been let down by the justice system.

By sharing their experiences, they help shape and inform government policies alongside campaign groups such as Zero Tolerance.

Their spokeswoman said: “In recent years we’ve seen the rise of international movements such as #MeToo and more edutainment covering this issue on popular streaming platforms.

“We have also witnessed a number of high-profile rape trials which were widely covered in the media, all of which could have contributed to how people attribute blame for sexual violence.

“There is a lot more to be done for people to understand how this violence is caused by women’s inequality as well as its harmful impact both on women and on society as a whole.”

In the meantime, groups like Rape Crisis Scotland have been a lifeline for Willow. She said: “That’s the only place I can honestly say that I went and shared my story and felt believed.”

Sarah’s Story

SARAH* was raped aged 19 at university by an acquaintance.

When she was finally ready to tell her flatmates about it several months later, she was accused of lying.

Sarah said: “I remember one of them saying, ‘No you weren’t, stop lying.’ I froze. It was around that fortnight I tried to commit suicide for the first time.”

Juniper’s Story

JUNIPER* was raped at a house party two years ago. She was left suicidal when her family and friends blamed her for what had happened.

The 24-year-old recalled: “Someone close to me said this clearly wouldn’t have happened if I’d limited my drinks, as if it was my punishment for being drunk. This destroyed my recovery.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

IF you have been raped or sexually assaulted and need support, please call the Rape Crisis Scotland helpline, open between 6pm and midnight every day, on 08088 01 03 02.



16 August 2020

This article was written in collaboration with White Ribbon Scotland

Brave SNP councillor on mission to raise awareness of domestic abuse after years of trauma

Jim McMahon has revealed how his childhood was wrecked by violent, drunken rages by dad John, who was jailed for abusing his wife.

A SNP councillor who grew up watching his father beat his mother said he hopes that by speaking out more men will act to help stop domestic abuse.

Jim McMahon has revealed how his childhood was wrecked by violent, drunken rages by dad John, who was jailed for abusing his wife.

The 59-year-old said it had taken almost five decades to talk about what happened in his family after losing beloved mum Sadie a few months ago. Jim is now an ambassador for White Ribbon Scotland, a charity for men who campaign to end violence against women.

He travels across Scotland speaking about his experiences at events and meetings.

Jim, from Cumnock, Ayrshire, said: “Men are my target audience.

"They are the perpetrators. I can talk about the impact that domestic violence has on the rest of a child’s life because I was that kid.

“I’m trying to plant a seed and maybe then they will start to think differently.”

Jim’s childhood, in the small mining village, was dominated by his violent father.

He said: “They were all bad times. All I remember are the screams, beatings, black eyes, bruises, ambulances.

“I don’t have any physical scars but the mental scars are there. My dad should have been my idol and my inspiration and in many ways he is – because I vowed I would never be like him.”

The oldest of four siblings, Jim was just 11 when he remembers running barefoot to the nearest phone box to call for help when his dad, a miner, attacked his mum in 1970.

He said: “We were in bed and he came home. The screams started. I came through from the bedroom and he was booting my mother in the face. The blood spouted everywhere.”

Jim dived to protect his mother but the punching and kicking continued. He jumped out the window, ran for the phone box and called 999.

Jim’s father was arrested and locked up for a few months. Sadie had a broken arm, a broken nose and black eyes.

After his release, the abuse started again and Sadie attempted to take her own life twice.

But finally, one day, Sadie and her children left John standing in the doorway of their home, got in the car and drove away. John, who is dead, later moved to England.

Sadie met and married bus driver Alasdair White. They were together until his death last year.

Jim said: “He was everything you wanted a dad to be. We were finally treated like other kids.

“He didn’t have a load of money but the money he did have didn’t go on alcohol – it went on family. I couldn’t believe we had all these new clothes. Each and every one of us had a jacket.”

Before Sadie died in March, she gave Jim permission to tell her story to show men the damage physical and mental abuse does to families.

Jim wants men to think about the effect their actions have on their wives, their children and on through the generations.

Davy Thompson, campaign director at White Ribbon Scotland, said: “There is a massive cost to our society. If we weren’t paying to cover policing and medical assistance and counselling and provision of services, we’d be saving billions of pounds a year in Scotland.

“That would be a massive benefit to society as a whole.”

Jim, who is happily married with two daughters and four grandchildren, added: “The other day I was looking at my son-in-law playing with the kids.

“That’s what I wanted growing up – that’s the way it should’ve been.”


14 May 2020

Domestic abuse and lockdown: The rules

Experts tell Poppy Watson how victims can safely escape a violent home situation

‘Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives.

This was the key rhetoric of the UK government for two months up until this week and in Scotland, it remains so.

But for women living with an abusive partner – victims of a pandemic that has been around far longer than coronavirus – home is not a safe option.

Despite this, it has emerged many are afraid of the police response if they violate lockdown rules by fleeing.

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “The messaging hasn’t been clear that one of the reasons it’s okay to leave your home is if you need to minimise your risk of domestic abuse… we are working with the government and police at the moment to rectify this.”

The Scottish Government has underlined that the reference to escaping a risk of harm in the coronavirus regulations includes fleeing any form of domestic abuse.

But the message is failing to make an impact.

Dr Scott reveals the Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline has heard abusers have threatened to call the police if they try to leave.

She said: We have had several queries from women seeking to take themselves and their children to a relative’s by using public transport but concerned they will be returned home by police.

The police are keen to stress this will not happen.

Detective Superintendent Debbie Forrester, Head of the Domestic Abuse Task Force, said: “It is so important that people understand that we are here to help. We will continue to treat reports of domestic abuse as a priority, we will listen and we will investigate. Your safety is our priority.

And it is evident their support is needed.

Calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline run by Refuge have risen by 49% since lockdown measures were introduced, while researchers at the Counting Dead Women Project found killings doubled in the first three weeks of lockdown.

This has driven UK businesses to step in and help.

Train companies nationwide are offering free travel to those fleeing domestic abuse through a partnership with Women’s Aid.

People escaping domestic abuse anywhere in Britain during coronavirus lockdown restrictions can apply for free train travel to refuge accommodation.

And now Boots pharmacies have introduced a scheme to help victims access support from a safe place. People living with domestic abuse can ask staff at the counter to use the consultation room, where they will be able to contact services for help and advice.

UK Ministers have also recently announced a £76m fund to help victims of domestic abuse and rough sleepers, while the Scottish Government will boost Scottish Women’s Aid with an extra £1.35m over the next six months.

There is still help available during lockdown.

All Women’s Aid services in Scotland are still running and offering support.

Dr Scott said: “Our Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is still 24/7… and in case people are concerned about being overheard, they can communicate with us via webchat or via email.”

Co-director of Zero Tolerance, Laura Tomson, said: “Coronavirus has proved we are capable of taking drastic action to protect each other. It is important to support women through this time. We also have to think about changes that need to happen to end gender inequality and violence against women.”

If you or anyone you know are at risk of domestic abuse, please call Police Scotland on 999 in an emergency or contact the domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline on 0800 027 1234. Help is available 24/7.


18 March 2020

Stranger’s gifts started months of stalker hell

When a random man presented Ella with a bag at a bus stop, her life degenerated into a nightmare

When Ella* was handed a bag of gifts from a stranger at her bus stop last winter, the 23-year-old’s life took a dark turn.

It was 7:20am on a Tuesday in her small Highland town. Ella had just left her house for work and walked ten minutes to the bus stop as usual. No one else was around. Only one thing was different - a white BMW sat in the junction opposite the bus stop and the driver was watching her. Ella then noticed a black Mercedes appear at the end of the street. As it passed the bus stop, the driver flashed his lights. On cue, the BMW pulled out of the junction and parked in front of Ella. She said: “I thought I was about to get abducted.”

A hoodie-wearing stranger got out of the car and handed her a gift bag. “He just said ‘this is for you’. Then he left.” Ella didn’t look in the bag until she arrived at work in Inverness. Inside were woolly gloves, perfume, plastic flowers, chewing gum, chocolates, and a letter.

It said: ‘I love you even if you don’t love me back (love at first sight).” She was initially resistant to calling police as she didn’t think they would take it seriously. Instead, she got her bus at a different stop where there were more people around.

A month or two later, Ella returned to her usual bus stop. Days later, a letter and flowers were left taped to the bus shelter.

The stalker wrote: ‘I know I said this before and I will say it again, you’re the only one for me.’ Ella said: “That was when I knew he was obviously still looking out for me. I called the police from work and they asked me to come in for an interview.

Advised to change her routine, she worked from home, a virtual prisoner in her own house. She locked the doors and closed the windows and wouldn’t walk anywhere by herself. She said: “I hated being unable to do things I would normally do.

Ella’s house was put on the high alert list by the police, who took fingerprints from the letter and checked out CCTV in shops where it was believed the gifts has been bought, but the investigation hit a dead end.

Ella returned to the office weeks later. Her mum drove her to the train station each morning. When her parents were away one day, the house phone was plagued with calls from a withheld number. Ella said: “It was a man saying things like, ‘I know where to find you.Threatening messages.

She said a police inspector failed to take the call seriously and said he couldn’t do much. Feeling unsafe, Ella ended up staying at her gran’s house.

Co-director of Zero Tolerance Laura Tomson said: Stalking is a terrifying crime that is a form of violence against women.  Four of five victims of stalking are women and they find it hard to report it because they are scared they won’t be believed, or they’ll be told it is not a big deal, or that they will be blamed for what happened to them.  We have to take it seriously when women report it.

*Name has been changed.

  • If you are concerned you are being stalked, call The National Stalking Helpline on: 0808 802 0300


SNP MSP Rona Mackay argues current legislation does not do enough to protect victims of stalking.

A study by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust found just 12.7 per cent of recorded stalking cases reached conviction in 2015-2016.

Mackay wants Stalking Protection Orders to protect victims during criminal proceedings.

She said: “This would allow the police to apply for an order, rather than the victim having to apply for one through the civil court, which is expensive and stressful.”

However, her Bill has been paused while the new Domestic Abuse Act is assessed.

The Scottish Government has increased funding for services to protect women and girls from gender-based violence with the launch of a £13 million fund to help supportive organisations.

ZT logo