A packed venue for the East Ayrshire VAWP Annual Conference

VAWP Conference asks ‘What Next?’ for protecting women and girls


The East Ayrshire Violence Against Women Partnership’s Annual Conference took place this month, asking ‘What Next?’ for protecting women and girls in East Ayrshire from gender-based violence.

The event took place on Tuesday 6 December at Kilmarnock’s Take A Bow Opportunity Centre, and was attended by over 100 elected members, staff from EAHSCP, Women’s organisations, Police Scotland, Public Health Scotland, entertainer and activist Becky O’Brien, and staff and survivors from the STAR Centre.

The conference was opened by Marion MacAulay, Chair of East Ayrshire Violence Against Women Partnership, who spoke of the current situation with women and girls’ safety and what the conference aimed to achieve:

What an indictment it is on society that we need a strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. [The point of this conference] is to go beyond raising awareness and ask what we can do to prevent it.”


Next on the programme were Filippo Capaldi, Detective Superintendent for Police Scotland, and Adrian Searle, Police Scotland Communications Strategy Manager, who discussed their hugely successful ‘Don’t Be That Guy’ campaign.

The police-led campaign aims to prevent violence against women and girls by tackling it at its source, challenging young men to confront friends and co-workers who speak about women in a disparaging way.


Adrian then explained the ideology of male sexual entitlement and how it fuels the misogyny and attitudes that can progress to acts of violence against women and girls:

By contributing to denigrating conversations [about women] you’re giving tacit permission to someone in your friend group to go out and commit offences.

Male sexual entitlement is the product of the patriarchy we live in. From when boys are very young it’s in films, TV, books, and conversations in the playground, and it’s woven into our culture.

If men better understand what’s going on in their heads, they will modify their behaviour.”

Attendees then heard from performer and activist, Becky O’Brien, who joined the conference via video link to speak about her own experience of surviving coercive control and what needs to change in the way services support victims and their families:

It’s so important that society realises there’s always something that each of us can do. We need to make sure we surround these people with cotton wool [once they leave an abusive relationship] and support their families to give them a safe exit, to give them a future, to enable them to go back to work, to give them stability, and to prevent them from going back to that situation.”

After this came the workshop segment of the conference, where attendees had the opportunity to learn from Kirsty McKinlay (Ayrshire Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference), Helen Merriman (EAC Housing Services Manager) and representatives from Equally Safe and Close the Gap.

The afternoon session was opened by Katie Kelly, EAC Depute Chief Executive, who highlighted the importance of “making violence against women and girls everyone’s issue”. Katie then introduced Emma Kennedy, Gender Based Violence Lead for Public Health Scotland.

Like Adrian Searle of Police Scotland, Emma also focused on tackling “societal elements” and “entrenched attitudes” that can lead to acts of discrimination and violence against women and girls:

We need to think about how we support women and keep them safe but also focus on the prevention part. The main cause of violence against women and girls is gender inequality. Think about your choices and decisions in your services.”

Then came the most poignant part of the conference, when survivors from The STAR Rape Crisis Centre addressed the room to tell their stories. Many attendees were visibly affected by the courage of these women, who spoke with strength and dignity about the trauma they’d endured and how the centre had given them the support they needed to move forward with their lives.

Finally, the conference closed with a panel question and answer session, where Alyia Zaheed, Corporate Officer for Equality and Diversity, provided the perfect takeaway message for all attendees:

It’s not just about sharing on your social media platforms. Go back to your teams and colleagues and discuss what you’ve learned today. Read more about it. Spread the learning and have hard conversations about how all of us can help.”

Many thanks to everyone who attended the conference and to all who gave of their time to make this such a deeply impactful and empowering event.