Disclosure: Surviving Domestic Abuse

BBC Scotland, BBC iPlayer


There are many harrowing sights and sounds in this Disclosure investigation into domestic abuse in Scotland, but what stands out are the names and faces of women.

When TV usually covers domestic abuse the survivors’ identities are concealed. They will be filmed in shadows, sometimes even with an actor voicing their words.

Almost all the women featured in this BBC Scotland film waive their anonymity and face the cameras. It is an important difference that signals a change in attitudes typical of Liam McDougall’s outstanding film. After so much turmoil the women here know where the shame and blame belong, and they are not afraid to say it or show it.

So we have mobile phone footage and recordings of attacks; security cameras that pick out an abuser waiting for a woman to return home, his fists clenching in rage; voice mails and text messages; and calls to police. Technology, so often used to blight victims’ lives, is turned against the perpetrators.

The Herald: Seven women tell their stories in documentaryFive of the women whose cases were followed for a year

The filmmakers followed seven cases for a year, right through in some cases to verdicts. No rules are broken. What we have instead is bold filmmaking that knows the law and acts confidently within its limits.

READ MORE: Len Pennie interviewed in Herald magazine

READ MORE Pennie poetry collection a best-seller

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Again, old school TV journalism might have been tempted to chase a few of the guilty down the street after the verdicts, but there is no playing to the cameras here. There is no need. The facts, and the women, speak for themselves.

Some of the failings of the justice system are picked out in giant type as if on billboards. There is a backlog of 27,000 cases, for example, waiting to be heard in Scottish courts. In one case, the survivor saw her attacker handed no more than a verbal warning.

Should there have been male victims of domestic abuse represented too? Given the overwhelming majority of attacks are men abusing women that would have been representation for the sake of it. The conclusions of the film apply to male and female victims alike, chief among the findings that the justice system must do better.

All of the women whose cases feature here took a real leap of faith in the filmmakers and the media in general. Among them was Len Pennie, poet and columnist for The Herald. As with all the women, she was given space and time to describe her experiences as she saw fit.

Their courage in coming forward will stay long in the memory, as will this film in general. But will it change anything? That, for many, is the most important question of all. The film shows so much that still needs to be done viewers could come away feeling as pessimistic as they were before seeing it. I hope not. I hope what they see is a documentary that seeks to empower and not exploit, that is as coolly delivered as it is justifiably enraging.