WAR ON THE SEX BEASTS; ACTION STATIONS: Worried Government Prepare a New Strategy to Deal with Violence against Women

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All-out war was declared yesterday on the sex beasts who have brought terror to Scotland.

Law and order minister Henry McLeish promised to get tough after revealing a shock 26 per cent rise in sex crimes last year.

He said a campaign would be launched this summer to end the reign of violence and abuse against women and children.

The number of sex crimes recorded in Scotland reached 7100 in 1997 - the highest figure for 26 years.

McLeish said: "Violence against women and girls is despicable in every sense of the word.

"The trauma of a sex offence is very considerable.

"We must get the message through that the violation of women must be stamped out."

He added: "We are launching a new strategy in June to deal with violence against women.

"It is to counter a very macho culture in Scotland.

"This macho culture is more dominant in Scotland than England and Europe.

"You can't change history or attitudes overnight. But the campaign will get across the message that this behaviour will not be tolerated."

The Government are also looking at practical measures to help women - one possibility is to make it easier for women to get Legal Aid to bring civil cases against violent men.

The increase in sex crimes was mirrored across all eight Scots police forces.

There were 740 recorded cases of rape and assault with intent to rape - up by 24 per cent.

And the number of prostitution cases rose by two-thirds to 600. That was mainly due to increased police action in Aberdeen and Glasgow.

Last year, McLeish unveiled a raft of hard-hitting measures to combat sex- related crimes.

These included setting up a sex offenders' register and banning perverts from certain areas, such as school playgrounds.

McLeish said the plan to put sex offenders on up to 10 years' strict supervision should become law by the autumn.

He added: "It is a hard task but we have already done a lot in this area and will not rest until we see a reduction in the figures."

A spokeswoman for Scottish Women's Aid said yesterday's figures were "extremely alarming".

She said: "They show women and children continue to be at risk in public and private.

"Women and children need to feel confidence in the justice system and that means stiff sentences for convicted offenders.

"Because the crime figures are so high, support services for victims need to be properly funded."

The SNP's Roseanna Cunningham said the figures "must set alarm bells ringing".

She said recent research among 14 to 21-year-olds showed many believe violence against women is justifiable. Cunningham added: "We urgently need a national strategy to tackle the whole spectrum of crimes related to violence against women."

The Scottish Office also revealed yesterday a disturbing increase in drug crimes.

Drug offences went up 22 per cent in 1997 to 46,000 cases and McLeish again vowed to take tough action.

He called it a "trade in evil, trade in death and trade in the destruction of families".

And he said drugs would be the top priority of a revamped crime prevention unit in Scotland.

A third area of concern for the Government was the crazy behaviour of a growing number of motorists.

Almost 92,000 drivers were nabbed for speeding last year - an increase of 12 per cent over the figure for 1996.

And angry McLeish branded them "irresponsible idiots".

He said: "When you get into a car you have a responsibility to yourself and others.

"I want to have early discussions with chief constables to see what more we can do.

"We are sick and tired of irresponsible behaviour at the wheel."

Overall, motor vehicle offences went up eight per cent to 331,000 in Scotland last year.

But the total figure for ALL crimes and offences brought better news. …