Nearly 1,700 offences under new domestic abuse law

Almost 1,700 offences were recorded by Police Scotland in the first year of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act.

Apr 1, 2020
By Paul Jacques

As of March 29, 1,673 domestic abuse offences had been recorded under the new law. Of those, 1,569 offences were recorded where the victim was a woman. In 94 per cent of these cases the abuser was male. Of the remaining offences, there were 104 recorded crimes in which the victim was a man.

In a joint statement, Police Scotland’s Assistant Chief Constable Duncan Sloan, lead for major crime and public protection, and Detective Chief Superintendent Sam McCluskey, head of public protection, said: “Recognising, within law, the full range of behaviours used by abusers to control, coerce, and instil fear in their victims, has been the single most significant step in our efforts to tackle domestic abuse in Scotland.

“More than 14,000 of our officers and staff have now been trained to recognise that domestic abuse isn’t always violent or physical. It is often psychological: disempowering and isolating victims and removing them from the support of family and friends, which can have the most devastating impact.

“As an organisation we are developing a workplace culture where there is no tolerance for domestic abuse and which recognises that the responsibility for domestic abuse lies solely with the perpetrator.

“Abusers should understand, we will respond to all reports of domestic abuse. We will delve into their histories, we will speak to previous partners, and we will use all of the powers at our disposal to ensure they face the full consequences of their behaviour.

“During this time of uncertainty, as we manage the challenges and dynamic circumstances presented by Covid-19, our response to domestic abuse remains unchanged. Our officers will continue to work to prevent harm by identifying people who may be at risk of domestic abuse.”

Introduced on April 1, 2019, the Act brought in a new domestic abuse offence, which recognised that abuse was often a course of conduct, and that abusive behaviours included violent, physical, sexual, psychological and financial abuse. The offence carries a maximum sentence of 14 years.

Latest figures published by Scotland’s Chief Statistician yesterday (March 31) show that the number of convictions with a domestic abuse identifier attached fell by seven per cent in 2018/19 to 9,210 – the fourth consecutive year of decline. The statutory domestic abuse aggravator was attached to 7,752 (84 per cent) of these cases.

At risk

Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has confirmed that the safety and wellbeing of women and children who were at risk of experiencing domestic violence during the Covid-19 outbreak was being supported with funds for key organisations.

Grants from the Scottish government’s £350 million Communities Fund have been made to Scottish Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland to ensure that access to these key support services is maintained and victims still have access to methods of reporting crimes during the crisis, including using online video platforms, text messaging and phone calls.

“We want women and children experiencing domestic abuse in the home to know that although they may feel isolated and vulnerable during these unprecedented times, they are not alone,” said Mr Yousaf.

“Anyone experiencing violence, including coercive and controlling behaviours, should not feel in any way inhibited by the current coronavirus outbreak to report a crime against them.

“These are enormously difficult times, but the safety of women and child victims who experience abuse in the home is paramount – the message to stay at home does not mean that they should not seek urgent help, advice or support.

“As the anniversary of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 approaches, it is a priority now as ever that victims of domestic abuse and gender-based violence have access to support services, and that support organisations and frontline staff, who work tirelessly to provide these vital services, are supported to deliver new ways of working in these unprecedented times.

“The Scottish government will continue to prioritise ensuring that the health, safety and wellbeing needs of women and children experiencing domestic abuse and gender-based violence are met.”

Scottish Women’s Aid will receive £1.35 million over six months while Rape Crisis Scotland will receive £226,309 over six months.

Scotland’s Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC says domestic abuse cases will continue to be prosecuted “vigorously and fairly” during the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: “Our commitment to tackling domestic abuse remains firm, especially during this unprecedented time.

“With the public following government advice to stay at home in order to restrict the spread of coronavirus, we know that those experiencing domestic abuse may be more at risk.

“I want to reassure victims that public safety remains the priority for law enforcement during this period. It is vital that victims have the confidence in the justice system to report these crimes and also that they seek support from the many organisations which continue to provide essential services to victims.

“Prosecutors will continue to use all the tools at their disposal to prosecute domestic abuse, including the groundbreaking legislation, which was introduced last year.”

Procurator Fiscal for Domestic Abuse, Anne Marie Hicks, added: “The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service takes a rigorous approach to crimes of domestic abuse and we are committed to prosecuting these crimes effectively.

“The new offence, introduced in April last year, takes account of the dynamics of abusive relationships and has allowed us to prosecute many coercive and controlling behaviours which can be so harmful to victims, but which were previously not criminal.

“Courts are now able to consider abusive courses of behaviour over a period of time, rather than just focussing on individual incidents. This better reflects the experiences of victims and children, and allows the totality of behaviour to be considered when sentencing.

“Prosecutors in Scotland have undergone extensive training on the legislation, and we will continue to work closely with Police Scotland and victim support agencies, to ensure that the prosecution of domestic abuse is as effective as possible and that victims are supported.

“In the 11 months since the implementation of the Act, we have prosecuted 829 cases and we will see many more coming through the court system in the months and years to come.”

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