As we continue to grapple with domestic abuse and violence it may be good to look at the Scottish model.
While we have cracked down on physical and sexual offences against women and children, incidents are still being reported.
Assault which constitutes any form of physical violence is covered under the Crimes Act. Even stalking is not allowed.
But domestic abuse in its different forms can escape the radar because it can be difficult to prove.
After advocates called for criminalising domestic abuse, Scotland took a leap of faith by enacting a law.
The BBC reported that more than 400 crimes have been recorded by Police Scotland in the first three months after a new domestic abuse law was introduced.
The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act criminalises the “coercive and controlling behaviours” of offenders.
Scotland is understood to be the first country to come up with this new law.
The law created a single offence, carrying a maximum 14-year sentence, covering psychological, financial or sexual abuse.
So far, 190 cases have been reported to The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) with 13 convictions.
Deputy Superintendent McCreadie, the national lead for domestic abuse, said the figures showed the legislation was being used well since its introduction in April.
He said: “The new offence requires Police to evidence a pattern of abusive behaviours, in other words, two or more offences which form a course of conduct against the victim.
“The number of offences recorded and people reported demonstrates the need for this new legislation and that our officers are utilising it to good effect.”
‘Difficult To Tackle’
He added: “The new law covers behaviours which have always been considered abusive but which were difficult to tackle using previous laws.
“Police Scotland is now able to tackle the full range of abusive behaviours used by perpetrators to protect those they seek to abuse.”
Since December 2018, 18,500 officers and police staff have received online training on domestic abuse and the new offence, and 7500 have received enhanced training in person.
A further 6500 will receive this face-to-face training in the coming months.
What Constitutes Abusive Behaviour?
The new legislation says abusive behaviour is:
- Behaviour that is violent, threatening or intimidating
- Behaviour that aims to result in one of the following:
- making a partner dependent or subordinate;
- isolating a partner from friends, relatives or other sources of support;
- controlling, regulating or monitoring a partner’s day-to-day activities;
- depriving a partner of, or restricting, freedom of action; and
- frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing a partner.
The offence is aggravated if any of the behaviours are directed at a child or witnessed by them.
Scottish Women’s Aid said it was “happy to hear some encouraging reports” but remained cautious about drawing any early conclusions.
The group’s chief executive, Dr Marsha Scott, said: “We are keeping a watching brief, as reports from our services across the country indicate that women’s experiences when reporting under the new law have varied from place to place.
“We are particularly interested in hearing more detail about the more than 50% of cases not being passed to COPFS and how we can work with partners to improve this figure.
“With such a sea-change piece of legislation, we did expect there to be bumps in the road and we are committed to keeping a close eye on how things progress.”
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf, said: “We welcome this early indication that Scotland’s new domestic abuse laws are encouraging victims to come forward and report these crimes.
“Our groundbreaking legislation provides police and prosecutors with greater powers to target those who engage in coercive or controlling behaviour towards their partners or ex-partners.
“We all want victims to have the confidence to report crimes committed against them and I am grateful for the hard work and diligence of Scotland’s police, prosecutors and other partners in the early enforcement of this important legislation.”