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From 1 April to 30 November this year, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service prosecuted 16,513 charges of domestic abuse, covering the full spectrum of offending, including physical, psychological and emotional abuse. Although most of the prosecutions are still going through the courts, 4,206 charges have resulted in conviction.
The figures include 539 charges that were prosecuted under the new Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, with 101 of those charges resulting in conviction. That ground-breaking legislation enables the Crown to prosecute perpetrators of harmful coercive and controlling behaviours, making the true nature and extent of victims’ experiences of domestic abuse visible to the courts.
The recently published Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline 2018-19 annual report makes for grim reading. There has been a 25 per cent increase in the volume of calls to the helpline
, which dealt with 3,191 contacts in 2018-19. Ninety-five per cent of the calls were from women who were seeking support for themselves and their children, who witnessed the abuse. What steps are we taking to ensure that the courts listen with compassion to abused women and their children?
The Solicitor General:
Richard Lyle raised a crucially important point. In what is undoubtedly a gendered crime, the lives of women and their children are blighted by domestic abuse. For too long, that has been hidden. The 2018 act is helping to change that.
I will say two things in response to the question. First, as Richard Lyle will have seen from the report that he referred to, most callers experience more than one form of domestic abuse; in fact, most contacts reported emotional abuse. The 2018 act has closed the gap in the law in relation to coercive and controlling behaviours that were not previously criminal. As such, our charges can now include emotional and psychological abuse that is designed to isolate, control, regulate, restrict freedom, punish, degrade and humiliate. That is the first, very important step towards ensuring that the courts listen to the whole real and unvarnished truth of the lived experience of victims of domestic abuse.
Secondly—and briefly—the act provides for a statutory aggravation where a child has been caught up in and affected by domestic abuse, and it places a duty on all courts to consider non-harassment orders in relation to victims and their children. Those provisions are intended to ensure that the court hears about the harm that is caused to children by domestic abuse and can reflect that when sentencing the perpetrator.