Scottish Government marks year of domestic abuse law with extra support for victims during COVID-19 outbreak



The safety and well-being of women and children who are at risk of experiencing violence during the coronavirus outbreak is being supported with funds for key organisations, justice secretary Humza Yousaf has announced.

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.

Scottish Women’s Aid will receive £1.35m over six months with Rape Crisis Scotland being awarded £226,309 over the same period.

Mr Yousaf said: “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.

“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.  

Humza Yousaf MSP

“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. If you are experiencing abuse – please do not feel you have wait to receive vital support. This is available now.”

The announcement comes exactly a year after the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 came into force.

The legislation criminalised coercive and controlling behaviour towards a partner or ex-partner, and enabled prosecution to proceed on a charge of a course of abusive behaviour which can include physical, sexual, verbal, financial and psychological abuse.

The legislation also recognised the harmful impact of domestic abuse on children, providing a mechanism for this to be recorded and reflected by the court in sentencing following a conviction.

The Scottish Government has also provided an additional £825,000 to Police Scotland to support the training of officers and frontline staff to respond to and investigate the new domestic abuse offence.

Meanwhile, the Lord Advocate has said that domestic abuse cases will continue to be prosecuted vigorously and fairly during the coronavirus pandemic.

James Wolffe QC

James Wolffe QC 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 come forward and 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 ground-breaking legislation which was introduced last year. I would strongly encourage anyone who has been a victim of such offending to report this to the police and to seek support.”

Procurator fiscal for domestic abuse, Anne Marie Hicks, said: “COPFS 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 eleven 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.”

Marking the anniversary of the law, Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said application of the law has varied across Scotland.

She said: “One year ago we would never have expected to be marking this anniversary in the midst of a pandemic. We acknowledge - and sympathise with - the additional pressures that COVID-19 is putting on the police and the justice system in Scotland. We are all facing unprecedented challenges, and we are so grateful for the extraordinary efforts that we know are happening every day.

“Unfortunately, it is our job to point out that domestic abuse is not taking a break for this virus and that robust implementation of the new law is now more urgent and important than ever. In fact, all indications from other countries and other epidemics is that children and women will need more protection and faster responses than ever. And the increased fear and danger that women and children are experiencing must not be considered acceptable because of the pandemic.

“We have been encouraged by the way that the Police and the Crown Office have embraced this new legislation. We know they want it to succeed and that they are trying to be as robust and proactive as possible in making sure this law does what it says on the tin for women and children experiencing domestic abuse.

“However, while we have no doubt that this law has been embraced at a national level, we are convinced that successful implementation is still far off. We continue to hear mixed reports from our 36 local Women’s Aid services. In some areas, women are getting sympathetic and swift responses from the police and the justice system. In other areas, women feel nothing has changed.

“This mixed picture is no surprise, and we accept that the transformation of Scotland’s criminal and civil justice systems was never going to be quick or easy. However, we cannot afford to be complacent and Scottish Women’s Aid will continue to keep a close eye on how this legislation is being used for women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse, calling for improvements where necessary.

“We are hopeful that, when we look back in years to come, this law really will have marked the turning point we all hoped for. For now, our work continues to build a Scotland with no domestic abuse, and that job is far from over.”

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