A groundbreaking new law that criminalises psychological abuse and controlling behaviour has been welcomed by professionals helping to rebuild the lives of domestic abuse victims across the Forth Valley.
The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act was passed in February last year and came into force on April 1, 2019.
The new law covers not just physical abuse but psychological and emotional treatment and coercive and controlling behaviour, where abusers isolate their victim from their friend and relatives or control their finances.
The act is the only UK legislation with a specific statutory sentencing aggravation to reflect the harm that can be caused to children growing up in an environment where domestic abuse takes place.
It also requires courts to consider imposing a Non-Harassment Order on an offender convicted of a domestic abuse offence to protect their victim from further abuse and makes a number of other reforms to criminal procedure to protect victims.
Detective Inspector Kathryn Fairfield, of Police Scotland’s Domestic Abuse Unit in Larbert, said the new law will make “a huge difference” to police to help bring perpetrators to justice.
“What it does is make it absolutely clear that coercive and controlling behaviour is domestic abuse and a crime and this will certainly help empower victims to report such behaviour,” she said.
“It will also be a valuable tool for police officers who can now arrest and charge individuals who carry out this type of domestic abuse, which in turn should lead to more prosecutions.”
Figures suggest one in four women and one in six men experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives. Despite this, reports of domestic abuse have remained relatively static in Scotland with around 60,000 cases each year for the last five years.
DI Fairfield said this is also the case across the Forth Valley where there has not been any notable rise in domestic abuse cases since 2014.
These statistics however do not reflect the true level of domestic abuse as many cases still go unreported.
“Victims still find it very difficult to come forward for a number of reasons,” DI Fairfield explained.
“Sometimes they are not ready to talk to the police but they will open up to other agencies such as Committed to Ending Abuse (CEA) and this is where a joined up approach between the police and these organisations is so valuable.”
DI Fairfield said that there are a number of misconceptions surrounding domestic abuse and certain stereotypes which still need to be broken down.
“Domestic abuse can affect anyone of any age and gender – people from all walks of life, unemployed people, employed people, young people, older people, men, women... It is not limited to one social demographic group.”
The only recurring theme, she said, is that it tends to usually happen at home, behind closed doors.
Individuals worried about their partner’s behaviour can apply for background reports to find out if they have an abusive past.
“Anyone with concerns can put in an application,” DI Fairfield said.
“Research is done by the Domestic Abuse Unit then it goes to a decision making forum which will decide whether there is an issue that should be disclosed.
“It is a very thorough process and a really important tool.
“We are not here to tell people to stay in relationships or not but we can pass this vital information on.”
DI Fairfield advised anyone suffering from domestic abuse in any form to take the first steps to seek help and support.
She said: “My advice would be to contact either the police or the domestic abuse helpline on 0800 027 1234.”
Debbie Jupp, team leader and senior Independent Domestic Abuse Advocate (IDDAA) at Committed to Ending Abuse (formerly known as Falkirk and District Women’s Aid), has also welcomed the new law.
“It means perpetrators of domestic abuse can now be held accountable for not just physical violence but also coercive control - degrading treatment, financial, emotional and psychological abuse,” she said.
“The new legislation will also raise the profile of domestic abuse and may encourage more people to access specialist services regardless of age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religious beliefs and or sexual orientation.
“Furthermore the act highlights and recognises the impact of the abuse not only on the individual but also on any children, family members and pets.
“CEA have highly anticipated this new legislation and believe this will help to empower more adults and children in the Falkirk area to come forward.”
The new Domestic Abuse Act has also been welcomed by Scotland’s only charity which solely supports male victims of the crime.
Abused Men in Scotland (AMIS) was founded in 2010 due to an apparent lack of dialogue and service provision relating to men affected by domestic abuse and receives around 350 calls a year.
Service manager Iris Quar said: “This law has the potential to be a very useful piece of legislation but men have to be aware that it counts for them too.
“We have seen a marked increase in the amount of men contacting us seeking support in recent times which hopefully is an indication that men are beginning to realise there is help out there.
“We have also seen an increase in the number of referrals we are getting from GPs. “Our research has shown that an average male victim of domestic abuse is a man in his early 40s, married with a couple of kids but domestic abuse does affects men of all ages, irrespective of income.
“We have spoken to victims who have very powerful jobs and positions but are still being abused.
“Research also tells us that 20 per cent of all abuse victims are men which is higher than most people think.
“There are however so many sterotypical barriers that stop men coming forward and I would say around 80 per cent of the people we speak to are not reporting it to the police as they are frightened they will be laughed at or not believed as there is a common misconception that all men are big tough guys who can sort everything out but of course that’s just not the case.
“Men are brought up differently to women. You don’t speak to your son about being damaged or controlled by their partner so they grow up thinking this can’t happen to them.”
Iris added that men being abused often also worry that they could be counter-challenged by their partner which could then lead to them losing their job and access to their children.
“We speak to a lot of men who have abusive partners with mental health problems and they won’t speak out as they don’t want to leave their children with the abusive parent,” she said.
“I do feel, however, there is a wind of change blowing through the whole issue now and certainly when we go out to schools and speak to pupils young people are far more accepting of the idea that men can be abused as well as women.
“I would advise any men out there who are victims of domestic abuse to call us on 0808 800 0024 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“By making this first step we can help them by validating their concerns and their situation and help them start planning for a better life.”