As a number of areas of Scotland are going through their second phase of lockdown, there are many individuals that will be struggling more than most. For many survivors, abuse can be centred around the home. This year, Police Scotland and the National Domestic Abuse helpline has marked a staggering increase in the amount of calls that have been received in relation to domestic abuse.
It is becoming more important than ever to understand the laws in Scotland put in place to protect those in this situation and to recognise the signs that friends, family members or even yourself, may be in this toxic environment.
Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act
In April 2019, the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act came into force. It was a much needed, and drastic, change to the law. The definition of domestic abuse was expanded to describe a multitude of behaviours, from physical violence to exercising total control over a partner’s everyday life. It was designed to offer more protection for survivors of domestic abuse as well as putting in place a legal framework to pursue justice through the criminal justice system.
The law now recognises domestic abuse as a crime; an individual can be prosecuted for engaging in a pattern of abusive behaviour towards their current or ex-partner. The abusive behaviour is not limited to physical violence and also includes, psychological and emotional abuse, such as controlling all aspects of someone’s life.
In practice, the law will require to demonstrate that:
- There was a pattern of abusive behaviours, which include two or more incidents, that would cause psychological or physical harm;
- The perpetrator intended to cause physical or psychological harm, or was reckless as to whether the behaviour would cause such harm.
One of the most significant changes was the recognition that not all abuse is physical. The Act includes emotional and psychological abuse, most commonly known as ‘Coercive Control.’ Coercive control is continuous degrading treatment or loss of liberty on a daily basis. The pattern of behaviour results in one partner dominating the other.
If continued over a prolonged period of time, the controlling behaviour has a significant impact on the survivors mental health, resulting in a loss of self-worth, confidence, agency and autonomy. It is the one type of abuse that is the most easily hidden.
Coercive control can take many forms. A hostile environment is created whereby one person fears the consequences of breaking a rule set by another. A common example is the complete control of finances; resulting in one partner having to ask permission to access joint money or to buy something.
Another common example is micromanagement. This could include controlling someone’s appearance, outfits and monitoring their smart devices. The technology on a smart phone includes tracking through a GPS System. In a relationship with coercive control, this may be used to track someone’s movement.
Statistically, many relationships with coercive control, do not realise that the relationship is abusive. They will believe the behaviour is normal for any relationship. At its core, coercive control is crossing the boundaries of love and attentiveness, to fully dominating the partner. That is not love.
In the end, it can result in one partner being totally isolated and cut off from the outside world.
The Silent Solution
One of the most daunting and terrifying experiences for survivors is taking the first steps to speak out to put an end to the relationship. If you know of anyone that may be struggling or if you need assistance, please know that you are not alone and there is always someone there for you.
If you require legal advice, please call us through our Take Justice helpline on 0800 801 299.
If you are in an emergency situation, dial 999 and press 55. This will put into place the ‘silent solution’. The operator on the phone will know that you cannot speak. They will only ask for you to make an audible sign that you need assistance. This will then alert the police to attend your home.
A number of support services and charities are continuing with their work, including:
- the Scottish Women’s Aid helpline on 0800 027 1237 or https://womensaid.scot;
- Wellbeing Scotland – 01324 630 100 or email
- Rape crisis at https://www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/help-local-rape-crisis-centres/
It is only in ending the stigma surrounding domestic abuse that we are able to take control and support those that are the most vulnerable.