New powers to tackle domestic abuse

New laws to help prosecution of controlling and coercive behaviour.

Parliament will debate creating a new offence to hold abusive partners to account, after it was announced in the Programme for Government.

In 2014-15 nearly 60,000 domestic abuse incidents were reported to police, with 79% of these incidents having a male perpetrator and female victim.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson outlined how the legislation was needed, as existing laws focus on individual incidents of physical abuse and violence, but do not reflect the damage of sustained controlling behaviour and psychological abuse.

Mr Matheson said:

“We know the effects of controlling and coercive behaviour can isolate the victims, separate them from their family and sources of potential help, and can take years to overcome. Our partners, including ASSIST and Scottish Women’s Aid, report more and more people coming to them, either concerned about their own situation or that of family and friends.

“Our consultation underlined the need for careful consideration of the legislation to ensure it can capture complex and controlling behaviour. That’s why we’re working with support providers, police and prosecutors to ensure the new offence is effective in criminalising psychological abuse.

“Parliament has its first opportunity to debate what we need this ground-breaking new law to do to protect victims and hold abusers to account. We know women are disproportionately affected, so this will also be a key part of our wider work to tackle violence and unacceptable attitudes against women and girls.

“Abuse can be physical abuse, but we know it can also be a more subtle pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour and we need to do more to ensure that perpetrators know that they will face prosecution and ensure the support is there for victims.”

Mr Matheson will meet with Linda Rodgers of Edinburgh Women’s Aid, ahead of today’s debate.

Ms Rodgers said:

"We are very glad that the Scottish Government continues to seek real solutions to preventing domestic abuse and tackling it where it occurs. Every day our workers see the impact that domestic abuse has on women, children and young people and I'm delighted that the Minister visited us in order to see for himself how specialist services like ours can help women rebuild their lives after abuse.

“The progress of this legislation will require hard work and careful consideration, but we are committed to working with the government to take practical steps to make women and children safer."

Notes to editors

The Scottish Government consulted on creating a specific offence of 'abusive behaviour in relation to a partner or ex-partner’ between December 2015 and April 2016. The responses to this are published here.


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