Tackling domestic abuse and sexual crimes

Record number of convictions for sexual crimes last year.

Convictions for domestic abuse were at their second highest level on record last year, while the number of people convicted for sexual crimes reached an all-time high.

Official statistics for 2015-16 reveal that 12,374 people were convicted in Scotland’s courts for crimes and offences involving domestic abuse – compared to 8,566 in 2010-11 and the highest figure of 12,440 in 2014-15.

A record 1,156 people were convicted for sexual crimes last year – up slightly from 1,152 in 2014-15 and 35% more than the 857 convictions in 2006-07. Much of the increase over the longer term has been driven by rises in prosecutions for the taking, distribution and possession of indecent photos of children, alongside increased confidence of victims to report rape and sexual assaults, leading to more cases coming to court.

Convictions for rape and attempted rape continue to attract the longest prison terms (other than life sentences for murder), with the average sentence length rising to over seven years (2,572 days), up 8% in the last year.

The bulletin ‘Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2015-16’ also showed that the number of criminal convictions in Scotland overall fell below 100,000, to 99,950, for the first time on record – in part reflecting the fall in recorded crime, to its lowest level in 42 years, and similar trends from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice Michael Matheson said:

“Tackling the often ‘hidden’ crime of domestic abuse is a key priority for this Government, so I welcome the fact our police and prosecutors continue to bring perpetrators to justice. However, I’m determined that our law enforcement agencies have the necessary powers to tackle this crime in all its forms. That is why I will shortly introduce to Parliament legislation creating a new criminal offence of domestic abuse that will include psychological abuse which can be difficult to deal with under existing laws.

“Sexual offences are often the most complex and challenging to prosecute, partly due to challenges around evidence, so it is encouraging that as more people come forward to report these crimes, the police and the Crown are securing convictions in the courts. We are investing record sums to tackle violence against women and girls, including enhanced specialist support services for victims that can also help them provide the best evidence.

“Our law enforcement agencies work tirelessly throughout the year to detect, disrupt and prosecute criminals, while supporting preventative work to keep crime down to its historically low levels. This includes Police Scotland’s on-going engagement with partners across public services and the private and third sectors to ensure that, collectively, we can stay ahead of new and emerging threats, be they in private homes, public places or online.”

The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC, said:

"I have made clear that the Crown will continue to take a firm and rigorous prosecutorial approach to domestic abuse.

"The number of convictions shows that the approach which we take, which involves prosecutors working with colleagues across the criminal justice system, is working. Victims can have the confidence to come forward and report these crimes.

"For too long domestic abuse was not taken sufficiently seriously by the criminal justice system. Domestic abuse blights families and individuals. The public interest demands that, where there is a proper basis for doing so, the Crown should take action to address crimes involving domestic abuse."

The bulletin also shows that around 14% of convictions result in a custodial sentence – a level that has remained relatively stable over the last ten years – while community sentences, imposed on a record 18,943 people last year accounted for 19% of people convicted (compared to 12% in 2006-07).

Where custodial sentences were imposed, the average length of these (excluding life sentences) has grown by over a quarter (26%) since 2006-07 to around nine and a half months.


In October 2016 the Scottish Sentencing Council announced research into the sentencing of sexual offences in its first Business Plan.

In March 2015, the First Minister announced that an additional £20 million would be invested over three years in a range of measures to tackle all forms of violence against women. Additional funding of £2.4m was provided to the Crown and courts in 2014/15 and in 2015/16 for extra fiscals, court staff and judiciary, to help speed up the delivery of justice, in particular for cases involving domestic abuse and sexual violence.

A statistical news release for ‘Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2015-16’ can be read here.

The full statistical bulletin, and related tables, can be read here.


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