Crime and justice statistics: domestic abuse - data sources and suitability

Factsheet covering multiple aspects of the Scottish Government's domestic abuse data.

The information on this page covers aspects of the domestic abuse data used to compile the annual bulletin covering domestic abuse statistics recorded by the police in Scotland. The most recent bulletin should be read alongside this information for context and any news on development work on these statistics.


This bulletin presents statistics on domestic abuse based on details of incidents and crimes recorded by the Police in Scotland during the 12 month period of 1 April to 31 March. This bulletin is part of a series of bulletins on the criminal justice system.


The creation of Police Scotland following the enactment of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 altered the way in which domestic abuse data was collected. Before 1 April 2013, each police force had a bespoke system to collect the data required.

Between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2014 the interim Vulnerable Persons Database was rolled out to the then 14 police divisions in Scotland.

From 1 April 2014 onwards, all domestic abuse data has been collected through the interim Vulnerable Persons Database.

Throughout this bulletin, changes to the data source are presented with clear breaks between 2013-14 and 2014-15. As such, some caution should be exercised in interpreting the statistics on the number of incidents recorded across years.

Definition of domestic abuse

The definition of domestic abuse used by Police Scotland is:

‘Any form of physical, verbal, sexual, psychological or financial abuse which might amount to criminal conduct and which takes place within the context of a relationship. The relationship will be between partners (married, cohabiting, civil partnership or otherwise) or ex-partners. The abuse can be committed in the home or elsewhere including online’.

Definitions of ‘crime’ and ‘offence’

Contraventions of Scottish criminal law are divided into crimes and offences. The term “crime" is generally used for the more serious criminal acts and the less serious are termed "offences".

The distinction is made only for statistical reporting purposes. It does not influence the way the police investigate reports of criminal activity. The seriousness of the offence is generally related to the maximum sentence that can be imposed. It does not relate to the impact on the individual experiencing the incident.

In addition, in one criminal incident, several crimes or offences may occur, such as an accused may assault their spouse and damage their car in the process. In this example, crimes of vandalism and assault would be recorded. Statistics in this bulletin either relate to the number of incidents recorded or the number of incidents with at least one crime or offence committed.

Data quality and validation

This bulletin is published as official statistics, in line with the Code of Practice for Official Statistics. Data presented in this bulletin is based on Police Scotland’s management information which has undergone further quality assurance work.  

This data goes through a process of quality assurance in which figures are checked against previous years and comparable sources. Anything unusual or which requires further explanation is then fed back to Police Scotland. Figures are then amended as required and the final data is used to produce a set of tables which can be used to check the final dataset.

During the quality assurance checking process, it is possible for errors to be found in data for previous years. While we do not routinely revise figures, we are committed to correcting errors in the data and providing suitable explanations for any changes made to previously published  data according to Scottish Government’s guidance on producing official statistics

We take great care when processing, quality assuring and analysing the data, however it is occasionally subject to the inaccuracies that are inherent in any large administrative recording system.

Coherence and comparability

Information on the number of domestic abuse incidents in Scotland is available dating back to 1999-00 however we don’t recommend long-term trend comparisons. 

Time series between 2013-14 and 2014-15

Due to the changes in the way data was collected after April 2013 following the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, figures and tables throughout the bulletin are presented with clear breaks in the time series between 2013-14 and 2014-15. As such, some caution should be exercised in interpreting the statistics on the number of incidents recorded across years.

Date of which an incident was recorded

2009-10 was the first year in which this data was submitted based on the date the incident was recorded. Prior to this, data was returned based on the number of incidents which occurred during that time period. As historic data has never been revised in this publication series, any incidents which occurred in a different time period to the date in which the incident was recorded will have been excluded from the returns.

Non-criminal incidents

Since 2017-18, there has been an increase in the number and proportion of incidents where no information was recorded on the characteristics of the victim and/or the accused. 

Police Scotland advised that a procedural change was made just before 2017-18. In certain non-criminal incidents of domestic abuse details were no longer recorded such as where both parties were believed to have an equal involvement.

Before this, two incidents may have been recorded treating one party as the victim and the other as the accused alongside the reverse if the incident needed it.  

National and international comparisons

It is not possible to make accurate comparisons across national and international boundaries because of the legal definitional and numerical differences in the way crime statistics are recorded. 

Accessibility and clarity

This bulletin presents data on domestic abuse based on details of incidents and crimes recorded by the police, at a national (Scotland) level, across the 13 police divisions in Scotland (covering all 32 local authorities).

Number of incidents of domestic abuse and rates per 10,000 population are also presented by local authority area. Mid-year population estimates from the National Records of Scotland are used in this bulletin.

Data on the characteristics of the victim and perpetrator is also provided including:

  • age
  • gender
  • age and gender combined
  • relationship between victim/perpetrator
  • circumstances associated with the incident such as when and where the incidents occurred


This bulletin is the primary source of information relating to the characteristics of victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse incidents recorded by the police in Scotland. The data provides information about trends in the number of incidents recorded by the police.

Domestic abuse recorded by the police does not reveal the true incidence of all domestic abuse in Scotland, as not all incidents are reported to the police.

There are a number of reasons for domestic abuse being under reported, including victims experiencing fear and shame as a result of the incident. Under reporting may also be caused by a perpetrator physically preventing a victim reporting the domestic abuse.

Data in this bulletin is used in conjunction with findings on partner abuse from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey to inform evidence-based policy. This is also used to assess the extent and nature of domestic abuse in Scotland.

Timeliness and punctuality

Data presented in this bulletin covers incidents recorded over 12 months between 1 April to 31 March.

The statistical bulletin is published approximately eight months after the end of the year in question. This is to allow Police Scotland’s statisticians to collate the required information, as well as the time needed to allow for quality checking the data.

Delays can occur due to unforeseen circumstances. The 2019-20 bulletin was published 15 months after the end of the time period. This was due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting increase in demand for associated analysis. This included  the newly developed monthly official statistics on crimes and offences recorded by the police.

The bulletin’s publication date is advertised four to six weeks in advance on the Scottish Government’s Official Statistics: forthcoming publication calendar.


We do not routinely revise figures. However we are committed to correcting errors in the data. In line with Scottish Government guidance, when we do so we provide suitable explanations for any of the changes made. 



For enquiries about this publication please contact Justice Analytical Services.


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