Domestic abuse: statistics recorded by the Police in Scotland - 2020/21

Characteristics of victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse incidents recorded by the police in Scotland in 2020 to 2021.

1. Introduction

This statistical bulletin provides information on domestic abuse incidents recorded by the police in 2020-21 (from 1April 2020 to 31 March 2021).

The definition of domestic abuse used by Police Scotland is[2]:

'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'.

Police Scotland is responsible for operational policing in Scotland and is held to account by the Scottish Police Authority. The Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 changed the policing landscape in Scotland, replacing the previous eight police forces, the Scottish Police Services Authority and the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency from 1 April 2013.

The creation of Police Scotland altered the way in which domestic abuse data was collected. Prior to 1 April 2013, each legacy force had a bespoke system to collect the data required. Between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2014 a new system – iVPD (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 iVPD.

Due to the changes in data collection, figures 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.

The data in this bulletin covers the 13 police divisions in Scotland (across all 32 local authorities). Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire & Moray police divisions merged together to form the North East police division in January 2016.

Information on crimes and offences[3] recorded as part of a domestic abuse incident has been split into the seven crime and offence groupings used by the Recorded Crime National Statistics. Further breakdowns of crime and offence groupings are also shown[4] where relevant.

This annual 'Domestic abuse recorded by the police in Scotland' Official Statistics bulletin forms part of a series of bulletins on the criminal justice system, which can be found on the Scottish Government website.

All tables referred to below are available in the 'Supporting Documents' Excel workbook for this bulletin. The workbook includes an 'Introduction' sheet, with information on how to navigate the tables, alongside a 'Notes' sheet, with relevant details to assist users when reading and interpreting results.

1.1. What are these statistics used for?

Statistics on domestic abuse are used to inform the Scottish Government's Justice in Scotland: vision and priorities. The report, published in summer 2017, defined an evidence-based set of outcomes along with a collective commitment to seven key collaborative priorities for the period 2017-2020 shared across Scottish justice organisations and partners. The latest Justice vision and priorities delivery report – key achievements and impact of COVID-19, published in March 2021, summarises progress under the justice priorities since 2017, alongside describing the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on policy development and on the justice system.

These statistics are also used by a range of stakeholders to monitor trends, for policy research and development, and for social research purposes. Further information on users and uses of the statistics is available in Section 4.2 of this bulletin.

1.2. How does the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 impact these statistics?

This bulletin covers the second year of operation for the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018. The Act, which came into force on 1 April 2019, created a new offence for circumstances where a person engages in a course of behaviour[5] which is abusive towards their partner or ex-partner.

The Act did not alter the way in which statistics on the volume of domestic abuse incidents reported to the police are collected and produced. As such its impact on this data is likely to be limited, albeit the associated awareness campaign to raise public understanding of domestic abuse, and to encourage victims to seek support, may have played a role in the 4% year-on-year increase in incidents recorded in each of the last two years. Police Recorded Crime National Statistics remain the primary source for users interested in the number of crimes recorded under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018.

The Act had some impact on statistics showing the volume and type of crimes and offences recorded as part of a domestic abuse incident. Prior to the 1 April 2019, any criminal act which formed part of a domestic abuse incident (for example a common assault) was included within the statistics under the relevant crime or offence. From the 1 April 2019, where there is evidence that an incident forms part of a course of behaviour, new crimes of Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 will also be recorded (split into whether they had a male or female victim).

In general, existing common law and statutory offences will continue to be recorded where appropriate, in addition to the new crimes. There are some exceptions, including offences which had previously been recorded under Breach of the peace etc. (primarily Threatening and abusive behaviour and Stalking). These should no longer be recorded when occurring as part of a course of behaviour for domestic abuse, with the new crime of Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 taking precedence. These exceptions all relate to activity in Group 6 Miscellaneous offences.

The number of Breach of the peace etc. offences recorded as part of a domestic abuse incident has decreased since 2018-19 (from 9,499 to 8,758 in 2019-20 and 8,030 in 2020-21). However, this may in part be due to the continuation of a longer term trend, and in general it is difficult to quantify at this stage the extent to which the new offence has affected the recording of Group 6 Miscellaneous offences. This will likely depend on the types of abusive behaviour that occur during a course of behaviour where the new offence may apply, some of which (such as psychological abuse) may not have included the recording of a crime or offence prior to the Act being passed.

Furthermore, in a limited number of cases when the incident occurred before 1 April 2019, offences that can now amount to a crime under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 (e.g. Threatening and abusive behaviour and Stalking) could not yet be considered as part of the Act and would have to be recorded separately. As time progresses since the introduction of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, these instances are likely to reduce.

Given this, some caution should be exercised when interpreting the statistics on the number of Group 6 Miscellaneous offences recorded before and after 1 April 2019 – due to the changes in the legislative and operational landscape used by police to record these crimes.

This caution should also apply to the data presented on the percentage of domestic abuse incidents that include the recording of at least one crime or offence, albeit this remained relatively stable in the year following passage of the Act. Where relevant, further information on these changes is provided throughout this bulletin.

1.3. Do these statistics cover the COVID-19 pandemic?

The statistics in this bulletin cover incidents of domestic abuse which occurred between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021. The first COVID-19 lockdown started in Scotland on 24 March 2020; therefore statistics in this bulletin relate entirely to domestic abuse incidents recorded during the first year since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK.

When looking at 2020-21 data users should be aware that two national lockdowns and other restrictions on movement and social gatherings have been in effect throughout the whole year and may have had an impact on the reporting of domestic abuse incidents to the police. For example, while the proportion of incidents happening in a home/dwelling was already very high pre-pandemic, this rose from 88% in 2019-20 to 91% in 2020-21. However, when reviewing the year as a whole, some caution is advised in necessarily attributing all changes to COVID-19. The 4% increase in incidents year-on-year is the same as that seen in 2019-20, when the pandemic was not a factor – and levels have been growing over the longer term.

More statistics on the impact of COVID-19 on domestic abuse incidents can be found in the monthly reports on the justice system. These reports have been introduced to provide users with a summary of the latest impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the justice system in Scotland. The information presented in these reports is compiled from a range of sources, including Official Statistics, Management Information published by partner bodies and administrative data. Police Scotland's Management Information[6] provides provisional data on domestics abuse incidents recorded by police. The final position for 2020-21 is presented in this edition of the bulletin.



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