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.

This document is part of a collection

5. Annexes

Annex 1: Terminology and context

5.1. Domestic abuse

A statistical collection on domestic abuse (previously referred to as domestic violence) was introduced in 1999. The definition of domestic abuse used by Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)[15] 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'.

5.2. Recording crimes and offences

Contraventions of Scottish criminal law are divided for statistical purposes only into crimes and offences. The term "crime" is generally used for the more serious criminal acts; the less serious are termed "offences". The distinction is made only for statistical reporting purposes and 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, and does not relate to the impact on the individual experiencing the incident.

In one criminal incident, several crimes or offences may occur – e.g. 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.

5.3. Crime groupings

The Scottish Government is responsible for mapping each charge code to a crime code, which forms the basis of the crime code classification. There are around 5,300 charge codes, which are the operational codes used within the criminal justice system to identify crimes and offences. These charge codes are mapped to around 400 crime or offence codes, which in turn are typically grouped into 35 broader categories, and further into seven crime and offence groups. The latest version of the charge code list can be accessed on the Scottish Government website. This classification enables consistent and comparable reporting between criminal justice organisations.

Crimes and offences within this publication are presented into the seven main groupings, as shown in the table below. Where statistical available broad sub-groupings are also provided.

Crimes (groups & sub-groups)
Group 1 Non-sexual crimes of violence Homicide etc.
Attempted murder and serious assault
Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018
Other non-sexual crimes of violence
Group 2 Sexual crimes Rape and attempted rape
Sexual assault
Crimes associated with prostitution
Other sexual crimes
Group 3 Crimes of dishonesty Housebreaking
Theft by opening lockfast places
Theft from a motor vehicle
Theft of a motor vehicle
Other theft
Other dishonesty
Group 4 Fire-raising, vandalism etc. Fire-raising
Vandalism etc.
Group 5 Other crimes Crimes against public justice
Handling offensive weapons
Other crime
Offences (groups & sub-groups)
Group 6 Miscellaneous offences Common assault
Breach of the peace etc.
Drunkenness and other disorderly conduct
Urinating etc.
Other miscellaneous
Group 7 Motor vehicle offences[16] Dangerous and careless driving
Driving under the influence
Unlawful use of motor vehicle
Vehicle defect offences
Seat belt offences
Mobile phone offences
Other motor vehicle offences

As discussed in Section 4.2, some changes in the approach to the seven group structure may be applied in 2022 as a result of feedback to the current Scottish Crime Recording Board consultation, available on the Consultation Hub website. Users will be kept informed of any developments relating to this work through the ScotStat network.

5.4. Calculating rates per 10,000 population

Figures on incidents of domestic abuse in this publication are presented both as number of incidents and as rates per 10,000 population. These rates are calculated using the mid-year population estimates from the National Records of Scotland. Mid-2020 population estimates are used in this bulletin.

Annex 2: Data sources and quality

The creation of Police Scotland has altered the way in which domestic abuse data has been collected. Prior to 1 April 2013, each legacy police force had a bespoke system to collect the data required. Between 1 April 2013 and 31 March 2014, the interim Vulnerable Persons Database (iVPD) system was rolled out to the then 14 police divisions in Scotland. From 1 April 2014 onwards, all domestic abuse data was collected through the iVPD.

To reflect these changes in data collection, tables and figures in this bulletin are presented with clear breaks in the time series between 2013-14 and 2014-15. The break is denoted by a dashed line and labelled to highlight the change to the data source. Caution should be exercised when making comparisons over time and when interpreting variation in the number of incidents recorded across years.

The data in this bulletin covers the current 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.

The data presented in this bulletin is a snapshot of domestic abuse incidents recorded on the iVPD at the end of the financial year.

5.5. Process of logging an incident

When a victim and/or witness makes initial contact with the police regarding a domestic abuse incident, Police Scotland log the incident in their System for Tasking and Operational Resource Management (STORM), Police Scotland's national command and control system[17].

STORM is largely used for resource allocation purposes. Depending on the information supplied and the outcome of additional enquiries, the incident may result in the creation of one or more crime reports on the relevant crime management system (CMS).

Once the police have assessed the incident, they determine if a vulnerable person record is to be set up in iVPD. The purpose of the iVPD is to collect information on people who are deemed to be in a vulnerable situation, to ensure that any concerns for the victim (or any other person subject of concern) are assessed and appropriate actions are taken.

Incidents in this bulletin are counted against the year in which they are recorded by Police Scotland on the iVPD system[18]. Not all incidents are reported to the police immediately following their occurrence. As such each year's figures on incidents of domestic abuse will include a proportion of incidents committed in earlier years.

It is important to recognise that amendments to crime and offence records may occur following submission of figures by Police Scotland to the Scottish Government. This may be due to the reclassification of crimes into different crime groups or, no crime being established after further investigation by police into the originally reported offence.

5.6. Additional information on the trend data

In addition to this, there has been an increase since 2016-17 in the proportion of incidents where no information was recorded on the characteristics of the victim and/or the accused (from 4,522 or 8% in 2016-17 to 14,268 or 22% by 2020-21).

Police Scotland have advised that a procedural change was made immediately prior to 2017-18 whereby for certain non-criminal incidents of domestic abuse (i.e. where both parties were believed to have an equal involvement), details were no longer recorded for a specific victim or a specific accused. Prior to this, two incidents may have been recorded treating one party as the victim and the other as the accused and the second for the reverse position. Whilst this change may also have had an effect on the number of domestic abuse incidents recorded by the police, the impact of this cannot be quantified.

There has also been a gradual increase in the number and proportion of incidents where the specific relationship (i.e. Spouse/Civil Partner, Co-habitee, Partner etc.) of those involved was unknown (to 9,171 or 14% by 2020-21). There can always be some occasions where no information can be provided on the specific relationship, for example where a domestic abuse victim is identified, but the perpetrator's identity remains unknown.

In other cases (and similar to the above) where no criminal behaviour can be evidenced, it is possible none of the individuals involved will be recorded as a perpetrator. In such instances a 'Not known' or 'Relationship not recorded' value may be selected. There may remain some variation across Scotland in the approach to recording these specific variables, with Police Scotland recently re-issuing guidance to Officers. This in turn may have led to the increase highlighted above in the proportion of incidents where detailed information on the specific relationship between those involved was not recorded.

5.7. Further information on incidents without a crime or offence recorded

In 2016-17, Scottish Government statisticians reviewed a sample of domestic abuse incidents which did not include the recording of at least one crime or offence, to provide users with additional information on the circumstances of these incidents. Four hundred incidents from 2016-17 were randomly selected from the iVPD and a synopsis of each case was recorded. The findings, presented below, should be treated as a broad indication of the characteristics of these incidents. They are not an exact measure, given the associated possibility of sampling error and wide range of behaviours covered.

Around half of these incidents (52%) in 2016-17 were based on some form of argument between partners or ex-partners that excluded any reference to a physical confrontation or threatening behaviour. Of these cases, around two-thirds include one of the partners/ex-partners contacting the police, whilst in around 30% of cases a third party or other witness did so. A quarter of cases that refer to some form of argument include one of the parties contacting the police as they wanted the other person to leave.

Around a fifth of these incidents (19%) were based on concern about the communication or attempted communication of one partner/ex-partner towards the other (excluding any reference to an argument or a specific crime or offence). In almost all these cases it was one of the partners/ex-partners that contacted the police. This involved a range of different incidents, including frequent references to unwanted communication or attempted communication, which could be through electronic means (text messages, phone call) or in person. This category also includes incidents where one party was concerned about what their partner/ex-partner has said about them (sometimes to third parties).

Beyond the incidents above, the other cases cover a diverse range of situations. Some included the police being contacted for advice or an individual raising concerns without reference to any specific incident (7% of the sample). In some instances the police were contacted by one partner/ex-partner out of concern for the wellbeing of the other party (3%) or by someone wishing to retrieve their belongings from a partner/ex-partner (3%).

Finally, some incidents recorded in the iVPD in 2016-17 were best described as situations in which it is inferred that a crime or offence may have taken place (13% of the sample). In most of these cases (11% of the sample) further investigation determined either that a crime or offence had not occurred (for example by the police reviewing the content of text messages that were alleged to be threatening) or there was insufficient evidence for the police to record a crime or offence. In the other cases (2% of the sample), further discussion with Police Scotland determined that these incidents did include a crime or offence. This splits into cases where a crime or offence had been recorded in crime management systems[19] but not added to the iVPD or where no crime or offence had been recorded at all.

Annex 3: Auditing of data by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS)

5.8. HMICS Crime Audit 2020

HMICS Crime Audit 2020 aimed to assess the state, efficiency and effectiveness of crime recording by Police Scotland and the extent to which recording practice complies with the Scottish Crime Recording Standard (SCRS) and Counting Rules. The SCRS requires that all incidents, whether crime-related or not, will result in the creation of an auditable record. HMICS tested the accuracy of crime recording by auditing incident and crime records in five categories, including sexual crime, violence, domestic abuse, non-crime related incidents, and no-crimes. The section below provides information and outcomes on the audit of domestic abuse incidents.

Police Scotland's recording system STORM has been audited to assess the compliance for domestic abuse incidents. HMICS examined 3,150 incidents relating to domestic abuse, 1,001 of which resulted in a crime record. HMICS found that the compliance was good overall, as:

  • 94.6% of domestic abuse incidents examined were closed correctly
  • 92.6% of domestic abuse crime records were counted and classified correctly
  • 95.2% of domestic abuse crimes were recorded within 72 hours of the incident being reported to the police, with 10 of the 13 divisions achieving over 95% compliance

Whilst the HMICS Crime Audit 2020 did not extend to data on domestic abuse included on the iVPD, it highlights the quality of domestic abuse information provided by STORM. It is likely the HMICS will be undertaking follow-up inspection work in 2021-22.

Annex 4: Validation

5.9. Reporting of incidents and quality assurance of domestic abuse statistics

The statistics reported in this bulletin do not reveal the incidence of all domestic abuse committed, since not all incidents are reported to the police. However, in conjunction with the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS), these statistics help to assess the extent and impact of domestic abuse in Scotland. 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.

Challenging domestic abuse is a high priority for both Police Scotland and COPFS. As such, they have a Joint Protocol outlining the procedures and practices to follow when dealing with incidents of domestic abuse. The protocol is available on Police Scotland website.

The data presented in this publication is drawn from an administrative system. Although care is taken when processing, quality assuring and analysing the data, administrative data is subject to the inaccuracies inherent in any large scale recording system.

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 for their attention. Any amendments are carried out and the final data is used to produce a set of data 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, in line with the Scottish Government's guidance on Producing Official Statistics.

Whilst Police Scotland aims to record complete information for all incidents, there is some challenge in retrieving and linking the captured information to meet the full data requirements for this publication. As a result some values for certain variables are marked 'missing'.

The statistics provided in the data return for this publication prior to 2014-15 have highlighted the different ways in which legacy police forces recorded information. In particular, police practice in deciding when the behaviour justifies the recording of a crime or offence may differ. For example, some legacy forces had ruled that no crime or offence should be recorded if no further action was taken e.g. because the victim did not wish any action to be taken. Other forces may have recorded this as a crime or offence.

With all police divisions now using the same iVPD system to record incidents of domestic abuse and following the same Police Scotland guidance, inconsistencies in approach may minimise over time. Annex 2 provides more information on how the incidents are logged in Police Scotland's systems.

5.10. Historical changes in methodology

2009-10 was the first year in which 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.

For example, if an incident occurred during 2007-08 but was recorded during 2008-09, it would have been excluded from 2008-09 (since the date committed is not in the relevant time period), but it would also have been missed out of the 2007-08 data as the submitted data would not have been updated. Hence, the incident would not be reported in the statistics in this publication series and therefore contributed to an underestimate. Although this publication series has never revised this information, some legacy forces may have updated their own collections and prepared refreshed data in response to bespoke requests.

The number of incidents in the bulletins from 2009-10 onwards, is based on the date the incident was recorded. This should give a better reflection of police activity relating to incidents of domestic abuse. By reporting on the date the incidents were committed, we get a snapshot account of the number of incidents of domestic abuse occurring within a particular period. However, by analysing the data based on the date recorded, we can see the trend in reporting incidents of domestic abuse to the police. Hence, if there was an increase in the number of victims who report incidents of domestic abuse to the police sometime after they occurred, this should be reflected in the statistics.

Annex 5: Legislation

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 came into force on 1 April 2019 and created a new offence for circumstances where a person engages in a course of behaviour[20] which is abusive towards their partner or ex-partner. Prior to the 1 April 2019, any criminal act which formed part of a domestic abuse incident (such as a Common assault or Threatening or abusive behaviour) was included within the statistics under the relevant crime or offence. Where there is evidence of a course of behaviour, new crime codes of Domestic abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 (against a male or female victim) have been created. In general, existing common law and statutory offences will continue to be recorded where appropriate, in addition to the new crimes.

As well as common law, some of the main legislation applicable to domestic abuse is as follows:

Annex 6: Comparisons with rest of the UK

5.11. England & Wales

Domestic violence and abuse data in England & Wales is not comparable with Scotland's statistics on domestic abuse due to differences in definition. The UK Government's definition of domestic violence and abuse is:

'Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional'.

The definition used by Police Scotland does not include family members, with the data collected only including domestic abuse between partners (married, cohabiting, civil partnership or otherwise) or ex-partners. The definition used by Police Scotland also has no age restrictions upon it. Differences in legislation and common law also have to be taken into account when comparing the crime statistics for England & Wales and Scotland.

It should be noted that the Domestic Abuse Bill passed both Houses of UK Parliament and was signed into law on 29 April 2021. This is set to provide further protections to people experiencing domestic abuse, as well as strengthen measures to tackle perpetrators. More information on the Domestic Abuse Act is available on the Home Office website.

Domestic abuse statistics for England & Wales from the Crime Survey for England & Wales, police recorded crime and a number of different organisations are available on the Office for National Statistics website.

5.12. Northern Ireland

Similarly to the comparability issues with England & Wales, statistics on domestic violence and abuse in Northern Ireland are not directly comparable to those in Scotland. The Police Service of Northern Ireland's definition of domestic abuse is outlined in the Northern Ireland Government Strategy 'Stopping Domestic and Sexual Violence and Abuse in Northern Ireland' as:

'Threatening, controlling, coercive behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, virtual, physical, verbal, sexual, financial or emotional) inflicted on anyone (irrespective of age, ethnicity, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or any form of disability) by a current or former partner or family member'.

The definition clarifies that:

  • 'incident' means an incident anywhere and not confined to the home of one of the partners/family members
  • 'family members' include mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, grandparents, whether directly or indirectly related, in-laws or stepfamily
  • 'intimate partners' means there must have been a relationship with a degree of continuity and stability. The relationship must also have had (or reasonably supposed to have had) a sexual aspect, such as in the relationship between husband and wife or between others generally recognised as a couple including same sex couples.

The main difference between the definitions is that the one used by Police Scotland does not include family members, with the data collected only including domestic abuse between partners (married, cohabiting, civil partnership or otherwise) or ex-partners. Domestic abuse statistics for Northern Ireland are available on the Police Service of Northern Ireland website.



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