Publication - Statistics

Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2019: attitudes to violence against women

Published: 10 Dec 2020

Findings from the 2019 Scottish Social Attitudes Survey on the attitudes of the Scottish public to the following forms of violence against women: sexual violence, domestic abuse (physical, verbal, mental and emotional), sexual harassment and commercial sexual exploitation.

Chapter 3 - Domestic abuse: Verbal and physical abuse

This is the first of two chapters looking at people's attitudes to domestic abuse. This chapter considers views on physical and verbal abuse within a relationship, while attitudes towards controlling behaviour are explored in the chapter that follows.

There is no single agreed definition of domestic abuse. Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) define domestic abuse as:

'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 and COPFS, 2019)

While some definitions of domestic abuse may have less of an emphasis on 'criminal conduct', the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 makes it clear that domestic abuse is a crime. The Act states that abusive behaviour can be behaviour that is violent, threatening or intimidating. It can also include behaviour that has the purpose or effect of making the recipient subordinate or dependent on the perpetrator, isolating them, controlling or monitoring their activities, depriving or restricting their freedom of action or humiliating/degrading them.

The joint protocol between Police Scotland and the COPFS acknowledges that domestic abuse is a form of gender-based violence, predominantly committed by men against women, but not always. It can also include abuse of male victims by female partners, or abuse of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex individuals within a relationship.

Attitudes to verbal domestic abuse

The first scenario covers attitudes to someone who repeatedly verbally abuses their spouse. Half of respondents were asked their views when the woman was the victim of the verbal abuse from her husband, and half when a man was the victim and his wife was the perpetrator. Asking about both a female victim and a male victim allowed responses to be compared to determine whether people were consistent in their attitudes to verbal domestic abuse, or whether attitudes were dependent on the gender of the victim and/or the perpetrator. People were asked what they thought of the perpetrator's behaviour, on a 7-point wrong scale from 1 (not wrong at all) to 7 (very seriously wrong). The exact wording of the scenario was:

'Imagine a married couple who both work. When the man/woman has a stressful day at work, he/she often takes it out on his wife/her husband by putting her/him down and criticising her/him.'

Table 3.1 shows that most people believed that often putting down a partner and criticising them is wrong, irrespective of the gender of the perpetrator or the victim: 94% thought that a man often putting down and criticising his wife, after he had had a stressful day at work, is wrong (with a score of at least 5 out of 7 on the scale), and when the repeated abuse was from a woman towards her husband 91% viewed it as wrong. There was, however, a clear difference in the strength of feeling towards the behaviour depending on whether the victim was a woman or a man. While just over 7 in 10 (72%) thought the behaviour of the man putting down his wife was 'very seriously wrong', around half (51%) said the same when asked about a woman putting down her husband.

Views on how wrong it is for someone to put down a partner and criticise them did not significantly shift between 2014 and 2019, irrespective of the gender of the victim or the perpetrator.[14]

Table 3.1: Attitudes towards the perpetrator's behaviour - often putting down and criticising wife/husband
Man putting down his wife Woman putting down her husband
(%) (%)
2014 2019 2014 2019
7 Very seriously wrong 72 72 46 51
6 16 17 27 28
5 6 6 15 12
4 2 2 6 5
3 1 * 2 2
2 * 1 1 1
1 Not wrong at all * 1 2 1
Don't know / Refusal 2 2 * 1
Weighted base 738 460 695 505
Unweighted base 740 455 688 497

Base: All respondents who completed either version A (man putting down his wife) or version B (woman putting down her husband) of the self-completion questionnaire '*' indicates less than 0.5 percent but greater than zero

When asked to consider how much harm the perpetrator's behaviour causes the victim of the verbal abuse, a similar pattern was observed. Table 3.2 shows that, while overall most people thought someone putting down and criticising a partner caused either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm to the victim, irrespective of their gender, a higher proportion believed this to be the case when the woman is the victim (91% compared with 85% who thought that a woman often putting down her husband did 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm to him). This difference in views depending on the gender of the victim was particularly pronounced when looking solely at those who believed the verbally abusive behaviour caused 'a great deal' of harm. When asked about the harm caused to a woman, 66% said it did 'a great deal' of harm compared with only 44% who thought that it did 'a great deal' of harm to a man.

Views on how harmful the repeated criticism from her husband is to a woman did not change significantly between 2014 and 2019. Although there was a significant increase in the proportion of people who believed harm is caused to a man when he is regularly put down and criticised by his wife (in 2014, 79% said it caused the man either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm, compared with 85% in 2019), it remains the case that harm is perceived to be greater for female victims.

Table 3.2: After a stressful day at work, a man/woman often puts down and criticises his wife/her husband - Belief about the level of harm done to victim
Man putting down his wife Woman putting down her husband
(%) (%)
2014 2019 2014 2019
A great deal 61 66 41 44
Quite a lot 31 25 38 41
Some 6 4 17 11
Not very much * 1 3 1
None at all * 1 1 2
Don't know / Refusal 2 2 * 1
Weighted base 738 460 695 505
Unweighted base 740 455 688 497

Base: All respondents who completed either version A (man putting down his wife) or version B (woman putting down her husband) of the self-completion questionnaire

'*' indicates less than 0.5 percent but greater than zero

How do attitudes to verbal domestic abuse vary between groups?

This section examines how attitudes to someone often putting down and criticising their spouse varied by the following respondent characteristics:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Education
  • Income[15]
  • Area deprivation[16]
  • Religious identity
  • Marital status
  • Whether they have ever been regularly verbally abused, put down or criticised by a partner
  • Whether they held stereotypical views on gender roles

Views on how wrong it is for a man to put down his wife and criticise her after he's had a stressful day at work did not vary greatly between different groups. For example, men were no more likely than women to view the man's behaviour towards his wife as 'very seriously wrong' (73% and 71% respectively). The only significant difference in views on a male perpetrator's behaviour was between age groups. Those aged under 65 were significantly more likely than those aged 65 and over to view the husband's behaviour as 'very seriously wrong' (74% for those aged 18 to 64 compared with 62% aged 65 and over).

More differences in views were apparent when the perpetrator of the verbal abuse is a woman and the victim is her husband. As Figure 3.1 shows, women were more likely than men to think that a woman often putting down her husband and criticising him was 'very seriously wrong' (58% of women compared with 43% of men).

Also, in line with the pattern by age observed above for a male perpetrator's behaviour, older people were also less likely than others to view a woman's verbally abusive behaviour to her husband as wrong (39% of those aged 65 and over viewed the behaviour as 'very seriously wrong' compared with 54% of those aged 18 to 64).

Those who had never been married or in a civil partnership were more likely than those who were currently married or had previously been married to say that the behaviour of the woman who often puts her husband down and criticises him is 'very seriously wrong' (63% compared with 47% respectively).

Figure 3.1: Belief that it is 'very seriously wrong' that a woman often puts down and criticises her husband, by gender, age and marital status (2019, %)
Bar chart showing how attitudes to verbal abuse by a woman vary by age, gender and marital status

Base: All respondents who completed version B of the self-completion questionnaire

Views on how harmful verbal abuse is to the victim also differed between groups of people. Where the victim of the repeated criticism is a woman, age was again related to differing views. In addition to being more likely than those aged 65 and over to think the male perpetrator's behaviour is wrong, those aged 18 to 64 were also more likely than older people to view the abuse as causing 'a great deal' of harm to the woman. Around 7 in 10 (69%) of those aged 18 to 64 believed that 'a great deal' of harm is done to the woman, while just over half (53%) of those aged 65 and over thought the same. Those who did not identify as belonging to any religion were more likely than those who did to feel that the man's behaviour is likely to do 'a great deal' of harm to his wife (71% and 58% respectively).[17]

In addition, those who held stereotypical attitudes on gender roles were also less likely than those who do not to believe that 'a great deal' of harm is caused to his wife by verbal abuse (55% compared with 72% respectively).[18]

Figure 3.2 shows that although there was no significant difference between the views of men and women on the level of harm verbal abuse causes a woman (64% of men viewed the husband's behaviour as causing the woman 'a great deal' of harm compared with 68% of women), views on the level of harm done to a man when his wife puts him down and criticises him did vary by gender. Just as men were less likely than women to view a woman putting down her husband as wrong, they were also less likely than women to view the behaviour as causing harm to male victims, suggesting that men take a less serious view of verbally abusive behaviour towards men than towards women. Over a third (36%) of men felt that 'a great deal' of harm is done to a man when his wife puts him down, while around half (52%) of women felt the same. Around 1 in 6 (17%) men thought that some, not much or no harm at all is done to a man when he is put down by his wife, whereas only 6% of men thought the same about the level of harm done to a woman when she is put down by her husband. For women, views were similar for both the scenario where the wife or the husband were the victims (8% when the woman was the victim and 11% when it was the man).

Figure 3.2: Belief regarding amount of harm done to a woman / man when her husband / his wife often puts him down and criticises her / him, by gender (2019, %)
Bar chart showing how attitudes to harm of verbal abuse vary by gender of perpetrator and respondent

Base: All respondents who completed version A (scenario 1) or version B (scenario 2) of the self-completion

In addition to gender, there were some other differences between subgroups in attitudes to the level of harm done to male victims of verbal abuse. Similar to views when the victim is a woman, older people were less likely than those aged under 65 to think that 'a great deal' of harm is done to male victims (30% of those aged 65 and over compared with 48% of those aged 18 to 64). Those who themselves had ever been regularly subjected to verbal abuse, put downs or criticism by a partner were more likely to state that the man who experienced this type of behaviour was caused 'a great deal' of harm (61% who had experienced verbal abuse, compared with 41% who had not).

The change, between 2014 and 2019, in the proportion who thought that either 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm is done to a man when he is regularly put down and criticised by his wife appears to be entirely driven by changes in views of women. In both 2014 and 2019, four-fifths of men (80% in 2014 and 81% in 2019) thought that 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm is done to a man. Over this same period, the proportion of women who thought that verbal abuse caused the husband 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm increased by 10 percentage points from 79% to 89%.

Attitudes to physical domestic abuse

After respondents were asked about how wrong and harmful they thought it was for someone to regularly put down and criticise their spouse, they were presented with a scenario for the same couple where the verbal abuse escalates to physical abuse.

Half of respondents were asked what they thought about physical abuse perpetrated by a man (on his wife), and half were asked about the same scenario but with the abuse perpetrated by a woman (on her husband). Again, a scale of 1 (not wrong at all) to 7 (very seriously wrong) was used to describe the perpetrator's behaviour. Exact wording for the scenario was:

'Thinking about the same couple where the man/woman sometimes puts down his wife/her husband and criticises her/him. Imagine that one day he/she also gets angry and ends up slapping her/him in the face.'

Respondents were also asked about the amount of harm they believed the action did to the victim with possible answer options ranging from 'a great deal' to 'none at all'. Since the scenarios and questions associated with them were also included in SSA 2014, it is possible to explore whether attitudes have changed over time.

As discussed above, most people recognised the seriousness of verbal abuse and the level of harm it causes the victim. Views towards physical domestic abuse were even more pronounced, however. Table 3.3 shows that more than 9 in 10 (93%) people viewed the behaviour of a man slapping his wife as 'very seriously wrong', while the proportion viewing the behaviour of a woman slapping her husband as 'very seriously wrong' was lower, at around 8 in 10 (81%). The proportions viewing this escalation to physical abuse as 'very seriously wrong' were much higher than the 72% who viewed verbal abuse against a women, and the 51% who viewed verbal abuse against a man, as 'very seriously wrong'. Attitudes to this type of physically abusive behaviour within a partnership have not changed significantly since 2014, irrespective of the gender of the victim or the perpetrator.

Table 3.3: Slapping wife / husband - Attitudes towards the perpetrator's behaviour
Man slapping his wife Woman slapping her husband
(%) (%)
2014^ 2019^ 2014 2019
7 Very seriously wrong 92 93 81 81
6 5 4 11 12
5 1 1 3 2
4 1 * 2 2
3 - - 1 1
2 * - * -
1 Not wrong at all 1 1 1 1
Don't know / Refusal 2 2 * 1
Weighted base 738 460 695 505
Unweighted base 740 455 688 497

Base: All respondents who completed either version A (man slapping his wife) or version B (woman slapping her husband) of the self-completion '*' indicates less than 0.5 percent but greater than zero

^ Figures do not add to 100% due to rounding.

There was also a widespread view that, as well as being 'very seriously wrong', getting angry and slapping a partner causes the victim 'a great deal' of harm. Nine out of ten (90%) people thought that a woman being slapped by her husband causes her 'a great deal' of harm. As seen with the views on the perceived wrongness of the physically abusive behaviour, a smaller proportion (71%), but still a majority, thought that the same level of harm is done to a man who is slapped by his wife.

Table 3.4 shows that, while there remained a significant gap in views on the harm slapping causes to the victim depending on the victim's gender, the size of that gap narrowed between 2014 and 2019. This reduction was driven by a significant increase in the proportion of people who believed 'a great deal' of harm is done to a man when slapped by his wife (from 62% in 2014 to 71% in 2019), whereas the equivalent figures for those believing 'a great deal' of harm is done to a woman when slapped by her husband remained the same (89% in 2014 and 90% in 2019).

Table 3.4: Slapping wife / husband - Belief about the level of harm done to victim
Man slapping his wife Woman slapping her husband
(%) (%)
2014 2019 2014 2019
A great deal 89 90 62 71
Quite a lot 8 6 28 21
Some 1 1 7 5
Not very much * * 1 1
None at all * 1 1 *
Don't know / Refusal 2 2 1 1
Weighted base 738 460 695 505
Unweighted base 740 455 688 497

Base: All respondents who completed either version A (man slapping his wife) or version B (woman slapping her husband) of the self-completion

'*' indicates less than 0.5 percent but greater than zero

How do attitudes to physical domestic abuse vary between groups?

This section considers how views on physical domestic abuse vary between subgroups. Attitudes were considered in relation to the same set of characteristics as used for the earlier scenarios, with the exception that personal experience of physical abuse was used instead of personal experience of verbal abuse. Since the majority viewed someone slapping their partner as 'very seriously wrong' and that it does 'a great deal' of harm to the victim, irrespective of the victim's gender, we would not expect to see much variation in views between different groups of people.

In fact, education was the only factor significantly associated with perceived wrongness of a man slapping his wife. People with no formal educational qualifications were less likely than those with any formal qualifications to view the behaviour of a man slapping his wife as 'very seriously wrong' (83% compared with 94% respectively).

The gender of the victim and the perpetrator of physical domestic abuse does not appear to affect the views of women, whereas men appear to view the behaviour differently depending on the gender of the victim and the perpetrator. While 94% of men thought it was 'very seriously wrong' for a man to slap his wife (compared with 91% of women), the equivalent figures for a woman slapping her husband were 74% of men and 88% of women. This reinforces the point made previously, in relation to verbal domestic abuse, that some men appear to be of the view that it is more acceptable for a man than a woman to be a victim of abusive behaviour. Gender was the only factor significantly associated with views on a man slapping his wife.

The earlier finding that views on the perceived wrongness of a man slapping his wife were associated with education holds true when exploring views on the perceived harm physical abuse causes the wife. In addition to being less likely than others to view the behaviour as 'very seriously wrong,' those with no formal educational qualifications were also less likely than others to say that slapping the woman causes her 'a great deal' of harm (80% and 91% respectively).

Stereotypical views on gender roles were also associated with the perceived degree of harm done to the woman: 94% of those who did not hold stereotypical views on gender roles thought that a man slapping his wife does 'a great deal' of harm to her, compared with 83% of those who did hold stereotypical views on gender roles.

Just as women were more likely than men to view the behaviour of a woman slapping her husband as 'very seriously wrong,' so too were they more likely than men to believe that the behaviour is harmful to the man. Figure 3.3 shows that 79% of women compared with 62% of men thought that 'a great deal' of harm is done to the man. Those aged 18 to 64 were more likely than older people to believe that a wife slapping her husband causes him 'a great deal' of harm (74% compared with 60% of those aged 65 and over). People with formal educational qualifications were also more likely than those with none to view the behaviour as harmful to the man (74% and 56% respectively thought it caused 'a great deal' of harm).[19] It was also the case that 80% of those who had never been married or in a civil partnership believed 'a great deal' of harm is caused to the man slapped by his wife, compared with 68% of those who were currently married, living with a partner or had previously been married.

Figure 3.3: Belief that a great deal of harm is done to a man when his wife slaps him by gender, age, education and marital status (2019, %)
Bar chart showing belied about harm of physical abuse by different respondent characteristics

Base: All respondents who completed version B of the self-completion

Stereotypical views on gender roles were also associated with views on the level of harm physical domestic abuse does to a male victim, as they were for views on the level of harm verbal abuse causes a male victim. Three-quarters (75%) of those who said they would buy a truck for the girl without saying anything[20] believed that 'a great deal' of harm is done to the man slapped by his wife, compared with 62% of those who were more reluctant to buy it.[21]

We noted earlier that the proportion of adults believing 'a great deal' of harm is done to the man in this example of physical domestic abuse had increased significantly since 2014. As with the scenario about the harm caused by a woman putting her husband down, the increase was largely due to a change in women's views over the period, rather than a change in men's views. In 2014, 57% of men felt that 'a great deal' of harm is done to a man when he is slapped by his wife, with the increase to 62% in 2019 not being significant. A much larger, and statistically significant, increase was observed in the proportion of women who felt that 'a great deal' of harm is done to a man when he is slapped by his wife, from 67% in 2014 to 79% in 2019. Differences in the perceived level of harm done to a man when he is slapped by his wife by age, gender, education and marital status have all widened since 2014, with greater increases for those aged under 65 (from 64% in 2014 to 74% in 2019) than for those aged 65 and over (56% in 2014 and 60% in 2019); for those with formal qualifications (64% in 2014 and 74% in 2019) than for those with no formal qualifications (52% in 2014 and 56% in 2019); and for those who do not live with a partner and have never been married (64% in 2014 and 80% in 2019) than for those who have been married or who currently live with a partner (61% in 2014 and 68% in 2019).


Contact

Email: social-justice-analysis@gov.scot