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Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2019: attitudes to violence against women

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.

This document is part of 2 collections


Chapter 4 - Domestic abuse: Controlling behaviour

Controlling behaviour within a relationship is often referred to as coercive control. In February 2018, the Scottish Parliament passed the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act to create a specific offence of domestic abuse which covers not only physical abuse but other forms of psychological harm and coercive and controlling behaviour (Scottish Parliament, 2018). This act came into force in early 2019. The legislation draws on the lived experience of survivors of domestic abuse and recognises that coercive control can cause as much harm as physical abuse.

This chapter explores attitudes towards controlling behaviour within a relationship using three distinct scenarios and comparing perceptions of the extent to which this behaviour is thought to be wrong in all three. Some respondents' views were sought when the man was the perpetrator and the woman was the victim, and the views of other respondents were sought about their attitudes when the woman was the perpetrator and the man was the victim. As with the previous chapter, comparing these two sets of attitudes enables us to establish whether people adopt a consistent attitude towards a particular form of abuse, or whether their views are dependent on the gender of the victim. Finally, we consider whether the victim of the controlling behaviour having had an affair makes any difference to perceptions of how wrong this behaviour is perceived to be. Two of these scenarios were also included in SSA in 2014, so we are able to explore whether attitudes have changed over time.

It is important to note that coercive control is best understood as a course of conduct, which has a cumulative impact and often involves many different kinds of behaviours and strategies being layered on top on one another. While our set of scenarios on persistent text messaging is intended to enable an exploration of differences in perceptions between isolated occurrences and more established patterns of behaviour, this survey nevertheless does not explore attitudes towards coercive control involving a range of different behaviours together.

The first example of controlling behaviour explores excessive monitoring. Half of the respondents were asked their views when the person experiencing this behaviour was a woman and half when the person experiencing this behaviour was a man. The first scenario was about someone who texts his or her spouse every time she or he goes out for an evening meal:

'Imagine a married woman/man is going out with her/his friends for a meal in the evening. Every time she/he goes out she/he tells her husband/his wife where she/he is going and when she'll/he'll be back. Even so, he/she always sends her/him a text asking her/him where she/he is and what time she'll/he'll get home.'

As an escalation to this scenario, respondents were then asked their views on someone texting his or her spouse multiple times when she or he is out with friends:

'Now imagine every time she/he goes out with her/his friends he/she sends her/him a number of texts throughout the evening asking her/him where she/he is and when she's/he's going to get home.'

For each of these examples, respondents were asked how wrong they felt this behaviour (the texting) was, on a scale from 1 (not wrong at all) to 7 (very seriously wrong).

The next scenario explores a husband trying to control what his wife wears. All respondents were given the following scenario and asked how wrong they felt the husband's behaviour is:

'A woman is getting ready for a night out. When her husband sees she is dressed up more than usual, he tells her he doesn't like her going out looking like that and tells her to change.'

To investigate the possibility that people's views on this type of controlling behaviour might depend on the circumstances, the subsequent scenario asked respondents how wrong they felt the man's behaviour would be if he 'had recently found out that his wife had been having an affair'.

The final example of controlling behaviour explores financial control. This scenario describes a husband who insists on looking at his wife's bank statements every month. Again, respondents were asked how wrong they felt this behaviour to be.

'Imagine a married couple who both work full time and earn similar salaries. The man insists on looking at his wife's bank statements every month, but he does not let her see his own.'

Attitudes to controlling behaviour

The extent to which controlling behaviour was perceived as wrong varied between the scenarios of excessive monitoring, trying to control what someone wears and financial control (see Table 4.1). People were most likely to think that the financial controlling behaviour was 'very seriously wrong'. Two-thirds (68%) felt that a husband insisting on looking at his wife's bank statements without showing her his bank statements was 'very seriously wrong', and over 9 in 10 (93%) gave this behaviour a score of 5 or more on the 7-point scale. Over half (55%) felt that a man controlling what his wife wears was 'very seriously wrong', with around 9 in 10 (89%) giving this behaviour a score of 5 or more.

The behaviour that was seen as the least seriously wrong was that of excessive monitoring, where a man sends one text to ask his wife where she is and when she will be home. Only one-fifth (20%) said that they thought this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong', while nearly three-fifths (58%) thought that this behaviour merited a score of 5 or more. When respondents were then asked about a husband who texts his wife multiple times throughout the evening, the proportion who thought that this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' increased to over two-fifths (42%), and the proportion who gave a score of 5 or more increased to over four-fifths (83%).

Table 4.1: Views on controlling behaviour (2019)
Husband always sends text asking where wife is & when back Husband sends wife no. of texts all evening Husband tells wife to change outfit before she goes out Husband looks at wife's bank statements but doesn't let her see his
(%) (%) (%) (%)
7 Very seriously wrong 20 42 55 68
6 18 30 23 19
5 20 11 11 6
4 18 8 5 3
3 9 3 3 1
2 6 3 1 1
1 Not wrong at all 7 1 1 1
Don't know / Refusal 2 2 1 1
Weighted bases 460 460 964 964
Unweighted bases 455 455 952 952

Base = All respondents (first two scenarios); all respondents who completed version A of the self-completion (last two scenarios)

Respondents were also asked how wrong they thought the behaviour was if a woman sends her husband a text when he goes out 'asking him where he is and what time he'll get home', and how wrong the behaviour was if she sends him 'a number of texts throughout the evening asking him where he is and when he's going to get home'. Figure 4.1 shows that, for both scenarios, excessive monitoring was thought to be more seriously wrong when the perpetrator was a man compared with when the perpetrator was a woman. As discussed above, when the husband sends his wife one text to ask 'where she is and what time she'll get home', 20% felt this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong'; this compares with 14% when the perpetrator was a woman and the victim was a man. When the scenario was extended to 'a number of texts' being sent throughout the evening, 42% felt this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' when the perpetrator was a man and the victim was a woman, compared with 27% when the perpetrator was a woman and the victim was a man.

Figure 4.1: Belief that excessive control is 'very seriously wrong' by gender of the perpetrator (2019, %)
Bar chart showing how attitudes to wrongness of excessive control vary by gender of the perpetrator

Base = All respondents who completed either version A (man texts wife) or version B (woman texts husband) of the self-completion

The scenarios on a man controlling what his wife wears and financial control were also asked on SSA 2014, allowing changes in attitudes over time to be explored. There was a significant increase in the proportion of those who thought that it was 'very seriously wrong' for a husband to control what his wife wears, from 39% in 2014 to 55% in 2019. However, there was no significant difference between the proportion who thought that financial control was 'very seriously wrong' in 2014 and 2019. The questions regarding excessive monitoring were introduced in 2019 and therefore comparisons over time cannot be made for this scenario.

How do views on controlling behaviour vary between groups?

The extent to which controlling behaviour was perceived as 'very seriously wrong' varied between different subgroups. The extent to which financial control was perceived to be 'very seriously wrong' only differed by gender, with women (71%) significantly more likely than men (64%)[22] to believe this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong'. In relation to the scenario where a man controls what his wife wears, the views of those who thought it was 'very seriously wrong' differed significantly by gender, income, and whether people held stereotypical views on gender roles. Women (62%) were significantly more likely than men (46%) to think this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong', as were those in the highest income group (61%) compared with those in the lowest income group (49%).[23] Those who held stereotypical views on gender roles were less likely than those who did not hold stereotypical views on gender roles to think this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' (44% compared with 59% respectively).

There were no significant differences by subgroup in views on the excessive monitoring scenario, where a man texts his wife once to ask where she is. However, the proportion of people who thought that it was 'very seriously wrong' when a man texts his wife multiple times throughout the evening varied significantly by age. The youngest age group were less likely to consider this behaviour to be 'very seriously wrong' than all other age groups: around a quarter (27%) of those aged 18 to 34 thought a man texting his wife multiple times throughout the evening was 'very seriously wrong', compared with half (50%) of those aged 65 and over. This may be at least partly explained by the higher level of general use of mobile devices and messaging among the younger age group compared with older age groups.

Controlling behaviour after partner has had an affair

This section covers views on the scenario about a man controlling what his wife wears after he finds out she is having an affair, to explore whether the affair makes a difference to people's views. Overall, a husband telling his wife to change what she is wearing when she is going out was seen as less seriously wrong when the woman had had an affair. Without the information that the woman had had an affair, over half (55%) thought that a husband trying to control what his wife wears was 'very seriously wrong'. This declines to 3 in 10 (30%) who thought that it was 'very seriously wrong' for a man to tell his wife to change her outfit if he has recently found out that she is having an affair.

The extent to which people felt that it was 'very seriously wrong' for a man to try to control what his wife wears after finding out she has had an affair differed significantly by whether people had experienced a relationship where their partner tried to control what they did. People who had experienced this type of controlling relationship were more likely to feel that the man's behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' (41%) than those who had not (28%). In addition, around a third (34%) of women thought that his behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' compared with a quarter (25%) of men. However, this difference by gender was also seen in the scenario before respondents were told that the wife had had an affair, where 62% of women and 46% of men thought his behaviour was 'very seriously wrong'.

A change in attitudes to a husband trying to control what his wife wears after she has had an affair was observed between 2014 and 2019. The proportion of those who thought that this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' increased from 21% in 2014 to 30% in 2019. A larger increase in the proportion of those who felt that this behaviour was 'very seriously wrong' was observed among those who had experience of being in a relationship where their partner tried to control what they did (a 17-percentage-point increase, from 24% in 2014 to 41% in 2019) than among those who had not experienced being in a relationship where their partner tried to control what they did (an 8-percentage-point increase, from 20% in 2014 to 28% in 2019).

Perceptions of harm of controlling behaviour

In addition to being asked how wrong people felt the controlling behaviour to be, for the scenarios on excessive monitoring and financial control, respondents were asked what harm, if any, they felt the husband's behaviour did to his wife, on a scale from 'a great deal' to 'none at all'. Table 4.2 shows that, in both cases, the majority thought these behaviours caused 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm. Around three-quarters (77%) thought that a husband insisting on looking at his wife's bank statements without letting her see his own caused 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm, while 68% thought that it caused 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm for a husband to text his wife multiple times throughout the evening to ask where she is and when she will be home. In comparison, less than half (46%) thought that a wife texting her husband multiple times throughout the evening caused 'a great deal' or 'quite a lot' of harm.

Table 4.2: Views on harm done by controlling behaviour (2019)
Husband sends wife a number of texts all evening Wife sends husband a number of texts all evening Husband looks at wife's bank statements but doesn't let her see his
(%) (%) (%)
A great deal 28 13 39
Quite a lot 40 32 38
Some 20 33 16
Not very much 6 13 4
None at all 3 6 1
Don't know / Refusal 2 2 2
Weighted bases 460 505 964
Unweighted bases 455 497 952

Base = All respondents who completed version A (man texts wife) or version B (woman texts husband) of the self-completion; all respondents (bank statement scenario)

The extent to which these two controlling behaviours (a husband sending a number of texts throughout the evening and a husband looking at his wife's bank statements) were perceived to cause 'a great deal of harm' differed by gender. Figure 4.2 shows that, for both examples, a significantly higher proportion of women than men believed that controlling behaviour caused 'a great deal' of harm. Nearly half (47%) of women, compared with less than a third (31%) of men, thought that a husband looking at his wife's bank statements would cause 'a great deal' of harm. Similarly, around a third (36%) of women compared with one-fifth of men (20%), thought that a husband sending a number of texts throughout the evening to his wife to ask where she is and when she will get home would cause 'a great deal' of harm.

Figure 4.2: Belief that controlling behaviour causes a great deal of harm by gender (2019, %)
Bar chart showing that women are more likely than men to think controlling behaviour is very harmful

Base = All respondents who completed version A of the self-completion (man texts wife scenario); all respondents (bank statement scenario)

The proportion of people who thought that a husband insisting on looking at his wife's bank statement without showing her his own would cause 'a great deal' of harm increased from 34% in 2014 to 39% in 2019. The proportion of women who believed this increased by 7 percentage points, from 40% in 2014 to 47% in 2019. Among men, there was a slight but not statistically significant increase, from 27% in 2014 to 31% in 2019.[24]

Contact

Email: social-justice-analysis@gov.scot

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