New Responses to Domestic Abuse

6c1361e560730f2494b994750d8619a5Jen Stout reports on the opportunity (and obstacles) to us having “the best response in the world” to domestic abuse “an opportunity for us to be ambitious and bold in doing what we’ve been talking about for fifteen years.”

25,000 new cases of domestic abuse every year – that’s the estimate given by Scottish Women’s Aid in December 2015, extrapolated from their annual census. And the organisation warned that the number was probably much higher. Women’s rights organisations have long campaigned for a legal system that can properly recognise and prosecute all kinds of domestic abuse, rather than just physical violence – and Scotland could soon be leading the way in this regard.

The Domestic Abuse Bill, due to be introduced to parliament by June next year, will see a new offence created, which crucially would include “coercive behaviour” and other actions seen as “abusive in relation to a partner or ex-partner”. The move is linked to the government’s work on ending violence against women and girls; its 2015-16 statistics record 79% of all domestic abuse incidents as having a female victim and male accused.

There was broad agreement in Holyrood this September when the proposed bill was debated. Labour’s Claire Baker MSP said her party was, “in principle”, supportive of the move. Similar legislation was rolled out in England and Wales last year, when the Serious Crime Bill was amended to make “coercive or controlling behaviour” in intimate or family relationships an offence punishable by up to five years in prison.

Presenting the proposals to MSPs, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson described some of the ways in which abusers dominate and humiliate their partners, without necessarily using physical violence. Examples he gave included restricting social life and finances, preventing access to education or work, checking a partner’s communications, or controlling toilet access. Matheson said such behaviour is currently difficult to prosecute in the absence of physical violence or overt threats, and can continue for years.

A consultation on the changes, launched late 2015, found that an overwhelming majority of respondents favoured the inclusion of psychological abuse and coercive control, as well as conduct (threats and physical abuse), in any new domestic abuse offence. Financial abuse, and measures to reflect the impact on children, are also being considered.

The number of recorded incidents of domestic abuse in Scotland fell by three per cent from 2014/15 to 2015/16. But that’s still 58,104 incidents – 51 per cent of which resulted in at least one crime or offence being committed. And these 50,000 are the incidents that make it to the police’s attention – the government acknowledges that “most incidents of domestic abuse go unreported … for a variety of reasons.”

Of course, missing from these national figures are all those incidents that may occur which stop short of physical violence. This is why a change in the law to broaden the scope of abuse is something that Scottish Women’s Aid (SWA) and other organisations, have long campaigned for.

SWA Chief Executive Marsha Scott said that the bill is a chance for Scotland to have: “the best response in the world. Its an opportunity for us to be ambitious and bold in doing what we’ve been talking about for fifteen years.”

“I do expect opposition from the legal establishment”, Scott continues, “but we would really like Scotland to have a productive, constructive discourse and debate around this new law. We are in a country that historically has had cross-party consensus that domestic abuse is a form of women’s inequality. But I think this bill is a big step forward into unchartered territory, and I suspect there will be some who find that very scary. I’m hoping the media will help us create the kind of constructive debate that will help everybody understand the issues and support progress.”

“We are in a country that historically has had cross-party consensus that domestic abuse is a form of women’s inequality. But I think this bill is a big step forward into unchartered territory, and I suspect there will be some who find that very scary. I’m hoping the media will help us create the kind of constructive debate that will help everybody understand the issues and support progress.”

The gaps in the law when it comes to prosecuting domestic abuse, Scott argues, can make women reluctant to come forward and report what’s happening to them. “If you look at the way domestic abuse is prosecuted, you know it doesn’t make sense to respond to what is an epidemic of violence by simply patching together prosecutions around breach of the peace and violent or threatening behaviour… Police and prosecution have done what they can, but the tools are not fit for purpose.

“Women have been telling us for 40 years that it’s the controlling behaviours and psychological violence that have the most long-lasting traumatic effect; we need a law that doesn’t require a woman to go into A&E in order to have a robust charge, prosecution, conviction and sanctioning of the perpetrator.”

With the SNP’s current focus on tackling violence against women and specialist domestic abuse courts now up and running in parts of the country, it seems the idea’s time may have finally come. At the party’s recent conference in Glasgow, Jackie Hendry, Women’s and Equality Officer with Inverness City branch and director of the city’s Women’s Aid, won resounding support for her motion on recognising the impact of long-term abuse.

Keen to see the new offence in place, Hendry also feels the wider structural issues around violence against women must be addressed at the same time. “To tackle domestic abuse head-on we need to address gender inequality”, Hendry said. “We need to look at how we bring up the next generation of boys and girls, and get away from gender stereotypes. It’s heartbreaking when victims go back to their perpetrator because their self worth is so low as to not be able to live away from them.”

Women’s refuges in Inverness, Hendry says, are “nearly always full”, and local news stories in which domestic abuse features are common, dispelling the idea that the problem is more prevalent in the central belt.

So will the bill’s progress be plain sailing? The Law Society raised issues around “clarity” and “acquiring sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution, especially in cases where no physical harm has been caused.” Tory MSP Ross Douglas signalled possible opposition from his party, which now constitutes the largest opposition bloc in the Scottish Parliament, when he said a Crown Office “senior figure” would argue against the creation of a new offence, preferring domestic abuse to be an aggravating factor in cases. Broadly speaking, however, there seems to be support across the chamber for this key piece of the government’s legislative programme.

Comments (24)

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  1. ROBERT MCINTOSH says:

    I really do wish the focus was shifted to ANY domestic abuse being wrong. There is a vast amount of abuse by women against men which currently goes unreported. This is due to several factors chief of which is that men don’t want to be seen as some sort of wimp and so do not report the abuse. This is aided in no small part by nearly every campaign and discussion about domestic abuse portraying that abuse as the male being the abuser. Surely it is time to recognise that domestic abuse can have both male and female abusers and that the only way to encourage men to report abuse is by portraying men as possible victims. Until men feel safe and encouraged to report abuse the statistics will always be skewed towards women being at risk – how much child abuse was believed until Childline started?

  2. Mach1 says:

    This would be a very welcome legislative step. However, should more not be done to protect services which give abused women a voice?

  3. kimberley says:

    This is all very important and great to see happening, and a very good overview from Jen Stout. What I personally would like to see in addition to the current funding going to domestic abuse services, is funding going into mental health services for male perpetrators of domestic abuse; this would certainly be another big step forward. I would also say, in response to the quoted comment that women who return to abusive relationships must do so out of low self worth – don’t assume that, there are a myriad reasons why women return and projecting this onto them fails to recognise that. Making such assumptions about abused women has the potential to hurt them even more.

    1. Laura Fearn says:

      Providers of abuser programmes acknowledge that success is pitifully low – and that focusing on anything other than the entitled and controlling attitudes which beget abusiveness – is counterproductive, often serving only to furnish abusers with justifications and excuses for their balehaviour. I think resources would be better spent in general education and awareness, teaching teens about healthy relationships and boundaries, self respect and respect for others – and a move towards all abuse becoming socially uncacceptable and shunned. Currently those of us who speak up are the ones often shunned.

      1. kimberley says:

        That’s just not true Laura. Firstly there have been successful reform programmes with high success rates, specifically succeeding at changing behaviour, usually via group work. But there’s also a body of psychology behind mental health, previous abuse etc, and how that can build into becoming an abuser. I often read other feminists say that if mental health could ever be a precursor to abuse, like patriarchy it would have to be a factor in all events of domestic abuse. This is just an extraordinary position that is neither logical nor scientific. For eg, just on the point of the effect of previous abuse, the way studies in this area are approached is to look at groups where they have had certain formative experiences, like witnessing and/or experience DA as a child. They then compare with groups who haven’t in order to understand differences in prevalence that can speak to causality. As a working class woman i think a lot is obvious to people like me that perhaps just isn’t to people who aren’t; I’m personally researching this area just now and will write about it in the future. I think the approach to DA that understands it *solely* as a result of patriarchy is largely formulated by middle class feminists who discount psychology or any real possibility of reform, and in doing so ultimately only make life more dangerous for women. And the backlash to Loki trying to explore this because he’s a man is what has ensured that I’m going to write about it as soon as I’m able.

        In the meantime for those interested in the facts, I have provided a few links specifically with regards to reform, the first is a link is the most important – this is to Project Mirabal – one of the biggest studies ever undertaken to look at reform and I’ve quoted an important passage from that too; the second is to an article giving an overview of much of the studies into reform, and the third to Respect, and their experience with their own programme of reform. Not every reform programme will work, it’s about getting it right, and the fact that programmes are ongoing and continue to find success is all cause for much hope (it’s also why the UK gov is now funding a reform programme); indeed I deeply distrust people who ignore/misrepresent/reject such research:

        https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/criva/ProjectMirabalfinalreport.pdf

        “As feminists, with most of our policy and practice
        work firmly located in the women’s sector we began
        this programme of research with a healthy scepticism
        about the extent to which men choose to change. After
        spending time with thousands of pages of transcripts
        of men and women talking about their use/experiences
        of violence and abuse we are convinced that our
        data shows steps towards change do start to happen
        for most. Some men make only a few, halting steps
        forward. A tiny minority take steps backwards. Others
        start taking small steps and end up taking huge leaps.
        For many men, women and children, their lives are
        improved following a domestic violence perpetrator
        programme. The policy and practice implications
        of these findings will become clearer in the months
        that follow the launch of this report. For now, we
        conclude that whilst there is more work to be done,
        and improvements to be made to group work with men,
        support for women and children, and the location of
        DVPPs within CCRs, overall we are optimistic about
        their ability to play an important part in the quest to end
        domestic violence.”

        http://www.wsj.com/articles/domestic-abusers-can-reform-studies-show-1410822557

        http://respect.uk.net/highlights-mirabal-research-findings-respect-accredited-domestic-violence-perpetrator-programmes-work/

        1. leavergirl says:

          Kimberley, last time I looked into the numbers. it was something like 7% of all the men in group counseling that were able to stick with the program and make long lasting changes. That’s just not good enough. Whatever the causes — and they are many, notable among them that abuse has significant benefits to the abuser — the sane approach would direct resources to the victims. Not only would it be saner, but it would also support the solution: helping those who are vulnerable to being targeted to grow, and develop the strong boundaries that will protect them for the rest of their lives, and make a difference to the next generations.

          Some will say this is “blaming the victim.” It’s not. As I know from personal experience, those of us who were abused had to eventually come to terms with the fact that it is our weak “social immune system” that allowed the abuse to come in, tiny step by tiny step, in the first place. We don’t live in a society that keeps us chained to the abusers. We are free to walk away. The reasons many of us don’t — and I stayed for 18 years! — is that we fail to see and understand what is going on, and are unable to enforce personal limits. We don’t have the skills and the self-awareness. This is where most of the effort should go.

          1. kimberley says:

            I’m sorry to hear about your personal experience, I would not be speaking about this if it wasn’t for my own experience which I’m not willing to go into in detail here, but suffice is to say I know what I’m talking about, and I’ve dealt with a great deal as have many women in my life, much of which was rooted in our class reality. I would point out though that it’s important to remember that our situations – in terms of causality and conditioning etc – are always unique; for example I did not stay for the reasons you gave, and I think it’s extremely important we fight against assumptions being made – I find they are usually some kind of variance of the ‘broken woman’ narrative that in itself feels sexist to me. My experience personally and what I’ve seen via others is usually something very different to how people often characterise victims. Let each speak for themselves, and no-one speak for us.

            As for the data, the links show that you’re wrong re the 7% figure. ‘Most men who complete a Respect accredited domestic violence perpetrator programme (DVPP) stop using violence and reduce most other forms of abuse against their partner’ – this is amazing – violence reduced from 87% to 7%. And in the WSJ article academic and expert advises that ‘decades of studies show that 60 to 70 percent of males convicted of domestic assault who complete a comprehensive treatment program can reform. These programs pair education with psychotherapy in a small group setting, where men meet at least once each week to develop communication skills, change sexist ideas and learn how to tolerate conflict in a relationship without resorting to violence’.

            The choice re funding isn’t an either/or, I’m saying that since reform has been shown to work, very clearly, that such programmes should also be given funding, that funding shouldn’t just be for survivors, but for women and children within abusive relationships, which this kind of reform is effectively helping (and indeed any women and children the perpetrators may have go on to abuse). Again I’ll go back to what I see as partly a class issue, which is the idealism that women should always just leave, and then be supported. It’s just not what happens in most cases, and as I say the men just go on to their next partner/family anyway and so it continues. If we want to reduce abuse, we need to reform abusers (among other things). Indeed nothing – NOTHING – has been shown to work so well and so directly. This is why the rage against it from certain feminists actually, physically sickens me. I don’t know who they are trying to help, but it’s certainly no woman I’ve ever known.

            So with that said I won’t be revisiting the thread as the links are there and people should really read them. I’ll have much more to say when I write my planned article in the new year and present an overview of all studies and research to date. It’s a project I’m committed to.

        2. leavergirl says:

          The first link is behind a paywall. The second link is about only one particular programme. It says “most men who complete it…” — but it does not mention that most men do not complete these programmes. Honest stats demand full disclosure.

  4. Catherine McRorie says:

    Maybe its because of my age 69. I remember when women had fewer rights than they have now & I might add still aways to go to get same equal rights as men.
    For example
    Men raise their heads with what about men they suffer from abuse too,
    Same with children needs fathers too campaign
    Where were the men when there was no laws protecting Domestic violence ?
    Where were the men when they abandoned pregmant women & children were put up for adoption,
    Where were the men when they refused to pay child support & I might add the child support agency is still not protecting women when it comes to men making payments.
    Would be good to see majority of men actively looking at ways to give women equality, instead of but what about men we suffer too.
    PS in my era only women who had sex before marriage were Bad but guess what ! there were no Bad men

  5. John Robertson says:

    Domestic violence, predominantly against women, is one of the persisting horrors of modern Scotland.

    ‘Violent crimes against women in England and Wales reach record high’

    This is from the Guardian on the 5th September this year. The figures for Scotland were released on 25th October 2016. Here are the key points, reported in the Herald:

    ‘The number of domestic abuse incidents recorded by police has fallen in the past year, figures show.’

    ‘Official statistics show a 3% drop in the figures for Scotland, from 59,882 in 2014-15 to 58,104, the lowest number recorded since 2010-11. The majority of incidents (79%) had a female victim and a male accused, down from 87% in 2006-07. Over the same period the proportion of incidents with a male victim and a female accused has increased from 11% to 18%.’

    So, the total number of reported abuse incidents has fallen by 3% yet the number of reported female-on-male cases has increased by 7%. Therefore, reported male-on-female abuse has gone down by more than 3%?

  6. Graham King says:

    I am glad to see this raised. Of course it is likely that bringing to light the amount and specifics of these abuses will bring consternation (and varied reactions – hopefully, mostly welcome ones: supportive and constructive) across society.
    Required prosecutions will further load the justice system.

    I think we do need to look at the wider context. What about upbringing and education? How must attitudes change about noticing and intervening rather than tolerating abusive character traits?
    I think these are issues many people are uncomfortable with and simply have seen no good precedent for handling, so tend to shy away from getting involved, either thinking it’s a private matter, or too risky to do so in case of worsening a situation.

    I feel we need to begin inviting, welcoming (and celebrating) early proactive intervention, and publicising ways to do so constructively and effectively, to change the atmosphere – to end the plausibility of keeping silent as witnesses, and to combat the belief perpetrators seem to depend on: that they can get away with any abuse.

  7. Colin Dunn says:

    I know several male victims of domestic abuse, some of it certainly coercive. I hope such legislation will protect them too.

  8. tartanfever says:

    Thanks for the article Jen.

    Anyone else get the feeling this won’t pass into legislation ? Just have that feeling we’ve been here a number of times before.

    Ruth Davidson won’t let it pass, it will need amended etc. ‘It’s the nanny state’ will scream the Mail and Express. Get on board a fundamentalist religious group, the threat of freedom of human rights violations, blacken the proposals by linking them to the named person scheme and some hassle free air time on TV news and bingo, the whole thing is toast.

    You know the score, we’ve been here before. By next year Brexit will be hitting so hard that there will be instructions from Westminster that all unionist parties cannot agree with any SNP legislation, it’s too risky in the face of another indyref. Voting down all SNP proposals in Holyrood is vital in portraying the SNP as hopeless.

    It doesn’t matter if the proposals make sense, may lead to less abuse cases and have masses of peer-reviewed data available supporting the need for new legislation, it simply will not be a factor when it comes to news and the portrayal of the proposals.

    1. c rober says:

      I think many laws geared towards abuse fail – the best option is always to leave the abusive partner , and unless I am wrong there is nothing solid in place other than well meaning charity work to enable that can happen simply , speedily and succinctly. The only winners in abuse and separation cases are lawyers.

      Women need to man up , sorry there is no other way of putting it , just like they have with female cancers and perhaps education is that view – in Schools , much like how the HPV vaccination of young women bears fruit in their own cancer prevention , in that perhaps the cancer of abuse can in the same manner be prevented through educating young women – to not accept abuse at all. But for that to happen then defining what is abuse is important , not instead allowing the wrong people to define what they consider to be abuse ?

      Can Fashion designers , shoe makers , and magazines therefore be called abuse ?

      In portraying that women should be size zero or hate themselves , to wear shoes that hurt , to spend silly money changing a wardrobe every season , and in the same magazines that give you questionnaires on how you should behave in bed? Perhaps then we should also consider the media , that supply the meat for the grinder… hardly wind beneath my wings , when its more like wealth in my pocket.

      So its ok for a woman that they dont even know in a magazine , pushing to say what is acceptable to wear , how to behave in and out of the bed , or what to look like – but another thing when its her partner?

      Well perhaps we should be looking at the wider picture then?

  9. Catherine McRorie says:

    Despite my previous comments. I see & welcome men sharing domestic responsibilities within the home. its a positive move forward in today’s society.
    However we all have to look at the elephant in the room !
    Men still hold dominant positions in Gov & workplace hence earnings more.
    Why ? Because Men do not become pregamt & do not need to take maternity leave. Employers dont particularly want women because of this fact,
    As my previous post state, Women get conscession men Immediately campaign for maternity leave & get it tout de suite.

  10. Yan says:

    Ideologically motivated misandry that women’s rights organisations and the criminal justice system will be more than happy to exploit and profit from.

  11. Fay Kennedy. says:

    Until women have equal pay, due recognition of parental work and are treated as fully emancipated adults it will only be another band aid. Likewise in a competitive, dog eat dog economic system bullying will always rear its ugly head in some form including the abuse of men by women and other men. The scars of this malaise mostly go unreported but their effect continues in mental health breakdown, addictions of all kinds, and continue to blight the lives across generations. We have a very long way to go before this will be eliminated. And of course there is a career path and industry generated for university graduates and others from the wounds of the victims. Without going into details I speak from personal experience.

    1. c rober says:

      While we fight the fair pay gap , we miss the no pay gap , where jobs are eventually replaced with technology or offshored , making wealth for the ones that own the factories , more than male v female pay – then eventually we are all slaves in order to compete economically vs the machine , or to simply eat we must throw the clogs in the cogs.

      Equality of pay – the same for the same workload , is and should be the goal. Shared maternal paternal leave – should be mandated not optional…. but where would women be on that one , on no choice as to whether she wants to be the one taking the full maternity leave?

      However we have the likes of sports to contend with in that equal pay regard also – where we still have a segregation of sorts – thus even there in the elite world of income there is a pay gap – as Mr Murray often talks about in tennis. We still have same sex football leagues – yet there is no interest in opening it up to mixed teams , indeed in making it only mixed by the male run official bodies?

  12. Craig Miller says:

    Theres a kind of moral absolutism that has grown up around this horrible intra sexual inhumanity …trouble is though.. that’s what it is ..all too human , a human frailty wrapped in insecurity incoherence and immaturity..played out in shameful acts that merely confirm ones incoherence ones lack of maturity ..you live long enough you learn to see that redemption can only be possible if you can discern that it is a human being that is making such a monsterous shadow …horrible world full of miserable people doing unspeakable things ?!? …somebody has to think it’s worth considering breaking the treadmill we seem to be stuck on

    1. Craig Miller says:

      shorthand version ….. we can’t dance around this shit holding our noses and thinking laying the blame is enough , demonising men , they ain’t demons just stupid humans with dicks who are uneducated emotionally ,and who after all aren’t going anywhere …best find a way to teach them to WANT to stop doing the monkey manners …telling them they are irredeemable is not a good start

  13. Danny Brokel says:

    Maybe research should be used when writing such articles. Another SJW, pseudo-lefty article from the “Scottish left” using shaming tactics of men. Research please.

  14. Jo says:

    I’d like to see more work being done to educate small children, as soon as they are at school, about domestic abuse. Too often there are households where children see domestic abuse frequently and think it is the norm.

    Those children, whether girls or boys, will be damaged by it. We need to teach all children, whether girls or boys, that controlling, coercive behaviour in a partner is a clear signal and the only thing to do is to walk away the first time it occurs.

    As for physical violence in relationships, again, we need to teach them to walk away after the first punch and not to look back or go back. Too many people choose to go back and accept the “It won’t happen again….I’m sorry.” line. It will happen again. It is bad enough that any person chooses to stay with a violent partner. It is even worse when children are in such an environment.

    If people walk away after the first sign then no one will be around an abusive partner long enough to have their mental health wrecked or be “too afraid” to leave. We have to keep ramming that message home to small children. If we don’t start when they are young we will go on having this ridiculous situation where people choose to remain with violent or controlling partners.

    1. c rober says:

      Education of physical abuse should be educated in school , I agree. But as for non violent abuse – different opinion until I am shown otherwise.

      It depends on what controlling/coercive means , are we saying that it is ok to remove the equality in a relationship , where one partner is somehow not allowed to say no , well if they are a man , but a women can?

      Example 1 . IF my partner wants a vegas holiday on a credit card , and I say no – am I therefore controlling if I am a man saying it , but not so if I am a woman ?

      Example 2. If my partner manages to change my mind about banging the the vegas trip on the shared credit card , say through threatening to leave for being told NO citing that I am therefore being controlling , because thats what education and peers has offered both of us as defining what is non violent abuse. Is this then not also coercion and controlling behavior in practice , and worse still state and peer sanctioned , that is If I change my mind as a result?

      So we may run the risk of sanctioning one sex over the other in their ability (or validity) to say no being socially accepted based on gender , worsening the problem , that is if we fail to define it correctly in any teachers handbook.

      And there is the dilemma – those that will define the criteria of the meanings and descriptions in the education handbook.Well they might well be the kind of people that keep kicking the dog until it bites and to say “see I told you so”.

      Whereas a physical abuse is easy enough to teach , its binary.

      1. leavergirl says:

        I grew up with a controlling, emotionally abusive father, and married a controlling, emotionally abusive man, not knowing any better. It ruined a huge chunk of my life. But I don’t support criminalizing such behavior. Three reasons. It is hard to define and hard to observe… what, are you going to have spying cameras in the home because there are some controlling behaviors, possibly? How will you have to twist the already overloaded system to deal with this stuff? Who will decide what’s what?

        Second, criminalization is not a solution. In fact, it pours efforts into reforming abusers, which, as someone already pointed out, does not have much of a result. The solution is for the prospective targets to develop boundaries that will not allow victimization. And third, institutionalizing the solution will lead to wasted money and more overbearing government. Look at the abuses that the Norwegian Barnevernet slid into over time, while designed to protect children. Why give all that power to bureaucrats?

        I agree men too need protection. But again, do we really have to do everything via the government? Cultural change takes time, but allows people to work it out themselves.

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