Rise in requests to reveal partners’ abusive pasts

A conference held on domestic abuse in West Dunbartonshire and Jackie Baillie MSP.

By Andrew Picken and Bill Heaney

The coronavirus lockdown has sparked a surge in requests from people wanting to know if their partner has an abusive past, police figures show.

The Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse in Scotland gives people the right to ask police about the history of their partners.

The legislation also gives police the power to tell someone if they think they may be at risk.

There has been an 18 per cent rise in requests to reveal past abuse since lockdown.

Police Scotland, which runs the scheme, said the majority of the increase was down to “power to tell” requests made by police officers and social workers raising concerns about someone they think may be at risk of abuse.

Charities have already warned that the severity of domestic abuse is likely to increase during lockdown as many victims have lost access to time away from abusive situations through school, family or work.

Assistant Chief Constable Duncan Sloan said: “We recognise that the threat has not gone away, in fact it has increased.

“Clearly some people’s homes are not a safe place for them but our response has not changed, it is still a top priority for us.

“Our officers are not just looking for physical violence, they are looking for the tell-tale signs of any controlling or coercive behaviour.”

Latest recorded crime figures show a slight decrease in domestic abuse incidents in the lockdown period but ACC Sloan warned of an “upsurge” in reported cases to come.

He added: “I expect the number of domestic abuse incidents has increased, but they just haven’t been reported as yet.

“The reality of the situation is it could be weeks, months or years before we see the impact Covid-19 has brought upon us.”

As well as partners who are subjected to domestic abuse, children have fewer chances to get out of the home environment during lockdown

Latest figures show that in the year to 31 March, a total of 2,648 requests were received by the police under the Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse in Scotland, a 66 per cent increase on the 1,596 applications in 2018/19.

A total of 1,240 disclosures were made to people indicating that their partner had an abusive past – a 40% increase on the previous year.

This takes into account applications under both the Right to Ask, received from individuals, and the Power to Tell, where Police Scotland decides to make a disclosure to safeguard a person.

Police Scotland figures show that between 23 March and 27 April, there has been an 18% increase in requests for disclosure over the same period last year (258 compared with 219 in 2019).

Police Scotland says calls about domestic abuse are on the increase.

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, which runs Scotland’s domestic abuse helpline, said: “In these particular times, we welcome any continuing efforts on the part of police and other justice colleagues to make it clear that women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse are still free to do whatever they need to do to for their own safety, even in lockdown.

“While we are very supportive of police being proactive about protecting potential victims of domestic abuse, we are also very keen to see outcomes data about whether women and children are actually safer as a result of the disclosure scheme.”

Last month, the Scottish government announced it was providing Scottish Women’s Aid with £1.35 million over six months from its Communities Fund, to help those at risk of domestic violence.

Unfortunately, West Dunbartonshire is a hot spot for domestic abuse.

Jackie Baillie, the MSP for Dumbarton, Vale of Leven, Helensburgh and Lomond, said:  “The stress and worry that women who are in lock down with their abusers must be feeling is impossible to imagine.

“Domestic abuse victims are being forced to stay at home for large parts of the day in an environment where they know that they and their children are not safe.

“The work that domestic abuse charities – such as Women’s Aid in Dumbarton – carry out year after year is critical. The work that they are doing during the current crisis is invaluable.

“The Scottish Government must make sure that the additional financial support previously announced gets directly to these organisations to deal with the dramatic increase in the number of calls they are receiving.”

Commenting on new BBC reports that show requests made to Police Scotland, under the Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse, have risen by a “troubling” 18%, Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP said:  “This troubling rise in the number of appeals for information about a partner’s history of abuse hints at the scale of the problem behind closed doors.

“The lockdown has put many people in a precarious and pressured situation. The Scottish Government need to ensure that vulnerable people know that the police and support services are still here and ready to help. There also need to be guarantees that there is sufficient capacity in safe spaces for those who need to leave home.”

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