By Bill Heaney
Updated May 31, 2022
“It’s just a domestic,” I would hear them say when I listened into the police radio of an evening covering crime on the News Desk of whichever city newspaper I was working for at that time, around 50 years ago.
Domestic abuse was then an unremarkable happening which police out on patrol put to the bottom of their “to do” list. It was not a matter of any great urgency.
Not many abusers were arrested – assaults had to be really serious – and even fewer guilty men – almost always men – were jailed by the courts for their all too commonplace transgressions.
But no way is that the manner in which the police and courts handle domestic abuse these days. It’s become a priority issue for Police Scotland.
And this is reflected in a new report by Police Scotland’s Domestic Abuse Taskforce (DATF) which states that five serial domestic abusers have been sentenced to a total of 61 years in prison in the past two months.
Proactive investigation by the DATF uncovered offending that in some cases spanned decades and included sexual offences and physical assaults as well as offending covered by the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 (DASA).
During 2021/22, the DATF, which investigates the more complex, high tariff domestic abuse cases, carried out over 200 investigations. As well as custodial sentences, Orders of Lifelong Restriction (OLR) and Non- Harassment Orders (NHOs) were imposed on offenders.
In 2021/22, Police Scotland officers responded to 63,093 calls about domestic abuse, 43% of which resulted in a crime being recorded. Of those, 1,760 crimes were recorded under DASA.
West Dunbartonshire was one of the worst areas in the country for domestic abuse.
Over the same period, there was a 12.4% increase in applications to the Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse in Scotland (DSDAS). This includes a 30 per cent increase in Right to Ask applications, where people can ask whether their current partner has a history of abuse.
Detective Chief Superintendent Sam Faulds, Head of Public Protection, Police Scotland, said: “Domestic abuse remains a significant priority for Police Scotland. We take a call every nine minutes on average and our officers are highly trained to respond professionally and effectively.
“Domestic abuse takes many forms. It can be physical and sexual but also psychological, emotional and financial. An abuser’s intent is to control and coerce their victim.
“Every case is traumatic for the victim, the effects are long-lasting for them and for their families, and especially so for children. No child should have to witness to domestic abuse.
“Preventing domestic abuse is our ultimate aim. We work closely with our partners, not only to improve our own response but also to educate against and to prevent domestic abuse. A key part of prevention is the disclosure scheme which has helped thousands of people make an informed choice about whether to continue or end an abusive relationship.”
Meanwhile, new restorative justice services will “put victims at the heart of the justice system”, the Scottish Government has pledged.
It comes as two new hubs are launched in Scotland with the aim of rolling out further services across the country.
Restorative justice is a voluntary, facilitated, supported process of contact between someone who has been harmed and the person that caused that harm.
Both parties must consent voluntarily, can withdraw at any time and at no point is either party offered any kind of incentive to participate.
The person who has caused the harm has to acknowledge the harm and to take responsibility for restorative justice to proceed.
A total of £725,000 has been invested by the Scottish Government in the roll out of restorative justice services. The new national hub within Community Justice Scotland will have a strategic oversight role.
The test project will help to establish best working practices before services are developed in other regions.
Scotland’s justice secretary Keith Brown, pictured right, explained that restorative justice services are not a substitute or an alternative to the criminal justice system.
But, he indicated that the service could provide a means of putting victims first.
“Providing a national restorative justice service is consistent with our clear commitment to putting victims at the heart of the justice system,” said Brown.
“It is absolutely vital that victims are given a voice via person-centred services where their needs and values are respected and supported as part of their journey towards healing and recovery.
“It is crucial the service provided is safe, consistent, and of a high standard nationally and fundamentally it is vital to remember this is voluntary and must have the needs of the person who has been harmed central to the process.
“It is not a substitute or alternative to the criminal justice system but a means of putting victims first in a way that I am sure will be of benefit to a number of people for very many years to come.”
“It is important that people who experience harm caused by crime are empowered with the ability to voice the deeply personal impact of that, and given a choice in how they may wish to experience meaningful justice in Scotland,” she said.
“Funding restorative justice is essential to ensure safe and secure approaches to this, to prevent further harm, and enable recovery with supported access to services which address additional needs.”
Ashley Scotland, chief executive of Thriving Survivors, indicated that restorative justice can help to empower survivors of harm.
“Research shows there’s a real demand from survivors of sexual abuse for restorative justice to be available in Scotland in a safely managed way,” she said.
“It’s very much an individual decision, but it can empower survivors of harm to take back power, choice and control in their lives and can help their recovery.”