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Women’s Aid hails ‘landmark’ domestic abuse legislation

Photo by Laura Dodsworth as part of the 'one thousand words' project by Zero Tolerance and Scottish Women's Aid.

THE LOCAL Women’s Aid branch has welcomed new legislation criminalising psychological domestic abuse and controlling behaviour which came into force on Monday (1 April).

The Domestic Abuse Act, developed by the Scottish Government, also includes a sentencing aggravation to reflect the harm that can be caused to children growing up in an environment where domestic abuse takes place.

It makes domestic abuse against a partner or an ex-partner a specific criminal offence for the first time.

Staff at the in-demand Shetland Women’s Aid – which offers counselling, support and refuge accommodation to women and their children who are being or have been physically, emotionally or sexually abused – have received training on the new legislation, as have their colleagues across Scotland.

Scottish Women’s Aid chief executive Dr Marsha Scott also delivered multi-agency training when she visited Shetland earlier in the year.

Despite increased awareness, cases of domestic abuse have been on the rise and there were 60,000 related calls to police nationally last year.

Shetland Women’s Aid board chair Catherine Williams said the local branch welcomed the law coming into force and viewed it as a “landmark piece of legislation”.

“Notably, Women’s Aid and other organisations have been campaigning for this for some time, which reflects the fact women and children consistently tell us that this form of abuse [coercive control] can often do the most damage and take the longest time to recover from,” she added.

“Significantly this piece of legislation also recognises children as victims of domestic abuse which is great progress.”

Among the behaviour outlawed by the new legislation is making a partner dependent or subordinate, such as by controlling their finances, isolating them from friends or relatives and frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing a partner.

It was also announced earlier this year that police in Shetland would train a sexual violence and domestic abuse “champion” in response to the new legislation.

Every police officer in Shetland would also have at least one day’s training in abuse issues and the champion will be there as an expert in the field who the police can call upon.

Scottish justice secretary Humza Yousaf, meanwhile, said the act makes it “absolutely clear that coercive and controlling behaviour is domestic abuse and a crime”.

“I am proud Scotland is leading the way with this groundbreaking legislation, which uniquely recognises the effect of domestic abuse on child victims as well as adults,” he added.

Assistant chief constable Gillian MacDonald, who is the crime and protection lead for Police Scotland, said: “This new offence is groundbreaking. For the first time it will allow us to investigate and report the full circumstances of an abusive relationship.

“We will be able to include evidence of coercive and controlling behaviours where it forms a pattern of abuse, often carried out alongside other insidious behaviours, including physical and sexual abuse.”

Scotland’s domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline is open 24 hours a day on 0800 0271234, or via helpline@sdafmh.org.uk.

Shetland Women’s Aid can be contacted on 01595 692070 or e-mail office@shetlandwa.org. They can also be contacted via Facebook.