**Content Warning: Domestic Abuse**
A new bill being debated by the Scottish Parliament aims to include the criminalisation of psychological and second-hand minor abuse to its Domestic Abuse Bill, making it one of the first countries in the world to do so.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson led the debate with strong arguments for why this addition was necessary. Matheson listed a few examples of forms of abuse that cannot currently be prosecuted, such as humiliation, coercion, and fear tactics used on the part of the abusers.
“[The abusers] may not necessarily use physical violence against their partner or even overt threats”, Matheson said.
“Abusers also try to control every aspect of their partner’s life, for example, abusers may force them to eat food off the floor [or] control access to the toilet. [They may also prevent] them from attending work or college, stopping them making contact with family or friends, giving them no or limited access to money, checking or controlling their use of their phone and social media.”
Matheson made clear that this form of abuse, while not physical, is just as harmful to victims, and thus should be prosecuted the same way as any other domestic abuse charge.
“A perpetrator may have subjected their partner to years of abuse but may only have been convicted of a single instance of assault or threatening and abusive behaviour”, said Matheson.
“It’s not only physical violence but also psychological abuse – exerting total control over your partner’s every movement and action and forcing your partner to live in constant fear- is criminal and unacceptable in our society.”
The bill also aims to include the impact of non-physical domestic abuse on children who are “in effect secondary victims of partner abuse.”
A government consultation prior to the debate found that 90 per cent of people in Scotland said they did not think the laws currently in place provided enough power to the justice system to properly prosecute abusers.
Police Scotland recorded approximately 60,000 filed cases of domestic abuse in 2014-2015, with 79 per cent of reported cases involving a male abuser and female victim.
However some ministers were cautious of signing off on the amendments to the bill, among them MSP Douglas Ross of the Scottish Conservative Party.
According to Ross, a senior figure in the Crown Office had told MSPs prior to the debate that it was better for domestic abuse to be a secondary factor in a case against a perpetrator, than for a separate domestic abuse charge to be filed against the defendant.
“We have to ensure we get this right. It is an important piece of legislation that people will be looking at for many years to come”, said Ross at the debate on Thursday.
However others were more optimistic about the time frame of getting the finalised bill put in motion with the new amendments. MSP Clair Baker of the Scottish Labour Party said that the debate: “We are in principle very supportive of introducing the new offence and of the intention to include those who commit psychological abuse and engage in coercive and controlling behaviour.
“While the majority of cases are a male perpetrator and a female victim, the law will provide protection for all adults in intimate relationships.”
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