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Rona Mackay: ‘Children are often the forgotten victims of domestic violence’

RONA Mackay has welcomed the inclusion of psychological violence in new domestic abuse legislation in Scotland.

Ms Mackay pointed out a number of issues in a speech in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday September 15, including how domestic violence affects children.

The new law includes plans to create a specific offence of “abusive behaviour in relation to a partner or ex-partner” as well as proposals to ensure that psychological abuse, such as coercive and controlling behaviour, can be effectively prosecuted under criminal law.

In her speech, Rona Mackay MSP said: “This is a debate that I sincerely wish that we were not having. Domestic abuse is repugnant on every level, which is why I am pleased that the Scottish Government is introducing the domestic abuse bill, which will show just how seriously we take our zero tolerance approach. The bill is an important part of the Government’s approach to tackling violence against women and children, as set out in the equally safe strategy. It will ensure that the true nature and severity of domestic abuse is recognised on every level—physical abuse and, crucially, emotional and psychological abuse.

“Until recently, there has been a common misconception that domestic abuse is just physical abuse. Over the years, we have all seen the campaign posters of battered and bruised women. That is why I am pleased that the Scottish Government has recognised that abuse can be psychological, too, as such abuse results in concealed bruises that are just as painful but far more difficult to detect.

“Domestic violence exists in all sections of our communities and across all levels of society. Abusers and victims can be male or female, from any race or religion and from all types of background.

“As we have heard, some 60,000 incidents are reported to the police in Scotland each year, of which 79 per cent involve a female victim and a male perpetrator. Shockingly, the number of women in prisons who have suffered brain injuries is almost double the number of men in prisons who have done so, and it is known that domestic violence is to blame for that figure.

“Mental and emotional abuse includes threats, including threats of violence, criticism of appearance and intellect, name calling and control of what the victim can do, where they go, how they dress and who they speak to. The cowardly abuser knows no bounds: they threaten the victim’s children, isolate the victim from their friends and family, accuse them of being unfaithful, threaten to out their sexual orientation to their family, friends or employer, and much more. It is all about control—control by fear.

“Children are often the forgotten victims of domestic vio

lence. For example, there are children who cry when they hear someone laugh because they think that the fighting has started again. Children’s innocence can be stolen by a brutal, inadequate coward who is intent on expressing themselves through violence. Research has shown that children in a home where the mother is being abused are also at greater risk of being abused themselves. The ways in which children can be harmed by domestic abuse are wider than simply witnessing the abuse itself; the trauma is long lasting and far reaching. Giving evidence in domestic abuse cases or in any court setting can be extremely stressful and traumatic for children. I am fully supportive of Children 1st’s manifesto proposal to radically change the way in which children give evidence—my colleague John Finnie alluded to that. However, that subject merits an entire debate, which I hope that we will have in the chamber sooner rather than later.

“Our Government can take measures to help adult victims of domestic abuse by giving them greater access to justice. As the cabinet secretary outlined, the Scottish Government is making huge changes to the status quo through the work of the equally safe expert group on justice, which is developing an action plan that will look at both medium-term and longer-term improvements that can be made to the justice system for all victims of domestic violence.

“Today, we heard the news from the UK Government confirming that refuges will be exempt from changes to the housing benefit cap until 2019 and from the 1 per cent rent reduction, which will ensure that refuges remain financially sustainable and, crucially, open for women and children who are fleeing violence.

“The Scottish Government has committed to a welcome funding boost to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse across Scotland. That has allowed additional investment of £2.4 million each year to boost resources for our courts and prosecutors, ensuring that there are no undue delays in court waiting times in domestic abuse cases. Of course, as has been discussed during the debate, we have excellent organisations that offer support to victims, such as Scottish Women’s Aid, the national domestic abuse and forced marriage helpline Scotland and Rape Crisis Scotland, to name but a few. Incidentally, anyone who visits those organisations’ websites will see the chilling statement, “Click here to leave this site quickly”, which surely speaks volumes about fear and control.

“East Dunbartonshire Women’s Aid is an example of an organisation that offers support, information and advice on welfare rights and benefits, housing options and legal issues; it also offers refuge accommodation for women and their children, an outreach service for children and young people, and follow-on support for women after they leave the refuge. Women’s Aid groups throughout Scotland deal with around 25,000 new cases of abuse a year, which is a chilling statistic, and help children and young people through those crises.

“As my colleague Fulton MacGregor highlighted, homelessness is also exacerbated by domestic abuse, with 46 per cent of women victims having been made homeless more than once because of domestic or sexual abuse; 39 per cent of them have suffered homelessness more than twice. When women leave their family home, they often move house multiple times, which leaves them feeling isolated from friends, neighbours and belongings, and often having to cope with huge financial debt. The abuse often continues even after they have moved out of their home, but most of the women do not feel that they have a choice: they move because, as is the case for all refugees, it is not safe for them to stay. Scottish Women’s Aid would like to see the onus being put on the perpetrators of violence to move out of the home, rather than the women and children, and I agree with that view.

“We cannot put a price on what those organisations do for the victims of domestic violence. Scotland is leading the world with the work that is being done on tackling domestic abuse. I know that, realistically, our work to rid our country of this hateful crime might never be finished, but I am convinced that our determination to tackle this vile problem will have a positive impact.”

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