Emotional abuse criminalised in Scotland under the 2018 Domestic Abuse Act, despite no specific training

Video: YouTube/CBS This Morning

FKA Twigs, a British artist, recently filed a lawsuit for abuse against her ex-partner, the actor Shia LaBeouf, for sexual battery, physical and emotional abuse. In an interview with Gayle King on CBS This Morning, FKA Twigs declared she didn't want to talk about why she didn't leave her relationship sooner because “the question should really be to the abuser, and that “it was because it was bad that I didn't leave”. The singer normalised emotional abuse, on the same level as physical or sexual abuse. Often, emotional abuse is overlooked or not considered ‘real’, but abuse comes in many forms. Emotional abuse can, according to some survivors, sometimes be worse than physical abuse and is harder to measure. Sometimes, emotional abuse will precede physical abuse, but not always. This might make the victim doubt that there is abuse going on. Chances are that if emotional abuse is happening, you probably will be in denial for a while. This unhealthy behaviour won´t stop until you can perceive it yourself, no matter how long your friends or family warned you.

According to Medical News Today, short-term effects of abuse include confusion, fear, hopelessness, and shame. Although this isn't physical abuse, the stress of this situation may provoke physical side effects. These include difficulties concentrating, moodiness, muscle tension, nightmares, racing heartbeat, and various aches and pains. The more severe the abuse is, the more likely it will be as violent or more than physical abuse. Anxiety, chronic pain, guilt, insomnia, loneliness are others. Long term it might contribute to PTSD, low self-esteem, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Quantifying emotional abuse is tricky. There have been attempts to “count” it but none were conclusive. Calculating estimates of abuse has always been difficult, due to the complexity of operationalizing emotional abuse. There is one questionnaire that tried to recognise if you are being abused: The Emotional Abuse Questionnaire. The EAQ was developed by two experts of Domestic Abuse in 1998, Neil Jacobson and John Gottman, and was part of their book When men batter women: New insights into ending abusive relationships. The questionnaire will determine if you are being abused, and to what degree, but remains inconclusive. The main problem is that it assumes women are the only target of abuse. But it is a good starting point. It recognizes emotional abuse as a real issue, that can lead to physical or sexual abuse. Emotional abuse is already terrible on its own and the effects are as damaging as any type of abuse. Hopefully, if a celebrity talks about emotional abuse, just like FKA Twigs, Selena Gomez or Reese Witherspoon, it will bring more attention to this area. Emotional abuse can happen to anyone, no matter what background, or if they are a celebrity or not. These testimonies will hopefully help normalise all kinds of abuse and invite to speak out. Emotional abuse is now considered a crime in most countries. In Scotland, for example, emotional abuse is criminalised as of 2019, under the Domestic Abuse Act 2018. The official government guidelines define emotional abuse as when your partner “belittles you/puts you down, blames you for the abuse or arguments, denies that abuse is happening/plays it down, isolates you from your family and friends, stops you from going to college or work, makes unreasonable demands for your attention, accuses you of flirting or having affairs, tell you what to wear, who to see, where to go, and what to think, controls your money/gives you enough to buy food or other essential things”.

Between 2017 and 2018, Police Scotland recorded 59,541 incidents of domestic abuse.

 Four out of five incidents reported a female victim and a male perpetrator. Yet while women are more often victims of abuse, people are usually only aware of physical and sexual abuse. Society rarely hears about emotional abuse, and when they do, they don't know what it is and tend to dismiss it. This is due to the lack of information, hence the need to criminalise it. It is important to create awareness about this law and how it is applied, to help victims. The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 was introduced to combat these statistics and criminalise domestic abuse. Domestic abuse occurs when “the person (“A”) engages in a course of behaviour which is abusive of A’s partner or ex-partner (“B”)”. The law considers the full breadth of violent, threatening, intimidating, and other controlling behaviour, as abuse. Ministers in the Scottish Parliament voted by 118 to one to pass it, and the Bill was passed on 1st February 2018. Emotional abuse has already been covered under the Serious Crime Bill since 2015 in England and Wales, but Scotland now applies a tougher punishment if abuse is witnessed by children. Domestic abuse is redefined as abusive behaviour against a partner. The threat of abuse is also considered to be abuse, not only physical abuse. Several categories constitute domestic abuse: emotional abuse, threats and intimidation, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. It mostly happens in relationships, but the UK government recognises that domestic abuse can also occur between family members. 

Theoretically, the Act sounds great. But how is it in practice?

According to Police Scotland, between April and December 2019, over 1,300 crimes were recorded under the new domestic abuse law. When the crimes are recorded, officers don't specify the type of abuse, which makes it harder to see the real efficiency of the Act. Even if it might be good in terms of equality, there is no way to track the statistics of emotional abuse, and consequently, no way of seeing if people are reporting emotional abuse. There is a lot of information on this new act, by the Scottish Government, Police Scotland, newspapers sites and legal blogs, but no information on the concrete training or follow-ups. The Scottish Government has provided £825,000 to Police Scotland, but where is that money going? What is the actual training police and judges have to go through? Are they trained to respond using emotional intelligence? Does it help victims/survivors of abuse? Since the law passed, there has been nothing public about convicted offenders for emotional abuse, so is it efficient? The Scottish government declared they developed a “self-completion e-learning package on the new legislation which has been made available to all 22,000 staff''. There is no evidence that this package was delivered or was used. Police Scotland gave “extra training” to officers, according to the BBC, but nowhere is it specified what measures exactly. On the government's domestic abuse page, there is a section that explains that victims can contact the police if they have the courage. If there is enough evidence, the police will arrest the abuser. The issue is that the law is recent, so the training will be new, and we cannot be sure that the police are respecting the guidelines above. 

With sufficient evidence, the suspect of abuse will either be released or taken to court. Court must consider Non-Harassing Order (NHO) to protect the victim and any children involved. If a child is a witness to the abuse, the Procurator Fiscal must consider the views and interests of the child, and abilities to provide evidence. Still, it will probably be a cause of distress to a child. But how can you prove emotional abuse? The Scottish government page says that if you´re required to give evidence at court, you can give evidence via live TV and a supporter can stay with you while you give evidence, but that can be dangerous. If a case goes to court, which it rarely does, there is no guarantee your abuser will suffer consequences or that evidence will be provided. The government page also informs what to do when you decide to break up with an abusive partner: make a safety plan (giving support organisations), decide where you´ll stay (with friends or family, in a refuge or temporary accommodation provided by the council; have money available and government can help with money; and legal protection). As a victim or witness, you have the right to ask for information about certain aspects of a case. To fill a statement, it has to be taken by an officer (choice of female or male officer) in your home, a police station, a hospital if injured, or in the street, if that's where it happened. The police will ask for descriptions and sometimes evidence from where the crime happened (fingerprints/photos), according to the severity of the crime. 

To try to find information on what constitutes the training, I asked the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COFPS) what their measures were under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. I asked if there have there been complaints against the police in emotional abuse cases but the COFPS didn't answer, because “the costs of locating, retrieving and providing the information requested would exceed the upper-cost limit of £600”. I also inquired about training, since Police Scotland and the Scottish government didn't want to elaborate on what constitutes training. The COFPS replied, “information on training of police officers or employees of Police Scotland is not held by COPFS ''. COFPS admitted in the FOI request: “There is no training protocol, but the training reflects the policy and guidance contained within the Domestic Abuse Joint Protocol, referred to above. With inputs from other organisations, including Police Scotland, Scottish Women’s Aid and SafeLives, COPFS domestic abuse training provides information on the nature and dynamics of domestic abuse, the impact on victims and children, risk and safety considerations and support for victims, COPFS prosecution policy and guidance and relevant legislation”. 

There is no training. 

It is alarming for victims and raises the question of where did all the money invested in training go? COFPS added that the Police respect training guidance from the Joint Protocol, but in the protocol in the training section, it only says that Police and COFPS members go through training, without anything specified. How is it possible to even admit this? The authorities seem to have good intentions, but in practice, there is an alarming lack of training, not for lack of funds. This should be a wake-up call to the authorities so that the money can be used to help victims and create a safer space. Emotional abuse is not a minor accident that should be dismissed. Emotional abuse is real, and the authorities should implement legislation accordingly. Having the Scottish Government recognise emotional abuse as a crime is progress, but there should be information on the law's efficiency and what constitutes training. FKA Twigs inspired victims to speak out, but the next step is to have available help. 

Article written by Ariane Triebswetter

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