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As the Covid-19 pandemic takes hold, it’s hard to escape the troubling times facing us all – but our thoughts are particularly with those adult and child victims living with abusive perpetrators, where home is not a place of safety, but a place where they will face a potential increase in violence and psychological abuse as well as even greater isolation. Now more than ever, support services are crucial and the police must remain alert to domestic abuse in its many forms.

On the 1st April 2019 the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act came into force, providing greater safety for victims of domestic abuse, by making coercive control illegal for the first time in Scotland.  In the 12 months since, almost 1,700 offences have been recorded.

Coercive control involves deliberate tactics to isolate, undermine, threaten and degrade victims. It is a subtle, insidious crime, and it was vital that the legislation was accompanied by training, tools and awareness raising measures to help relevant professionals spot the signs and respond appropriately.

Thanks to funding from the Scottish Government, we’ve been able to put some of those measures in place. Working closely with Police Scotland and our partners ASSIST, the Caledonian System, Sacro (Fearless) and Scottish Borders Safer Communities team, we’ve been delivering our domestic abuse programme for the police: Domestic Abuse Matters Scotland.

Domestic Abuse Matters Scotland provides a practical awareness of the legislation and offers long-term attitudinal and behavioural change by helping the police understand what is meant by the term ‘coercive control’ and the specific manifestations and impacts of it. It also prompts officers to think about children – who don’t just ‘witness’ abuse in the home, but experience it and are victims in their own right; and it explores the tactics used by perpetrators to manipulate both victims and police responders.

As well as specially developed e-learning we’ve delivered face to face training with nearly 14,000 officers and staff, using a dual-trainer model with every session being delivered by a trainer with a proven police background alongside a domestic abuse specialist. From the executive team and frontline officers, to control room staff and Specials, a wide range of police staff and officers have engaged in the programme.

Preliminary evaluation results have shown that since completing the training 84% of respondents felt very or extremely competent at understanding the key provisions of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act and how to apply the new Section 1 offence, compared to 10% before the training. 95% felt very or extremely competent after the training at understanding the tactics perpetrators of domestic abuse demonstrate when they are coercively controlling their victims, compared to 20% before. We have also trained almost 700 Domestic Abuse Champions who will take forward the learning and help sustain the change.

COVID-19 presents new challenges for us all. At a time when we are all asked to stay at home for our own safety, we must remember that home is not a place of safety for many people. Now more than ever, we need a comprehensive response to domestic abuse that sees the impact on the whole family.

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act and the completion of our Domestic Abuse Matters Scotland programme puts the police in good stead to protect victims across Scotland. But we won’t stop there. This work must be ongoing – with a continued focus, determination and commitment to ensuring all adult and child victims get the support they need to become safe and well.

At SafeLives, our latest focus is to create an online awareness-raising tool about coercive control and domestic abuse legislation for the widest range of organisations and we look forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and all of our partners to ensure home can become a place of safety. For everyone.