What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional Abuse Under The 2018 Domestic Abuse Act- Part 1

Emotional abuse. Two words that are often unknown or diminished. Emotional abuse is part of Scotland’s new definition of domestic abuse, as of the 2018 Domestic Abuse Act.

In Scotland, domestic abuse has been a problem for a long time. In 2017-18, Police Scotland recorded 59,541 incidents of domestic abuse. 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”)” (legislation.gov.uk).

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, introduced by Michael Matheson (MSP), was passed on 1st February 2018 and received Royal Assent on 9th March 2018.

As of 2019, emotional abuse is criminalised in Scotland. 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.

Abusers can now be prosecuted for emotional abuse towards a partner or ex-partner,

facing up to 14 years of prison. Until 2018, only physical abuse was considered a criminal offence in Scotland, which prevented victims who suffered from emotional abuse to legally prosecute their abusers.

Stereotypically, women are viewed as the likely victims of 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. You rarely hear about emotional abuse, and when you do, you don´t really know what it is, and tend to dismiss it. This is due the lack of information, hence the need to criminalise it. It is important to create awareness about this law and how it is applied, in order to help victims.

But What Exactly Is Emotional Abuse?

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 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”.

Domestic abuse is redefined as an abusive behaviour against a partner. Threat of abuse is also considered to be abuse, not only physical abuse. Emotional abuse often leads to physical abuse, but it does not have to, to be illegal. This law protects you, your children, and your family.

According to gov.uk, there are several categories that constitute domestic abuse: emotional abuse, threats and intimidation, physical abuse, and sexual abuse. It mostly

happens in relationships, but the UK government recognizes that domestic abuse can also occur between family members. The offence is aggravated if any of the behaviour is directed at a child or witnessed by them. Theoretically, the Act sounds great.

“Family life is not for cissies. MSPs don’t read many novels and seem to have little knowledge of how rough people can be with each other. To start extending the criminal law into the subjective realm of intimate relationships is fraught with danger”, stated a 2017 article from the Herald, written by Ian Macwhirter. According to this article, emotional abuse should not be criminalised. Emotional abuse is hard to define, and policemen are not trained to be relationship counsellors. The journalist uses harsh words but makes a fair point: how can the authorities be trained, when this is not part of their job, and how do you prove emotional abuse?

Policing Emotional Abuse

“The Domestic Abuse Act makes absolutely clear that coercive and controlling behaviour is domestic abuse and a crime”, declared UK Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf. Criminalising emotional abuse makes a difference. This Act helps victims realize that there are being

abuse and know that there are not alone and can get out of it. Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, Dr Marsha Scott declared that this new law has the power to transform Scotland, recognizing controlling and coercive behaviour as a crime, that women and children have gone through for years.

Under the new law, victims now have two years to report the abuse. According to the

Independent, in previous laws, you would have to report the abuse within six months, but many were too scared to do this, and the time limit would expire. The Act also requires courts to consider imposing a non-harassment order on a domestic abuse offender to protect their victim from further abuse. Theoretically, this law seems to be helpful for the victims, and helps victims realize they are being abused (Broatch, 2018). The Law Society of Scotland supports the Bill, particularly because perpetrators can, in theory, modify their behaviour, which is idealistic.

A lack of “training”

“The new legislation is going to allow police to deal with aspects of abuse that we haven’t been able to deal with through the criminal justice process previously” and “eradicating gender-based violence”, declared Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald. She encouraged anyone affected by abuse to report it to the police. The Scottish government believes tackling domestic abuse is one of their key priorities.

“More than 1,400 police officers and 500 prosecutors have been trained in the use of the legislation (…) A public education campaign aims to help a new law making psychological or emotional maltreatment a form of domestic abuse in Scotland”, stated a Scottish Legal News article. You would think that training information would be posted on the government’s or the police’s website, to put you at ease, but this cannot be found. The supposed protocol courts and the police follow is not on public record. Police Scotland occasionally posts a campaign against emotional abuse on their social media, but that is about it.

Otherwise, there is a lot of information on this new act, by the government, newspapers sites and legal blogs, that are public on the internet, which makes it stranger that there is no information on training. There is also no information about the effectiveness of this new law or the direct police or court measures on domestic abuse

There is only one question that is essential to see if this Act contributed to any changes in Scotland: does this Bill help victim-survivors? The only way to get a response is to explore this Act under all perspectives of emotional abuse.


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