For many victims, and their families, home is not a safe place. This is a truth that carries additional significance during the current response to the COVID-19 crisis.
To raise awareness of the impacts of domestic abuse, an eight-minute training animation has been developed for solicitors, which discusses the benefits of a trauma-informed practice when working with those who have experienced domestic abuse. Funded by the Scottish Government, it covers the key provisions of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 which came into force in April last year.
The Act now makes it easier to prosecute the spectrum of abuse that victims may suffer. It has created a single “course of conduct” offence, criminalising not only physical abuse but other forms of psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour.
Police Scotland data indicate that there are around 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police each year. While the number of incidents reported has been relatively stable since 2011-12, this remains evidence of the unacceptable levels of domestic abuse in Scotland. Additionally, the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (2016-18) suggests that the police came to know about just under one in five of the incidents of partner abuse experienced by respondents in the year prior to interview.
The approach taken in Scotland is to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls wherever and however that occurs, including domestic abuse. That is detailed in the Equally Safe Strategy, the joint Scottish Government and COSLA strategy.
Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “The Scottish Government is committed to doing everything we can to tackle domestic abuse, and the underlying attitudes and inequalities that very often create the conditions for violence against women and girls to take place.
“This resource is the result of collaborative working from across the legal sector, academia, NHS, and victim support organisations. It will raise awareness of the range of coercive and controlling behaviours that may be experienced by victims of domestic abuse.
“This animation reinforces the Scottish Government’s commitment to develop a trauma-informed workforce in Scotland, and highlights the importance of embedding a common understanding of domestic abuse – both the technical aspects of the law, but also the long term impact that domestic abuse can have on victims.
“I hope this animation will encourage solicitors to consider the impacts of trauma on their clients and the potential impact of vicarious trauma for themselves, and to promote good practice when working with survivors.”
Louise Johnson, legal issues worker at Scottish Women’s Aid, explained: “Women experiencing domestic abuse have repeatedly told us how important it is to both their own safety and wellbeing, and crucially, that of their children, to have a practitioner who is clear on the difference between domestic abuse and the family law disputes that they otherwise deal with.
“An appreciation and knowledge of how the power imbalance central to the abuse controls and restricts women’s access to justice, and how the abuse impacts directly on children, particularly in relation to issues around child contact and residence, is a valuable addition to, and enhancement of, a legal professional’s skillset.
“This CPD animation will support professionals towards delivering the best possible legal advice and services to vulnerable women and children who are most in need of protection, and it will raise awareness of the specialist domestic abuse services, such as Scottish Women’s Aid, that can provide valuable assistance for both themselves and their client.”
Katy Mathieson, Scottish Women’s Rights Centre co-ordinator, added: “The training covers the key points of the new domestic abuse legislation, and promotes understanding of the impact trauma can have on victims/survivors of domestic abuse who have been subject to coercive and controlling behaviours. It also provides insight into the range of considerations a solicitor may have when working on civil domestic abuse cases. The animation includes practical steps which solicitors can take when working with people living with domestic abuse, and it demonstrates how trauma-informed practice can help to build stronger cases. Working on domestic abuse cases may be challenging, and the animation recognises the possibility of solicitors experiencing vicarious traumatisation, as well as the importance of looking after yourself and your colleagues.”
During the animation a short segment raises issues around child contact, noting that a client may have concerns that her children will not be returned after contact. This issue has become of increasing concern over recent months during the response to COVID-19, and victim support services have reported a range of abusive behaviours related to conflict over child contact that are apparently specific to lockdown (research publication here). This highlights the continued necessity for all professionals supporting these families to have an awareness of the full spectrum of domestic abuse.
Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “We have been delighted to be part of this project. Watching the video will provide solicitors with a useful introduction in understanding the impact trauma can have on clients. It is a highly complex area of work, and while a short animation can only touch on some of the most important issues, it provides valuable insight for our members.
Any solicitors who are interested in developing their knowledge and skills can engage in further training which has been developed specifically for legal practitioners by our project partners.”
Watching the new video, completing the supplementary reading and passing a test allows solicitors to claim one hour of CPD. The animation, readings and test are available in the CPD and Training section.