THE justice system must prioritise how it will now help those who have suffered domestic abuse to ensure they do not become “collateral damage” of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the head of Women’s Aid Scotland.

Marsha Scott, chief executive of the domestic abuse support charity, said it was essential that the courts and the police acted quickly to find new ways of working that supported victims and survivors of domestic abuse. About four out of every five incidents of domestic abuse in 2018-19 had a female victim and a male accused.

Though Police Scotland has stressed it is committed to responding, it was announced last week that the Scottish Courts would not be taking on any new criminal cases.

Scott acknowledged that services were having to make unprecedented changes. But she told the Sunday National: “Women and children experiencing domestic abuse cannot be collateral damage while everyone is adjusting to domestic abuse.

‘‘Domestic abuse doesn’t take a health holiday, so people need to get very quickly focused on how we deliver justice.

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“I don’t know what the answer is to how the courts work, how we prosecute cases without putting anyone at risk. But the reality is, we better figure that out. There can be no excuses.

“Are the police going to be able to remand into custody? How do we ensure safety? I think the whole system response is an important factor and at the moment we are all scrambling to find a new normal.”

Some evidence has emerged from Wuhan, the Chinese state where the outbreak started, that incidences of domestic abuse have been far higher during the epidemic.

Last week, Feng Yuan, the director of Beijing-based women’s rights non-profit Weiping, said her organisation had received three times as many inquiries from victims than they did before quarantines were in place.

Scott said that they did not just know if social isolation would increase the prevalence of domestic abuse and did not yet have evidence that that was the case. Women’s Aid Scotland will be keeping a close watching brief on the issue, ensuring that it “radically redesigned” services to best respond the new realities of people’s lives.

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New initiatives include setting up zoom meetings with key workers, putting up lock boxes to allow more flexible access to refuges and online parties for children to stop families feeling isolated.

She added: “Some women who do live with an abuser will feel increased anxiety around the prospect of self-isolation and social distancing, or even quarantine, in a house with an abuser.

“The majority of victims and survivors do not live with their abusers. But that doesn’t mean they are not going to increased level of fear at the prospect of their abuser knowing that they are at home, and the possibility for further surveillance that this creates. We also have concerns about the impact of the coronavirus on children and young people experiencing domestic abuse.”

The charity claims that the closures of nurseries and schools – and the safety those environments often provide – will have a particular impact on those facing abuse and is looking at ways it can ensure its services reach them.

Accommodation also remains a concern, Scott claimed, with women’s refuges that previously could support several families now only being able to house one in some circumstances.

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“The most important thing they could be doing is re-housing perpetrators, rather than women and children,” she said. “It’s up to authorities to now make this system doable. This is now requiring urgent action.”

This would avoid making children homeless, which often sees them go into temporary accommodation with numerous moves, she claimed, adding: “It is very much easier to move one person.”

In Scotland, an estimated 20-25% of policing business is on dealing with domestic abuse. The police recorded 60,641 incidents of domestic abuse in 2018-19, an increase of 2% compared to the previous year.

A spokeswoman for Police Scotland said: “Domestic abuse is not just physical or sexual abuse, it includes abusive behaviours, verbal, sexual, psychological or financial abuse and can be committed anywhere including online.

‘‘It is about power and control, with abusers using controlling behaviours to frighten, humiliate and isolate victims from those who can offer them support.

“No-one should live in fear of abuse. We want people to feel safe in their communities. We want to prevent harm by identifying people who may be at risk. Domestic abuse is everyone’s business. Domestic abuse is not acceptable, and it’s not inevitable.”

Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is also available 24/7 via phone on 0800 027 1234, email or web chat at Please contact Police Scotland on 101 or 999 in an emergency.

  • The police recorded 60,641 incidents of domestic abuse in Scotland in 2018-19, an increase of 2% compared to the previous year.
  • In 2018-19, 41% of incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police in Scotland included the recording of at least one crime or offence.
  • The type of crime or offence that was most frequently recorded as part of a domestic abuse incident in 2018-19 was common assault (accounting for 36% of all crimes and offences recorded).
  • There were 112 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police in Scotland per 10,000 population in 2018-19.
  • Dundee City (157), West Dunbartonshire (148) and Glasgow City (147) recorded the highest incident rates per 10,000 population. The Shetland Islands (52) and East Renfrewshire (54) recorded the lowest rates per 10,000 population.
  • Where gender information was recorded, around four out of every five incidents of domestic abuse in 2018-19 had a female victim and a male accused. This proportion has remained stable since 2011-12.
  • In 2018-19, the 26-30 years old age group had the highest incident rate for victims (263 incidents recorded per 10,000 population).
  • Recorded incidents of domestic abuse were higher on a Saturday or Sunday than on any other day of the week (with these two days together accounting for 35% of incidents in 2018-19).