The effects of physical or verbal domestic abuse can be devastating for the victim's mental health but for some psychological abuse (more commonly known as 'coercive control') can be difficult to identify. Would you be able to spot someone who is being domestically abused and perhaps in need of help? Here are four things you need to know regarding psychological domestic abuse.

1.  Domestic abuse isn't just physical or verbal abuse

Physical and verbal abuse are just two examples of types of behaviour which constitute domestic abuse in Scotland. Since the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 ("the Act") came into force, there has been a shift away from examining only the behaviour of the perpetrator. Instead, the effect the conduct has had on the victim is considered. The type of behaviour which is considered will now include anything which is designed to:-

a) isolate the victim from friends, relatives or other sources of support;

b) control, regulate or monitor the victim's day-to-day activities;

c) deprive them of or restrict the victim's freedom of action; or

d) frighten, humiliate, degrade or punish the victim.

These types of behaviour are examples of "coercive control". They rely on the victim being stripped of their ability to stand up to the abuser. Examples of the type of behaviour which might be considered an offence under the Act include:-

(a) removing the victim's access to money or credit cards;

(b) preventing the victim from speaking to or meeting friends and family; or

(c) preventing the victim from being able to leave their home or attempting to control which places they are allowed to visit.

2.  The law on domestic abuse doesn't just apply to married couples

To commit an offence under the Act the abusive act must have been perpetrated against a partner or former partner. The perpetrator and victim need not have been married and do not need to have lived together at any time. A "partner" can be a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, civil partner or anyone in an intimate relationship.

3.  The police take psychological domestic abuse seriously

The Act makes abusing someone a criminal offence. If a complaint is made there are various things which must be proven to secure a criminal conviction under the Act. These are:-

  • the abuse must be directed toward a partner or ex-partner.
  • There must be a pattern of abusive behaviours. A pattern is considered to be two or more occasions when abuse has taken place.
  • The perpetrator intended to cause physical or psychological harm, or was reckless as to whether the behaviour would cause such harm. This means that even if the perpetrator did not intend to hurt their partner or ex-partner, their behaviour could still be considered domestic abuse, and it is not necessary to show that harm was actually caused.

    If a criminal conviction is secured, the perpetrator can be required to pay a fine or can be sent to prison for up to 12 years, depending on the seriousness of the behaviour.

    4. A criminal conviction isn't your only option for protection

    To be found guilty of a criminal offence in Scotland, the accused must be deemed by a court to be guilty "beyond reasonable doubt". Prosecutors may not proceed with a case if it is considered that the prospect of securing a conviction is low. Fortunately, there are other options. It is still possible to secure a court order having a spouse, civil partner or cohabitant removed from the home they shared with the victim. This is called an exclusion order. A separate order can be granted by the court, preventing them from returning to the property. Putting distance between the couple can often short circuit the types of abuse outlined above, allowing the victim to regain some control of the situation. Further protective measures can be granted to prevent the perpetrator from abusing the victim verbally or physically. This type of order can be secured by couples who do not live together.

    Coercive control can seriously damage a person's mental health. Get help at an early stage to protect yourself.


    Donna McKay

    Legal Director