10 Mar, 2023

RMA Guest Blog: Lucy McDonald, SafeLives

This month we are thrilled to welcome Lucy McDonald from SafeLives to the RMA blog. Lucy McDonald is Head of Scotland for SafeLives, overseeing training and learning, multi-agency work, quality and accreditation, and authentic voice. Here, she writes about the response to intimate partner violence in Scotland, and how tools like SafeLives’ Domestic Abuse Awareness Raising Tool are making a difference.

The landscape around domestic abuse in Scotland has changed dramatically since 2014, with much more awareness and understanding of the problem and a commitment from the Scottish Government to protect victims and hold perpetrators to account. It is therefore not a surprise to see that RMA’s recent research on ‘The Offending Behaviour of Those Sentenced to the Order for Lifelong Restriction’ shows that the number of orders with an intimate partner violence conviction have increased.

The research shows that the number of Orders for Lifelong Restrictions (OLR) with an intimate partner violence (IPV) conviction spiked in 2014 and has since stayed above 50% per year. The highest number of restrictions with intimate partner violence convictions was in 2020-21 when it was nearly 4 out of every 5.

This increase does not suggest that domestic abuse is a new problem, rather it is an encouraging sign that it is being better understood and responded to, and that those causing harm are being brought to justice – a change which is largely thanks to improvements to the response to domestic abuse in Scotland since 2014.

The implementation of the Equally Safe strategy, which was published in 2014, gave the country, for the first time, a national strategy to take on all forms of violence against women and girls. The introduction of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act in 2018 made coercive control a criminal offence for the first time in Scotland; and the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Act 2021 made provision for domestic abuse protections notices and orders. We have seen the rollout of the Caledonian System, a group programme for those convicted of domestic abuse offences – showing a commitment in Scotland to challenging perpetrators and holding them to account; and a Domestic Homicide Taskforce has recently been established by the Scottish Government to create a framework that will help us better understand, and prevent, murders.

For over a decade, Multi- Agency Risk Assessment Conferences – Maracs – have transformed the response to domestic abuse across Scotland. At the heart of the Marac is the working assumption that no single agency or individual can see the complete picture for the life of a victim, but all have insights that are crucial to their safety. Since August 2022 every local authority in Scotland now has a Marac, meaning that every single month, in every single part of Scotland, agencies and individuals are coming together to improve outcomes for those living with high risk domestic abuse. This sits alongside the current focus on national implementation – in the Equally Safe Short-Life Delivery Plan for 2022-2023, under Priority 3, the Scottish Government committed to publishing a learning report, and taking forward key recommendations on Marac.

Alongside this, over the past decade the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and ‘Honour’-based Violence (Dash) risk assessment checklist has been widely used across Scotland, giving a consistent and simple tool for practitioners who work with victims of domestic abuse. Using this tool facilitates the identification of domestic abuse, and setting the right pathway for victims, for example, signposting to the right support and highlighting which cases should be referred to Marac.

To improve the response to domestic abuse we must identify and reach out to those experiencing harm at the earliest opportunity. That is why, in August 2020, SafeLives launched our Domestic Abuse Awareness Raising Tool (DAART). The was developed through funding from the Scottish Government and is a free online resource for professionals to help them understand the basics of domestic abuse, the legislation and provides a map of services across the country. Since its launch, DAART has been embedded into learning management systems of many key organisations, including Health, and the tool has been visited over 30k times, increasing awareness raising of domestic abuse at a broad level.

We have also seen a focus on specialist tailored training to key stakeholders to help them spot and respond to the signs of domestic abuse; and hold perpetrators to account. For example, at SafeLives, we have been contributing to a tailored package for Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal (COPFS) Depute Fiscals since 2015; we have provided training to the whole of Police Scotland, and to Domestic Abuse Champions, through our Domestic Abuse Matters Scotland (DAMS) programme which commenced in 2018; we provide regular training to Idaas – Independent Domestic Abuse Advocates – working along with ASSIST and Scottish Women’s Aid; we’ve worked closely with various housing teams, including Wheatley Group; and we’re proud to work with partners in the Caledonian System, as well as Criminal Justice social work teams, and multi-disciplinary staff within local authorities.

SafeLives are also now working with ASSIST and other stakeholders, including victims themselves, to create national standards for domestic abuse court advocates through our Domestic Abuse Court Advocacy Accreditation (DACAA) programme. This will help standardise victim’s experiences through our criminal justice system, as well as equip criminal justice stakeholders to provide a domestic abuse-aware and trauma-informed response.

It is encouraging to see domestic abuse being better understood and responded to but of course there is still lots to do. As the RMA research shows, where duration was known, the majority of cases had been going on for 5+ years. SafeLives’ own research finds that on average survivors in Scotland experienced abuse for five and a half years. This is longer when survivors had a disability and survivors with children experienced abuse over longer periods which was linked to ongoing abuse through child contact arrangements.[1] This is not good enough and tells us we have to stay focused on stopping domestic abuse sooner.  The RMA research also shows us that a large number of those convicted have previous IPV convictions. So, while we should see the recent RMA figures around the number of OLR restrictions with an IPV conviction as a step in the right direction, we must not be complacent.  Domestic abuse is everyone’s business. We must continue to raise awareness and understanding so all victims of domestic abuse can be safer sooner, and those causing harm are held to account and brought to justice. 

[1] SafeLives, Whole Lives Scotland National Survivor Survey, October 2020

Lucy McDonald is Head of Scotland for SafeLives, overseeing training and learning, multi-agency work, quality and accreditation, and authentic voice.  Her passion is to work together with partners in order to create consistent and effective approaches to domestic abuse, drawing on insight from data and the direct experience of survivors and frontline professionals. 



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