Concern about rising Domestic Abuse figures in the Western Isles and changes to prison sentences

New figures have revealed that a record 167 incidents of domestic abuse were recorded by the police in the Western Isles in 2017-18.

This is up from 152 incidents recorded the previous year, and almost three times the recorded figure of 58 from 2009/10.

The record figure comes at a time when there are plans to abolish jail sentences of less than a year – and concerns have been sparked that this will mean domestic abusers will be let off the hook.

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Across Scotland, the number of domestic abuse cases rose 1% for the second year in a row to 59,541.

Around four in every five cases involved a female victim and male perpetrator, and the vast majority occurred in a home setting.

In her Programme for Government in 2017, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she wanted to abolish prison sentences of less than 12 months.

That provoked a furious response from domestic abuse charities, who warned most offences that resulted in jail time tended to involve sentences of that length.

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Talking about the worrying rise in cases locally and the plans to abolish short prison sentences, Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Donald Cameron said: “It will be very concerning to people across the islands that domestic violence appears to be on the rise.

“As domestic abuse charities have pointed out, Nicola Sturgeon’s plan to abolish short prison sentences could result in abusers being let straight back into homes.

“I fully support the police as they strive to crack down on perpetrators, but this is undermined by a soft-touch SNP Government which wants to let such people walk free from court.”

Answering the concerns being raised Western Isles SNP MSP Alasdair Allan, said: “Domestic abuse is an incredibly serious subject and in the islands, there is still a measure of taboo around these issues.

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“It is important that we do all that we can to encourage victims of abuse to come forward.

“Earlier this year the Scottish Parliament passed the Domestic Abuse Bill, making Scotland one of only a handful of countries across the world to introduce dedicated legislation that will cover not just physical abuse, but also other forms of psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour which cannot easily be prosecuted under existing law.

“A new statutory domestic abuse aggravator was also introduced in the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 to ensure that abusers will likely get a tougher sentence.”

Talking about the work being done to tackle Domestic abuse a spokesperson for Police Scotland told the Gazette: “We work very closely with a wide range of partners in the Highlands and Islands and dedicate significant resources to try and prevent offending taking place in the first instance.

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“Where abuse is reported we work hard to support victims at every stage and take action against those who think it is acceptable to offend.

“Locally, the multi-agency Outer Hebrides Domestic Abuse Forum works to reduce and prevent incidents through effective cooperation between the private, public and voluntary sectors in the provision of high quality appropriate services and the protection of adults and children experiencing, affected by or at risk of suffering domestic abuse.

“It is simply unacceptable that victims suffer, often behind closed doors in their homes where they should feel safe and secure.

“We know that reporting domestic abuse is a big step but we can reassure anyone considering it that we will listen to you, you will be treated sensitively and professionally and we will ensure you have access to the right support throughout.”

Police Scotland can be contacted on 101. In an emergency contact 999. Information can also be provided anonymously to the charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.