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Modernising the law on domestic and sexual abuse

Published: 9 Oct 2015 08:00
Part of:
Law and order

Tackling the rise of revenge porn.

A Bill to improve access to justice for survivors of domestic abuse and tackle the rise of so-called revenge porn has been introduced by the Scottish Government today.

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill will modernise criminal law and strengthen powers for the police, prosecutors and courts to take action against perpetrators of domestic abuse, harassment and sexual offences.

The Bill also creates an offence of sharing of private intimate images without consent, often called revenge porn, reflecting the way modern technology can be used to perpetrate abuse.

Under these new Scottish Government proposals, judges will also be required to give juries specific directions when dealing with sexual offence cases. These directions are designed to improve juries' understandings of sexual violence and domestic abuse, which we know is a current barrier in access to justice for victims.

A new statutory domestic abuse aggravator will also be introduced to ensure courts take domestic abuse into account when sentencing an offender.

If passed by Parliament, the Bill will also ensure child sexual offences committed in England and Wales by Scottish residents can be prosecuted in Scotland and reform the system of civil orders to improve protections for communities from sex offenders and to help prevent sexual harm.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson, said:

"Domestic abuse and harassment are appalling crimes which often affect some of the most vulnerable members of our society.

"I am proud of the bold and unapologetic approach we're taking to tackle these crimes in Scotland and this Bill sends out a strong message that domestic violence will simply not be tolerated.

"These proposals will improve the way the justice system responds to abusive behaviour, holding perpetrators to account for their actions and improving public safety. It will also remove some of the current barriers to justice by improving understanding of domestic abuse and sexual harm, something we know is lacking in the current system.

"In particular, creating a new offence of sharing intimate images without consent, so-called revenge porn, helps to modernise the justice system to tackle the ways people are using new technologies to perpetrate abuse.

"At a time when victims of sexual offences have increasing confidence in reporting historic incidents to the police knowing they will be effectively investigated, our proposals on new jury directions will also make a real difference in ensuring juries approach court evidence in an informed and balanced way.

"We know that legislation alone is not enough to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse, harassment and sexual violence. This is part of a wide range of measures we are putting in place, including an additional £20 million to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls."

Lord Advocate, Frank Muholland, added:

"I welcome the publication of this bill particularly the measures to deal with the sharing of intimate images without consent. This crime is a form of insidious abuse designed to inflict humiliation and suffering on its victims who are predominately women.

It results in significant distress to victims and in extreme cases has resulted in people taking their own lives. I called for a new law to cover this crime because we need to send a strong message to victims not to be embarrassed to come forward and report this offence. I believe it is currently under reported and I hope the new bill will help reassure those who are affected that law enforcement will treat victims with sensitivity and ensure that those who commit this cowardly crime will face the full force of the law."

ASSIST & Domestic Abuse Services, Head of Community Safety Glasgow, Mhairi McGowan, said:

'We support the bringing forward of this legislation. In particular, a specific offence to tackle the issue of the sharing of intimate images will bring much needed clarity to the law and help reassure victims that they can achieve access to justice. This Bill will take matters forward, but it has to be seen within a much wider programme of activity that the Scottish Government is pursuing and of course a specific offence of domestic abuse is still required with a public consultation the right way to develop such an offence.

"At its heart though, this programme is about tackling gender inequality which is at the root cause of violence against women. By addressing this inequality, the Scottish Government is showing leadership on this critical issue."

Scottish Women's Aid chief executive, Dr Marsha Scott said:

"Domestic abuse must be treated with utmost seriousness by Scotland's politicians, police and legal system, and this Bill goes some way towards recognising that.

"We welcome the focus on the actions of perpetrators of crimes against women and children, and the determination to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.

"The creation of a new offence for the non-consensual sharing of intimate images (so called "Revenge Porn") means victims of this controlling and humiliating behaviour should be given greater protection under the law.

"We know that the threat or the distribution of so-called revenge porn can be used to humiliate and control the victim. It is a form and tactic of domestic abuse and must be understood in the wider context of gendered abuse. We hope that a new offence will give greater clarity to police and prosecutors and make it easier for perpetrators to be held to account for their abusive actions.

"We also welcome the announcement that the proposed bill will include provisions for juries in sexual offences cases to be given special directions on how to consider the evidence, greater protection for victims of harassment, and reforms around protecting children."

Notes to editors

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill was introduced in the Programme for Government 2015-16 : http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0048/00484439.pdf