Each year, the 10th of December is Human Rights Day to commemorate the day, 68 years ago, that the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It gave us all universal rights as humans, yet amazingly we still live in a world where our most primary needs and rights remain unmet and illusive. For Shelter Scotland, locally this marked the end of “16 Days of Action” with our partners Aberlour where we jointly supported a sequence of community awareness events about the issue of domestic abuse. It is hugely sad that almost 70 years later we are still blighted by domestic abuse across the world and that across Scotland there are over a hundred daily incidents. Have we moved on?
In 2015-16 there were 59,882 incidents of domestic abuse reported to Police Scotland – enough people to fill Murrayfield Stadium. Statistically 84% of victims are female. Most victims of abuse will likely suffer upwards of 10 incidents before seeking help or intervention so perhaps we could actually fill Murrayfield 10 times over. Every year. As a parent of two young girls I despair that this is a risk to them, their friends and their future. Of the 59,882, 42% of all reports were from households where there had been previous incidents of domestic abuse, so we know from this that police intervention doesn’t stop the abuse from occurring, we also know that domestic abuse repeats and escalates and a disproportionate percentage of female homicides are from current or previous partners. This also tells us that in Scotland the Police come into contact with 164 victims and perpetrators every day that’s 6 new incidents every minute. Wow. We also know that 87% of reported incidents during this time occur in the home or dwelling of the victim or perpetrators. So suddenly home isn’t sanctuary and a place of contentment and safety, a primary human need. Home becomes a place of fear, the environment where abuse occurs where vulnerability is felt and instincts are heightened. What nourishes also contains the potential to destroy.
Domestic abuse victims should be able to live in their own homes and we must explore the housing solutions and choices that exist. Where do you go if you feel threatened or at risk from abuse? How do you protect your children from risk of harm? How do you minimise the distruption to your children? Why should you leave? Local Authorities across Scotland operate Homeless Services and can facilitate access to safe accommodation as well refuge placements and domestic abuse support services but what exists before crisis hits and victims flee? Do we have in Scotland a broad range of options to meet the needs of a cross section of Scotland?
How do we link the protection of victims and their Human Rights with their desire to retain their homes? How can we move towards a system that removes the perpetrator and allows greater choice for victims that is in the best interests of the whole family? Homelessness is often a long traumatic journey, often the end product and ‘final stop’, but how can we minimise the impact on an already vulnerable group and offer choice and options?
Relationship breakdown is one of the largest reasons for homelessness nationally, and given domestic abuse is largely under-reported, perhaps we need to ensure Housing Policy and Local Housing Strategies offers choice? How do we build responses to domestic abuse that ensure victims retain their homes to avoid further disruption and protect children to retain their community connections and proximity to their social networks? In an environment where 51% of incidents lead to criminal proceedings we need to build responses that are not reliant on criminal or civil proceedings. These are both lengthy and emotionally challenging for victims and often leave them fearing the traumatic experience to the point of apathy. In a world where domestic abuse can occur across social media it’s time to re-think how abuse is interpreted and how we respond.
Domestic abuse and Shelter Scotland’s increasing understanding of how we respond to it continues to grow. At Shelter Scotland we know from our work in The Bridges Partnership that victims benefit from advocacy, independent and impartial housing advice and support. They tell us they just want to live without the presence of abuse in their homes, this feels to me such a simple ask that, together, we should be able to achieve. We must put the needs of victims and the children within the families first. Let’s stop waiting for it to get so bad that victims feel they have no option but to flee with their lives.
In the time it took for you to read this blog, there may have been another 24 incidents reported.
Shelter Scotland offer independent and discreet advice through our National Helpline and through digital chat on our website. If you are affected by domestic abuse please visit our website for more information or phone our helpline on 0808 800 4444.