THE HEAD of a Scottish charity that supports woman facing violence at home has warned "domestic abuse is not taking a break" during the Covid-19 lockdown.

One year on from the Scottish Government introducing ground-breaking legislation in a bid to better protect victims of domestic abuse, Scottish Women's Aid has stressed that in some parts of the country, "women feel nothing has changed."

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act, introduced on April 1, 2019, made the "coercive and controlling behaviours" of offenders a criminal offence.

It created a single offence, carrying a maximum sentence of 14-years and covers psychological, financial or sexual abuse. The warning comes as Police Scotland revealed it has recorded almost 1,700 criminal offences in the first year of the law being introduced.

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As of March 29, officers recorded 1,669 domestic abuse offences - with 1,565 offences relating to a female victim and 94 per cent were carried out by male abusers.

Detective Chief Superintendent Samantha McCluskey, head of public protection for Police Scotland, said: "Recognising, within law, the full range of behaviours used by perpetrators to control, coerce, and instil fear in their victims, has been the single most significant step in our efforts to tackle domestic abuse in Scotland.

“More than 14,000 of our officers and staff have now been trained to recognise that domestic abuse isn’t always violent or physical.

"It is often psychological - disempowering and isolating victims and removing them from the support of family and friends, which can have the most devastating impact."

She added: “As an organisation we are continuing to develop a workplace culture where there is no tolerance for domestic abuse and which recognises that the responsibility for domestic abuse lies solely with the perpetrator.

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“Perpetrators should understand, we will respond to all reports of domestic abuse. We will delve into their histories, we will speak to previous partners, and we will use all of the powers at our disposal to ensure they face the full consequences of their behaviour."

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, has appealed that the protections offered by the new law are "now more urgent and important than ever" with households across the UK told to stay at home to help suppress the spread of Covid-19.

She said: "We acknowledge - and sympathise with - the additional pressures that Covid-19 is putting on the police and the justice system in Scotland. We are all facing unprecedented challenges, and we are so grateful for the extraordinary efforts that we know are happening every day.

“Unfortunately, it is our job to point out that domestic abuse is not taking a break for this virus and that robust implementation of the new law is now more urgent and important than ever.

"In fact, all indications from other countries and other epidemics is that children and women will need more protection and faster responses than ever. And the increased fear and danger that women and children are experiencing must not be considered acceptable because of the pandemic."

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Dr Scott added: "We have been encouraged by the way that the police and the Crown Office have embraced this new legislation.

“However, while we have no doubt that this law has been embraced at a national level, we are convinced that successful implementation is still far off. We continue to hear mixed reports from our 36 local Women’s Aid services. In some areas, women are getting sympathetic and swift responses from the police and the justice system - in other areas, women feel nothing has changed."

Dr Scott said that "this mixed picture is no surprise" and that the overhaul "was never going to be quick or easy".

“We are hopeful that, when we look back in years to come, this law really will have marked the turning point we all hoped for", she added.

"For now, our work continues to build a Scotland with no domestic abuse, and that job is far from over.”

Police Scotland has moved to reassure the public that domestic abuse is still being prioritised.

DSC McCluskey said that Police Scotland's "response to domestic abuse remains unchanged".

She added: “Our officers will continue to respond to reports and will endeavour to prevent harm by identifying people who may be at risk.”