Domestic Abuse of LGBTQ+ People

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament am 12:53 pm ar 9 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Collette Stevenson Collette Stevenson Scottish National Party 12:53, 9 Mai 2024

I am grateful to members for supporting my motion. The catalyst for the debate was a recent stakeholder round-table session that we had in Parliament, which was led by Dr Steven Maxwell from the University of Glasgow, on domestic abuse in the LGBTQ+ community. That event, which brought together MSPs, Dr Maxwell and representatives from councils, the police and the third sector, allowed us to have an open conversation about the many challenges that LGBTQ+ people experience—not only the harm of domestic abuse, but the barriers to accessing support. The event was followed by a report that has 14 recommendations. I will cover as many of those recommendations as I can in the time that I have.

Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime, and we all recognise the harm that it causes to individuals and our society. In recent years, there have been some big developments in tackling the damage of domestic abuse, including the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which brought together within one offence the modern understanding of what domestic abuse looks like, including psychological domestic abuse such as coercive and controlling behaviour.

The Scottish Government has also developed the equally safe strategy in order to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls. It sets out a vision of preventing violence, improving support services and strengthening the justice response for victims and perpetrators. Those developments are very welcome.

However, at the round-table meeting, we heard about issues to do with gender framing of policies. Many people in the community do not fit into societal assumptions of masculinity and femininity, or into traditional binary gender norms. There is a need to ensure that policy and practice work to ensure that anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse can get the support that they need. The round-table meeting participants agreed that there needs to be a national LGBTQ+ domestic abuse action plan that is perhaps based on, or aligned with, the equally safe strategy. I hope that the Government will consider that.

Data collection underpins the invisibility of domestic abuse. There are challenges in understanding the extent of such crimes. For example, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service publishes a breakdown of the sex of the accused in domestic abuse charges, but not the sex of the victim. Police Scotland sometimes includes the sex of both the suspect and the victim in its statistics. We know that most cases of domestic abuse do not get reported. I encourage all victims to seek support from the organisations that can help them: there are many great services out there.

Police Scotland data from 2022-23 shows that, when gender was recorded, around 3 per cent of recorded domestic abuse incidents involved same-sex victims and suspects. That equates to around 1,500 incidents. There is no breakdown of figures for transgender people. However, research suggests that between 30 and 45 per cent of LGBTQ+ people will experience intimate partner violence. That is in line with the levels that are experienced by women in heterosexual relationships.

I hope that the Government can work alongside its partners in the justice sector to consider what approaches can be taken in order to understand better the scale of LGBTQ+ domestic abuse and, perhaps initially, to get official estimates of its prevalence. One of the challenges for LGBTQ+ people who are experiencing domestic abuse is that they might be nervous about engaging with statutory services. It was interesting to hear police officers at the round-table meeting acknowledging the concerns that many LGBTQ+ people have, while being clear about their commitment to ensuring that Scotland’s police force acts for the diverse communities that make up modern Scotland, and that it resembles them.

However, the changes that must be made go well beyond the police. A key part of policies such as the equally safe strategy is that they prevent domestic abuse from occurring in the first place. There is a need to ensure that public sector bodies and wider society are ready and able to prevent domestic abuse in the community. That could include developing an LGBTQ+ curriculum within existing sexual violence and domestic abuse courses, including those that are provided by statutory services.

There is also a specific need for risk assessments to be more inclusive of LGBTQ+ experiences. For example, multi-agency risk assessment conferences—MARACs—are used across Scotland to help to identify high-risk cases. Concerns were raised at the round-table meeting that such processes are structured around heterosexual norms. In fact, stakeholders mentioned that the number of LGBTQ+ people who are being referred to support agencies through a MARAC is well below what was expected, which likely indicates that there is an issue with the current safeguarding policies.

Overall, it appears that the prevalence of domestic abuse in the community is significantly underestimated. In turn, that has meant that local services cannot recognise and address the issue. That is not a criticism of those services, but an example of why there has to be a shift in the approach that is being taken to tackling domestic abuse.

There is a lot to say on the topic, but I conclude by thanking Dr Maxwell and his colleagues for their work to highlight the issue, and by thanking the people who have taken part in research studies on LGBTQ+ domestic abuse. I also thank everyone who took part in the round-table meeting earlier this year.

I hope that today’s debate will shine a light on domestic abuse, encourage people to seek the support that they deserve and help to begin the change that we need for people in the community who experience domestic abuse—something that has, for too long, been hidden.

I hope to meet ministers soon to discuss the recommendations, which I hope the Scottish Government can help to advance—in particular, the recommendations on identifying gaps in service provision, on ensuring that agencies are equipped to deal with the specific challenges for the community, and on helping to ensure that there is adequate data collection.

We all agree that domestic abuse has no place in modern Scotland and that we must do everything that we can to support anyone who experiences it.