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Domestic abuse legislation is supporting victims better, but delays to justice still an issue

Posted 10 January, 2023 by Jennifer Drummond

Research has found extending Scotland’s domestic abuse laws to include emotional and psychological abuse has had a beneficial impact but delays in the justice system are still failing victims.

The small-scale study conducted by Glasgow Caledonian University, the University of Edinburgh and the Scottish Government found that by recognising abuse as a pattern of behaviour, the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 closer matches victims’ accounts of psychological and physical harm over time.

Based on responses from 69 domestic abuse victims and witnesses, the study also found most women felt engaging with the criminal justice system about domestic abuse was ‘the right decision’ to take.

However, the report submitted to the Scottish Government did highlight the need for improvements in how cases are handled, in order to provide victims with a greater voice in proceedings and better support through the process. Other areas of improvement included making judicial processes quicker and more efficient and providing better training for justice professionals.

Claire Houghton from the University of Edinburgh, and one of the authors of the interim report said:

“It is reassuring that victims and witnesses welcomed the expanded scope of the domestic abuse law.

“However, our study found it has yet to reach its potential – adult and child victims and witnesses are still experiencing trauma and delays within the justice system and perpetrators are not adequately held to account for the harm to the whole family.

“We look forward to working with our justice partners, alongside victims and witnesses of domestic abuse, to improve people’s experiences of the system and support the vital work of specialist agencies.”

Legal protections for victims of abuse

The ground-breaking Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 was brought into force in April 2019.

This was supported by the Scottish Government’s Vision for Justice, published in February 2022, which set out that urgent action is required to ensure women and children are better served in Scotland’s justice system.

A number of measures have already been implemented including the establishment of a £48m Victim-Centred Approach Fund to provide practical and emotional support for victims and a Justice Recovery Fund to help reduce the backlog of court cases.

Click here to read more about the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 interim reporting requirement

Exploring the science behind conflict management

Following their workshop at our annual conference, Cyrenians' Digital Media and Content Manager, Colin Waters, discusses how being more in tune with our neural networks can help avoid conflict and relationship breakdown.

This summer, Cyrenians Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) launched its latest educational digital development. Aimed at young people, the Three Brains brings together music, science, film, and illustrations for a quirky, entertaining look at the mind-body connection, emotional regulation and wellbeing. Characterising the elements of the mind-body connection (the brain, the heart and the gut) as members of a rock band is a fun way of looking at the science of conflict – although the purpose behind The Three Brains is no laughing matter.

In common with our previous projects – Monkey Vs Lizard, #KeepTheHeid and Emotional Homunculus – The Three Brains was conceived as a tool to help reduce the rates of youth homelessness by giving young people the skills to reduce conflict in the family home; relationship breakdown is cited as the most common reason for young people leaving home without somewhere to go onto. According to Scottish Government statistics, there were 8,525 young people registered as homeless in Scotland in 2020/1.

We believe that sharing knowledge about the science can take some of the heat out of conflict by reminding young people and their parents or carers that arguments are actually a normal part of the developmental cycle, and that there are techniques to use to get past the worst of it.

Three Brains

If I was to say to you, your body has three brains, you would of course say, no, it doesn’t – and you’d be right. We’re not claiming that the body has any more actual brains than the one found in your head.

When we talk about the body’s ‘three brains’, we are referring to the ‘neural networks’ in our brain, heart and gut. The heart and gut don’t ‘think’ or have a consciousness like our actual brain does, but like the brain they contain specialised cells called neurons. Typically, thousands of neurons work together in neural networks. They ‘talk’ to each other using electrical signals and chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitter travel between gut, heart and brain via something called the vagus nerve. Like brains, the gut and heart neural networks can process and store information, change and adapt.

Our physical and mental health are connected and affect our emotions – with the reverse being true too.

We’ve known for centuries that when we feel emotional, the feeling registers as something in our bodies; for example, sinking feelings, butterflies in your stomach, and a racing heart. This has led to common metaphors such as a ‘gut feeling’ and ‘heartbroken’.

Three organs in sync

It used to be thought that communication between brain, heart and gut was one-sided, with the heart and gut responding to the brain’s commands.

We now know the relationship between brain, heart and gut is more like an ongoing conversation that gives these three organs the chance to be in synchronisation with each other.

If the mind-body connection is strong, people tend to be able to manage relationships better because they can regulate their moods. ‘Mood regulation’ sounds a bit technical when put like that, but we’re all familiar with the idea whether we know it or not. For example, most of us know we can change or enhance mood using music. The Three Brains goes further by suggesting young people can regulate their mood themselves, helping to avoid conflict and relationship breakdown at home.

Making music together

The music theme has proved to be a rich source of metaphors for the project. We characterised the elements of the mind-body connection as band members: the brain as singer and guitarist, the heart as drummer, and the gut as bassist. Like a band, the three parts of the mind-body connection need to be in sync to get the best out of them. Equally, even if our mind-body connection is in good shape, like musicians, we never stop ‘practicing’ to get the best out of them.

The pages on the SCCR website (click here to access) include an interactive quiz and a look at the science behind The Three Brains. The quiz uses music-related scenarios to get young people thinking how they would react in different circumstances. For example, ‘A band member hasn’t come to practice. When others don’t show your level of commitment, it upsets you. You call them – what should you say?’ The multiple-choice answers suggest a contemplative one (the brain), an emotional response (the heart) and an instinctive answer (the gut). Our hope is that this gets young people thinking about what is the most appropriate response when in situations that have the potential for conflict.

In addition to the website, we’re currently developing workshops based on The Three Brains we plan to roll out in schools, youth organisations and online next year, as well as adding downloadable resources to the website that could be used by teachers and youth workers. All these resources can be found by visiting our website and clicking on ‘Brainy Stuff’ on the dropdown menu. We hope it tickles at least one of your ‘brains’!

Colin Waters is Digital Media and Content Manager with Cyrenians which manages the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution

About the author

Colin Waters is the Digital Media and Content Manager for the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution

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#CiS Magazine News

Youth homelessness prevention project comes to Scotland

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Annual conference: images from day 1

A short film capturing student illustrators' reflections on the day

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Annual conference: images from day 2

A short film capturing student illustrators' reflections on the day

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Interviews, opinion, analysis and ideas

The winter edition of our membership magazine, Insight, is out now.

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Trustees Week: an interview with Simon Massey

9 November 2022

As part of our interview series marking Trustees Week, we talk to Children in Scotland’s Head of Engagement & Learning Simon Massey about being a board member of relationship counselling charity Bright Light.

Name: Simon Massey

Current ‘day’ job: Head of Engagement & Learning at Children in Scotland.

Charity that you’re a trustee of:  Bright Light – relationship counselling.

Role: Chair

Length of time on the board: Four years and seven months.

Why did you become a trustee?

I’ve been a Trustee in the past and undertaken other voluntary roles and was looking for a new volunteer role having moved to Edinburgh in 2015.

Talking therapies are very close to my heart having both received counselling myself and delivered therapeutic social work services in the past – I know first-hand the difference it can make.  I wanted to use my skills and knowledge to support a charity delivering counselling and joining the Board was a great way to do it.

What’s the best thing about it?

Working with a varied group of people as part of a system that helps shape the direction of the charity and, ultimately, ensures people can receive counselling services in a cost effective, accessible manner.

What kind of challenges has the charity faced that you’ve been able to help with?

I think I have been able to support Bright Light and the Board through a lot of change over the past couple of years. I became the Vice-chair last year and the Chair this year when several very well-established Trustees came to the end of their terms. My leadership and management skills and knowledge have been (hopefully!) very useful.

The obvious challenge is going to be the Covid-19 response! We were all going through the same thing across different work settings and our personal lives. The sharing of “what works” and “don’t dos” was really helpful and created another layer of connection when so many of our usual ones were broken.

It’s also been an interesting period where I’ve been able to take my Children in Scotland experiences and use them in supporting Bright Light developments – including a recent review of the charity’s values and the new Strategic Plan.

How does being a trustee support your own personal or professional development?

On a personal level, it has provided me with the opportunity to meet with people I’d probably not come into contact with usually, creating friendships that will go beyond my time at Bright Light.

Professionally it allows me to develop my skills in a different setting and, while many of these are transferrable, the responsibilities as a Trustee are different to that of a paid worker so it allows a different type of development.

The role also allows me to work with organisations outside of my Children in Scotland world, some of which may well lead to future partnerships – I’m always looking out for new opportunities!

Follow Bright Light on Twitter:  @Bright_Light_47


About the interviewee

Simon Massey is Head of Engagement and Learning at Children in Scotland

Visit the website

Bright Light

The largest provider of relationship counselling in Scotland

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Trustees Week

Celebrating achievements and opportunities to connect, train, learn and develop

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