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Statistical Bulletin: Crime and Justice Series: Domestic Abuse Recorded by the Police in Scotland, 2009-10


4. Annex: notes on statistics used in this bulletin

4.1 Background

A statistical collection on domestic abuse (previously referred to as domestic violence) was recommended in the Report of HM Inspectorate of Constabulary "Hitting Home - A Report on the Police Response to Domestic Violence 1997":

Recommendation 1

'That the standard definition of domestic violence to be developed by The Scottish Office in consultation with forces includes sub-categories of: - crimes of personal violence (non-sexual and sexual); other crimes (such as breach of the peace, threats, and vandalism); and abuse which does not amount to crime; and that the definition be adopted by all forces as soon as it is agreed'.

Recommendation 2

'That all forces record domestic incidents so that they can be reviewed individually and in total, using the sub-categories referred to in recommendation 1'.

These recommendations were progressed through the Domestic Violence Working Group of the Scottish Criminal Statistics Committee involving ACPOS (Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland) nominated representatives who agreed the following definition.

'Domestic abuse is any form of physical, non-physical, or sexual abuse which takes place within the context of a close relationship, committed either in the home or elsewhere. This relationship will be between partners (married, co-habiting or otherwise) or ex-partners'.

4.2 Accuracy of the statistics

4.2.1 Returns

The statistical return from which the figures in this bulletin are taken is a simple count of the numbers of incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police using the definition of domestic abuse as shown above. Following current terminology, these incidents are now referred to as incidents of domestic abuse. Returns from the eight Scottish police forces are included in this bulletin.

4.2.2 Changes in methodology

2009-10 is the first year in which data has been submitted based on the date the incident was recorded. Prior to this, data was returned based on the number of incidents which occurred during that time period. As historic data has never been revised, any incidents which occurred in a different time period to the date in which the incident was recorded, will have been excluded from the returns.

For example, if an incident occurred during 2007-08 but was reported during 2008-09, it would have been excluded from 2008-09 (since the date committed is not in the relevant time period), but it would also have been missed out of the 2007-08 data as the submitted data would not have been updated. Hence, the incident would never be reported in the statistics.

The number of incidents in the 2009-10 bulletin is therefore based on the date the incident was recorded. This should give a truer reflection of police activity relating to domestic abuse incidents. By reporting on the date the incidents were committed, we get a snapshot account of the number of domestic abuse incidents occurring within a particular period. However, by analysing the data based on the date recorded, we can see the trend in reporting incidents of domestic abuse to the police. Hence, if there was an increase in the number of victims who found the courage to report incidents of domestic abuse to the police, this should be reflected in the statistics.

It is estimated that less than one per cent of incidents recorded within a particular year are 'historic' incidents, i.e. occurred within a previous time period. By not updating the data which was collected for all years prior to 2009-10, it is estimated that there is an undercount in the total number of incidents but this should not be more than 3 per cent. 2009-10 is the first year in which there should be no undercount in the number of incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police.

There was an increase of 15 per cent in the number of incidents recorded between 2002-03 and 2003-04 in Scotland. This is driven by Strathclyde who introduced a new Vulnerable Persons Database ( VPD) during 2003-04. The introduction of this system, along with improved recording practices, is likely to be the main reason for this increase.

4.2.3 Incident Count

The statistics presented in this bulletin are described as incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police. The bulletin reports the most serious crime/offence associated with each incident.

4.2.4 Recording Issues

  • Incident Count:
    • In 2001, Tayside Police introduced a new method of compiling the statistical information required for this bulletin and launched a joint initiative with Barnardo's Scotland which is believed to have encouraged victims of domestic abuse to report incidents.
    • During 2003-04, Strathclyde Police rolled out a new Vulnerable Person Database ( VPD) which collects information about domestic, racist and homophobic incidents. This also involved the back-record conversion of paper records from September 2002. In the long term this will lead to more dynamic, accurate and timely data.
  • Repeat Victimisation:
    • Police forces can only identify a repeat victim if he/she has previously been entered onto their database. The longer the database has been in existence the more likely it is that a repeat victim will be recognised as such. Police forces have maintained their databases over different periods of time and the proportion of identified repeat victims will vary accordingly.
  • Police forces were not able to record complete or certain types of information in all cases. The percentage of incidents of domestic abuse where information was not recorded is shown in the following table:


Not Recorded

Crimes and offences



Sex of victim



Sex of perpetrator



Sex of victim and perpetrator



No. of previous incidents against victim



Age of victim



Age of perpetrator



Location of incident



Relationship between victim and perpetrator



Action taken by police






4.2.5 Reporting Practice

The statistics reported in this bulletin do not reveal the incidence of all domestic abuse committed since not all incidents are reported to the police. A number of reasons have been found for such under reporting. For example, victims experience fear and shame as common effects of domestic abuse. In addition, under reporting may also be caused by a perpetrator physically preventing a victim reporting the domestic abuse.

The statistics provided from this data return have highlighted the different ways in which police forces record information. In particular, police practice in deciding when the behaviour justifies the recording of a crime or offence may differ. For example, some forces have ruled that no crime or offence should be recorded if no further action is to be taken e.g. because the victim does not wish any action to be taken. Other forces may record this as a crime or offence. These differences clearly influence the proportion of incidents which lead to the recording of a crime or offence. This ranged from 99 per cent in Tayside, to 36 per cent in Central in 2009-10. Tayside's figures show a marked change in this regard from the figures published for 2004-05. This is because during 2004 Tayside was returning crimes with crime codes not recognised by Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services. This recording issue has now been resolved.

Differences in the recording of crimes and offences also influence the proportion of recorded crimes and offences which are referred to the procurator fiscal. There was much less variation between police forces in the proportion of all incidents of domestic abuse which led to a referral to the procurator fiscal.

It should be noted that these recording practices are under continuing review with the intention of achieving consistency across Scotland.

4.2.6 Legislation

As well as common law, some of the main legislation applicable to domestic abuse is as follows:

  • Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006 (Section 31 of this Act introduced the concept of "domestic interdicts" into the 1981 Act, which applies to unmarried cohabitants (either opposite-sex or same-sex). Domestic interdicts have much the same effect in relation to cohabitants as matrimonial interdicts have for married couples as is defined in section 10 of this Act, which amends section 14 of the 1981 Act to extend the scope of matrimonial interdicts to include not only a matrimonial home, but also any other home owned by the applicant, the applicant's place of work and the school attended by any child in the applicant's care).
    • Protection from Abuse (Scotland) Act 2001
    • Criminal Justice Act 1998
    • Crime and Disorder Act 1998
    • Protection from Harassment Act 1997
    • Family Law Act 1996
    • Matrimonial Homes (Family Law) (Scotland) Act 1981

4.2.7 Recording of crimes and offences

Contraventions of Scottish criminal law are divided for statistical purposes into crimes and offences. The term "crime" is generally used for the more serious criminal acts; the less serious are termed "offences", although the term "offence" may also be used in relation to serious breaches of criminal law. The distinction is made only for working purposes and the "seriousness" of the offence is generally related to the maximum sentence that can be imposed.

The detailed classification of crimes and offences used by the Scottish Government to collect criminal statistics contains about 360 codes.

In Scotland, assault is a common law offence. In order to distinguish between serious and minor assaults, police forces use the following common definition of what is a serious assault.

"An assault or attack in which the victim sustains injury resulting in detention in hospital as an inpatient, for the treatment of that injury, or any of the following injuries whether or not detained in hospital;

  • Fractures (the breaking or cracking of a bone. Note - nose is cartilage not bone, so a 'broken nose' should not be classified unless it meets one of the other criteria)
  • Internal injuries
  • Severe concussion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Lacerations requiring sutures which may lead to impairment or disfigurement
  • Any other injury which may lead to impairment or disfigurement."

4.2.8 Crimes and offences cleared up

The definition of 'cleared up' was revised with effect from 1 April 1996. Previously, a crime or offence was regarded as being cleared up if one or more offenders was apprehended, cited, warned or traced for it. This was revised as follows:

A crime or offence is regarded as cleared up where there exists a sufficiency of evidence under Scots law, to justify consideration of criminal proceedings notwithstanding that a report is not submitted to the procurator fiscal because either

(i) by standing agreement with the procurator fiscal, the police warn the accused due to the minor nature of the offence, or

(ii) reporting is inappropriate due to the non-age of the accused, death of the accused or other similar circumstances.

For some types of crimes and offences the case is cleared up immediately because the offender is caught in the act e.g. motoring offences. In Scots law, the confession of an accused person to a crime would not in general be sufficient to allow a prosecution to be taken, as corroborative evidence is required. Thus, a case cannot be regarded as 'cleared up' on the basis of a confession alone.

It has been suggested that the above definition of 'cleared up' may not have been applied consistently in all police forces returning data on incidents of domestic abuse.

4.2.9 Other sources of domestic abuse (related) statistics

The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey 2008-09

The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey: First Findings ( SCJS) 2008-09 had an enhanced self-completion section on domestic abuse. This section has been completely reworked and questions about sexual assault/rape have been added in consultation with stakeholders. The definition of abuse is wider than used in 2006 and includes physical, emotional/psychological, sexual and financial abuse by partners. This definition of abuse is closer to the UN definition of violence against women but is not a gender based definition. Findings from the SCJS 2008-09, partner abuse module were published in December 2009: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/12/14103249/0

It was estimated that the police came to know about one in five (21 per cent) of the most recent /only incidents of partner abuse experienced in the last 12 months. This was higher for female victims (35 per cent) than for male victims (eight per cent).

Findings of the 2009-10 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey, Partner Abuse module will be published on 9 December 2010.

Evaluation of the 2008-09 Domestic Abuse awareness raising campaign:http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2009/07/15100712/0

4.2.10 User review of bulletin content 2010

In June 2010, the Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services carried out a survey of users of the Domestic Abuse Recorded by the Police in Scotland statistical bulletin series. A copy of the report and recommendations can be viewed online via the following link: /Topics/Statistics/Browse/Crime-Justice/scotstatcrime/StakeCon/DAConResult

4.2.11 Other

The following symbols are used throughout the tables in this bulletin.

- = Nil
* = <0.5