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Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Abuse legislation must go further to protect children, Holyrood MSPs told

Written by The Press Association

Legislation to tackle domestic abuse must go further to protect children, MSPs have been told.

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill creates a specific criminal offence of ''abusive behaviour towards a partner or ex-partner'', including psychological abuse - such as coercive and controlling behaviour.

It also includes the introduction of an aggravation in relation to a child.

Children's organisations, though, have called for a parallel offence of domestic abuse against children to be included.

They told Holyrood's Justice Committee such a measure would help ensure youngsters living in an abusive home are fully recognised as victims.

Megan Farr (pictured), of the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, said: "It is not an offence of coercive control of children, it is the harm that is done to children when there is coercive control in the environment in which they live.

"The creation of a separate offence relating to children in the specific context of domestic abuse is one way of making sure children have the same protection as adults in terms of this Act."

The Children 1st charity also supports calls for a separate offence.

It said it remains "concerned that failing to recognise children as victims of coercive and controlling behaviour within the proposed offence will make children less visible to services and place them at greater risk of continued abuse by the perpetrator".

Chloe Riddell, the organisation's policy manager, explained that children can be affected if an abused parent is so psychologically traumatised that they cannot provide nutritious meals or get the child ready for school, for example.

Some have also witnessed violence and sexual abuse.

She told the committee: "We know that in one of our support groups we have six six-year-olds and every single one of them has called 999 at least once in their lives.

"In those cases, we think the Bill as it stands doesn't recognise that significant impact of the perpetrator's behaviour and the way they perpetrate domestic abuse. That is a significant gap."

Other abuse and its effects on children can be seemingly innocuous and difficult to prove, she added.

"The abusing parent, for example, may take the car seat to work, which may seem an innocuous task, but it's actually preventing the child and the mother from leaving the house," she said.

"Just because it might be difficult (to prove), that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be ambitious, that we shouldn't be far-reaching and there aren't ways to do it."

To view the Justice Committee session, visit here: http://www.scottishparliament.tv/20170620__justice

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