THOUSANDS of convicted domestic abusers are going unpunished each year in Scotland, with just one in ten jailed and a third receiving nothing more than a warning, new figures show.
A Scottish parliamentary answer has revealed that, of 8,869 people convicted of domestic abuse in 2011-12, just 1,104 were sent to prison. Of the rest, 2,739 received a warning, 2,253 were given a community sentence and 2,683 were ordered to pay a fine.
The revelation has prompted claims that the Scottish justice system is failing to take a zero-tolerance approach against violence in the home.
Conservative MSP John Lamont, who obtained the figures, said too many offenders were being sent back to their victims. He said: “If we are to reassure victims of domestic abuse that we are taking them seriously, we must adopt a zero-tolerance approach towards such an awful crime.
“However, these figures show this is far from the case, with nearly a third of those prosecuted simply receiving a slap on the wrist.
“The vast majority of those who have committed these crimes are immediately able to carry them out again, and nearly 80 per cent of those who are sent to jail are out within just six months.
“It is no wonder victims are so reluctant to report abuse to police, when the figures show most offenders will be given a fine or a warning.” He added: “These figures show the courts are providing no protection to their victims, creating a vicious cycle of abuse that we are doing nothing to stop.
“We need to restore faith in our justice system on this issue and the best way to do this would be to stop putting abusers straight back into the homes of victims.”
Police Scotland, which came into being last month, has made tackling domestic abuse one of its top priorities. It has created a specialist domestic abuse task force, made up of 25 officers, focusing expertise and establishing best practice for the force.
Community centres, housing associations and citizens’ advice offices are being enlisted as remote reporting stations, where victims can talk about crimes if they are not yet ready to speak to police, in the hope that more will come forward.
The figures cover verbal as well as physical abuse and refer to 2011-12, before Police Scotland came into being and when there were eight regional forces. They do offer some encouragement for police and prosecutors. Of 10,499 people prosecuted for domestic abuse, 8,869 were convicted, a rate of about 85 per cent.
However, support organisations warned that victims often needed the separation from an offender that only a prison sentence can bring.
Mhairi McGowan, head of Assist, an advocacy body for domestic abuse victims, said: “Sometimes the risk is so high a short sentence is really useful, as it takes him out of the picture. It may give the family time to move, to protect themselves against this perpetrator.”
In other cases, she said, community punishments were more useful.
“At the end of the day, the most important thing is that we change behaviour.”
Ms McGowan said fines could often mean a punishment for the victims or their children.
“I would be concerned if sheriffs were fining where there was still a relationship [between the offender and victim], because the money comes out of the family income,” she said.
Victims’ organisations were not willing to criticise sentencing, particularly without knowing the circumstances of individual cases.
However, Victim Support Scotland said fear of further violence could be a barrier to victims coming forward.
A spokesman said: “There are complicated factors involved in domestic abuse, in reporting it and following that through, such as fear of reprisals, and for the safety of the children.”
Latest figures show that in Scotland, police recorded 59,847 such incidents in 2011-12, up from 55,698 the previous year.
Professor Rachel Pain, of Durham University, who interviewed 18 Scottish victims as part of a study for Scottish Women’s Aid, has described domestic abuse as “everyday terrorism”. Speaking at a conference in Edinburgh earlier this year, she said both crimes saw a constant fear used to gain control.
Domestic abuse, it is claimed, costs the Scottish economy £2.3 billion a year through expenses such as police and health costs and lost earnings.
However, it is the human cost that ministers are most determined to address.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are clear that domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime for which there is never any excuse and efforts by Police Scotland to tackle this crime are supported with robust legislation.”