POLICE Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House has claimed that domestic abuse is so widespread that there will be perpetrators and victims among his own officers and staff.
The head of the new single police force said that friends and colleagues of suspected victims had a duty to look out for one another and raise concerns.
He also said that, too often, abusive behaviour may be dismissed as “bad form” or simply a “broken relationship”.
Sir Stephen put domestic abuse at the top of the agenda for the new force, alongside tackling organised crime, when he was appointed to the top job in September 2012 ahead of the Police Scotland launch in April.
“We acknowledge ourselves that we are an organisation of some 23,000 people, and amongst those 23,000 people we will have both victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse – every organisation does,” he said.
“Every housing estate has people that are victims, every workplace, and it’s incumbent on all of us to think about it and occasionally ask some questions.
“Even within the police, local authorities, newspapers even, statistically there will be [victims and perpetrators].”
Sir Stephen said that too often domestic abuse is dismissed as a troubled relationship.
“A lot of people think the phrase ‘domestic abuse’ sounds softer that it is,” he said.
“In well over 50 per cent of the cases that we see, there’s a crime being committed.
“That means the person doing it is a criminal, it’s against the law, it’s not just like ‘that’s bad form’, or ‘that’s a broken relationship’ – it’s a crime.”
Tomorrow, figures due to go before the Scottish Police Authority, which scrutinises the new single force, will show that there were 60,457 domestic abuse incidents reported in 2012-13. This was up from 59,847 in 2011-12, and from 55,698 the previous year. In about 55 per cent of cases, a crime is recorded.
From the start of this year until now, there have been 10,972 crimes recorded, which is a 16.4 per cent increase on the same period last year.
Sir Stephen was speaking at the launch of a new Edinburgh Festival Fringe play named Our Glass House, which is partly funded by Police Scotland and set in a council house.
Audience members are led into the property in the capital’s Wester Hailes district where six scenarios involving domestic abuse are being played out.
Violent and startling at times, the story is played among the audience members and culminates with a dramatic finale on the street outside. It features Jasmin Riggins from hit film The Angels’ Share and former River City actress Jo Cameron Brown.
Sir Stephen said his force had taken the unusual step of backing the play, along with the Scottish Government, to challenge attitudes towards domestic abuse.
“This is the first time we’ve used a Fringe show, but in another force I’ve used theatre shows, because it’s a very effective way of getting across to people the message of domestic abuse, because most people don’t see or experience domestic abuse,” he said.
“The next best thing without the pain and the suffering is to experience it in a theatrical setting. Experiencing this raises emotions and you’d be very hard-hearted not to have an emotional connection in relation to domestic abuse.
“And I say that to my officers, ‘If you didn’t join the police service to help people at their most vulnerable, then why are you in your job?’”
He added: “Part of the idea behind this is to make people reach out to someone they perhaps suspect is being abused or help to empower the victims themselves.
“Perhaps in extreme cases a perpetrator could even see this and say, ‘This is how it really looks’.”
Jenny Kemp, from the anti-domestic abuse organisation Zero Tolerance, said: “We agree with Stephen House that many people misunderstand domestic abuse. It’s not a row, it’s a deliberate attempt by one person to control another.”, she said.
“Perpetrators often use violence to maintain that control. The more people who understand what domestic abuse really is, the more people will try to prevent it in their own families, workplaces and communities.”