Scotland will be one of the first countries to criminalise psychological abuse, MSPs were told yesterday.
Michael Matheson, the justice secretary, condemned the “pernicious, coercive and controlling behaviour” of those who inflicted domestic abuse through psychological means.
He told MSPs of some of the “horrendous” types of behaviour victims can be forced to endure — but which cannot currently be prosecuted by the courts.
The Scottish government is bringing in a domestic abuse bill that will create an offence of “abusive behaviour in relation to a partner or ex-partner”.
It will also include proposals to ensure that psychological abuse, such as coercive and controlling behaviour, can be prosecuted effectively.
The justice secretary said that perpetrators “may not necessarily use physical violence against their partner or even overt threats” but they could “behave in a highly-controlling, abusive way over a long period of time”.
“Examples of what abusers may do to humiliate their partners are horrendous. For example, abusers may force them to eat food off the floor, control access to the toilet, repeatedly put them down and tell them they are worthless.
“Abusers also try to control every aspect of their partner’s life, by, for example, preventing them from attending work or college, stopping them making contact with family or friends, giving them no or limited access to money, checking or controlling their use of their phone and social media.”
He said that where such behaviour was not accompanied by physical violence or overt threats, “which can often be the case”, it could currently be “very difficult to prosecute”.
He added: “A perpetrator may have subjected their partner to years of abuse but may only have been convicted of a single instance of assault or threatening and abusive behaviour.”
Mr Matheson stressed, however, that the new law would not criminalise “ordinary arguments and friction that may occur in many relationships”.
Police Scotland recorded almost 60,000 cases of domestic abuse in 2014-15. Of these, 79 per cent involved a male perpetrator and a female victim.