Dundee abuse survivor who feared for her life welcomes domestic violence crackdown

A domestic abuse survivor welcomed a new law aimed at cracking down on controlling behaviour.

The Domestic Abuse bill, given unanimous backing by MSPs, includes psychological abuse such as coercive and controlling behaviour as well as violence.

The new law was praised by a survivor who wishes the law had been implemented prior to her ordeal.

Joanna Harrison, of Menzieshill, is still recovering from the abuse suffered at the hands of her controlling ex, 25-year-old Reece Smith.

Some of the injuries suffered by Joanna

She was pinned down and battered by Smith in her own home, fearing she was going to die.

The mum-of-one hopes the new bill will encourage more women to speak out about abuse of all forms.

Joanna, 23, said: “This is definitely such a big step going forward.

“It’s a really good thing because what a lot of people don’t understand is the psychological abuse stays with you for so long.

Thug Reece Smith

“My bruises and cuts healed but the psychological damage has stayed with me.

“I’m still trying to recover from it. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after what had happened to me.”

She added: “I’ve been dealing with it for years and for some women, it may only be the psychological abuse that they’ve suffered rather than physical.

“So if that means that they are now able to take something forward because of this new law then that’s great.

“I do think things are changing. There’s a lot more recognition about domestic abuse, the authorities are taking it a lot more seriously and I think there’s more help available.

“It would have been good if it was in place at the time for me personally.”

The new law states examples of coercive and controlling behaviour include isolating a partner from their friends and relatives or controlling their finances.

Police in Dundee will also be given more training on how to spot signs of psychological harm.

Joanna after an attack from Reece Smith

Figures show people in Dundee are more likely to fall victim to domestic abuse than any other council area in Scotland.

Recent statistics show that 2,356 incidents were reported in 2015/16 — more than 32% above the national average. Sophie Gwyther, team leader at Dundee Women’s Aid, described the passing of the bill as a “historical moment” for Scotland.

She said: “We are obviously delighted that it’s been passed.

“It’s a huge step forward — I think it will take time to get the word out to women and it’s through groups like ourselves to make that happen.

“I still think that a lot of work needs to be done on coercive and controlling behaviour.

Joanna Harrison

“One of the biggest issues is the way the court system deals with domestic offences. There needs to be more understanding from people involved and perhaps there should be a specific domestic abuse court.

“I think it is a historical moment for Scotland and the women who have experienced domestic abuse.”