A GROWING awareness of domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence issues has seen the workload of the local branch of Scottish Women's Aid increase significantly over recent months.
The Lerwick-based charity is looking after almost 100 women, teenagers and children recovering and moving on from the various forms of domestic abuse.
Manager Laura Stronach said her team of case workers were changing and developing the service all the time to adapt to changing circumstances and challenges.
While in the past Women's Aid predominantly helped women who were experiencing abuse in their intimate relationships, the spectrum of vulnerability is much wider today.
"Men can also experience domestic abuse. Thankfully there are services for all in Shetland. MARAC [which stands for Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference] picks up domestic abuse in relationships regardless of gender. Men are referred to Victim Support and Women to Women's Aid," Stronach said.
"We accept and work within the gendered definition of domestic abuse as laid out by the Scottish Government. This definition does not deny that women use violence but understands domestic abuse as a form of gender inequality, and an abuse of male power and privilege.
"Shetland is no different from anywhere else nationwide in terms of statistics around domestic abuse and other gender-based violence".
One in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence worldwide – mostly by an intimate partner (World Health Organisation, 2013).
In 2012, one in two women killed worldwide were killed by their partners or family. Only one out of 20 of all men killed were killed in such circumstances (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Global Study on Homicide 2013).
"The children's team have noticed an increase in referrals from adolescent girls who have experienced domestic abuse and are entering their own abusive relationships," Stronach said.
"We feel this is perpetuated by a lack of awareness and normalisation of gender-based violence and day to day discrimination within their peer groups."
In reaction, Shetland Women's Aid is working to address these issues through group-based education and social and emotional support for adolescents who have experienced domestic abuse and the trauma associated with gender-based violence.
"There is a gap in the support available for adolescents nationally. We hope to help begin filling this gap by developing a trauma recovery group programme for adolescents," she said.
"Our outreach worker is back out in schools raising awareness in all S3 pupils across Shetland, teaching about healthy relationships, gender equality, domestic abuse and where to get help."
Stronach continued saying: "High-profile cases have led to more people coming forward for help and historic abuse cases surfacing.
"Women's Aid embrace the theme of International Women's Day Press for Progress recognising that Shetland has a real opportunity to make a difference whilst being mindful of the impact and potential harm caused by publicity and social media to individuals in a small community.
"Our charity offers a strictly confidential service where you can disclose domestic abuse. We provide specialist short to long-term support for women and children including safety, refuge, practical and emotional support, therapeutic support and counselling.
"People can refer themselves to us, but we have referrals coming in from social work, housing, police, the domestic abuse unit in Inverness, GPs and all healthcare services.
"There are some cases referred through the schools and education, but domestic abuse is so under-reported that it is usually a family member or a self-referral.
"It is so important that we can work closely with other agencies to keep folk safe and help them make informed choices at their own pace, with an in-depth understanding of the complex dynamics of domestic abuse."
Stronach said the recent passing of the domestic abuse bill, which makes psychological abuse and coercive control in the home a criminal offence in Scotland, had further increased awareness.
"There is an awakening," she said. "People are reaching out, realising they can do something about it and change their lives."
Scottish Women's Aid chief executive Dr Marsha Scott said: "This week's celebrations of International Women's Day encourage us to reflect on the extraordinary contribution that Women's Aid workers make every day in our communities.
"Nowhere is this more evident than in Shetland, where a small but perfectly formed team of women serve, support, and protect children, young people, and women experiencing domestic abuse.
"The challenges of providing services in small island communities are great, almost as great as the rewards! I am constantly inspired by the creativity, commitment and compassion I see and hear about in the everyday, ordinary magic of Women's Aid."
Scottish Women's Aid helpline is available 24 hours on 0800 027 1234. Shetland Women's Aid can be contacted on telephone 01595 692070 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. They can also be contacted via Facebook.
More info is also avaialble at: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/domestic-abuse/domestic-abuse-facts-statistics/