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Women’s Aid: time to ‘blow lid off’ domestic abuse

Shetland Women's Aid support worker Karen MacKelvie.

SHETLAND Women’s Aid says it is time to “blow the lid off” domestic abuse on the island, and have invited a world leading expert in violence against women to visit Orkney and Shetland.  

The Shetland service has seen its caseload almost double recently, with programmes constantly “full to overflowing”. Orkney reports a similar problem.

On Tuesday night, a world-leading expert on ending violence against women, Michael Kaufman, will be in the isles to give a talk at the Lerwick Legion at 8.30pm. Entitled ‘Raising Our Sons To Be Good Men’, he aims to encourage active fatherhood and promote more positive ideals of manhood.

Among the distressing cases dealt with by support workers in Shetland are commercial sexual exploitation, sexual assault, rape and honour-based violence. However, it is domestic abuse where they are seeing the biggest demand for their help.

Shetland Women’s Aid support worker Karen MacKelvie said: “We’ve seen an expansion in demand for our services. When we first set up the IDAA (Independent Domestic Abuse Advocate) service for high risk clients we did not expect it to be full to overflowing all the time, but we are. In fact right across the service there is generally more work on our plate.

“We are seeing more and more cases of sexual assault and rape, as well as more cases where a woman has been living with domestic abuse for decades and comes forward for the first time.  

“It seems wholly unreal here in seemingly affluent Shetland. Some of the stories we hear would match any written in the media and it’s scary how much still remains behind closed doors. It illustrates how important it is not to remain silent about what we’ve seen.

“And we’ve seen it all here. Every category of gender based violence comes through our door, from commercial sexual exploitation to sexual assault and rape to honour based violence but by far the biggest category is still domestic abuse, the scourge of homes across the world, where one person in a relationship decides they are entitled to hold the other person hostage in their own home and strip them of their human rights and it’s time to blow the lid off.

“It’s time to have a real honest look at Shetland life and Shetland attitudes and admit that some of them are due for an upgrade.”

Dr Michael Kaufman gives a talk at the Legion at 8.30pm on Tuesday.

Shetland Women’s Aid is currently working with 87 women and 50 children and young people. Over the year the total so far is 176 women and 101 children.

This compares to previous years where on average they would deal with around 85 women and 60 children over the whole year. The figures show demand on the service has almost doubled.

The situation in both Orkney and Shetland reflects the wider trend across Scotland, with the latest Scottish Government statistics showing a rise in sexual violence – an 11 per cent increase in 2014/15.

Shetland Women’s Aid say the islands are no worse than the rest of the country, but they want to challenge any perception that Shetland and Orkney are immune to the issues which affect mainland Scotland.  

Island communities also often face unique problems in tackling such issues due to the isolation of many of the women and children they’re trying to assist.

Children and young people’s worker Louise Simpson said: “Certainly in the children’s service we have to be incredibly flexible and creative to help young people access our service. Working within a small community we are all aware that client anonymity can be compromised.

“So for young people to access the service we have to tread really carefully and listen to where they would be most comfortable going for an appointment and meeting them there. We have to think out of the box for clients to access our service.

“We’re a Shetland-wide service, trying to cover 15 inhabited islands where there is limited public transport. Sometimes a woman doesn’t have the bus fare to get into Lerwick because she’s been denied any money of her own. We try to offer alternatives, where we can, but inevitably we can’t reach out to every woman or young person that needs us.

“The best we can do is to be available and flexible and build on our strong reputation within the community so that maybe a woman can come forward for help.”

To help tackle the problem, both Orkney and Shetland have invited Kaufman, the co-founder of the White Ribbon Campaign, to visit the islands. The campaign is the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women. His visit this week is being funded by the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit and local businesses.

Kaufman said: “In Scotland, in Canada where I’m from, and all around the world, women have been courageously standing up to abusive relationships and working to raise public awareness about the violence committed by some men.

“Finally, more and more men are saying, ‘We belong at your side.’ After all, the majority of men don’t use physical, sexual, or emotional violence in our relationships. But historically we’ve been silent about the violence committed by some of our brothers. Through that silence we’ve allowed the violence to continue. Now, many men are looking at their own attitudes and behaviour.

“More are learning to question what goes on around them, whether sexual harassment at work, to sexual and physical violence in relationships. I’m happy to return to Scotland once again, a country I truly love, to join forces with some of the women and men working to bring this violence to an end forever.”

Chief Inspector Graham Goulden from the VRU will accompany Kaufman on his visit to the islands.

Goulden runs the Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) programme which encourages friends, family, professionals and the public not to ignore the signs of dating violence or domestic abuse.  The programme gives participants the skills to safely intervene.

He said: “We know that both crime and violence in Scotland is declining. However sexual violence and domestic abuse cases are regrettably on the rise. This visit from Michael Kaufman to Scotland will explore the impact of gender inequality and make links to violence against women. Let’s be clear: ‘gender equality’ is not just about making things better for girls and women, such equality is good for boys and men too.”

 MacKelvie welcomed the visit, adding: “It is a call to the vast majority of Shetland men, who we know are not abusive and who could help to put forward a strong response to the problem and help get the message out that it’s not okay.”