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Community / Greater awareness linked to sharp rise in reports of domestic abuse, meeting hears

Photo by Laura Dodsworth as part of the 'one thousand words' project by Zero Tolerance and Scottish Women's Aid.

INCREASED awareness is a key reason why the number of domestic abuse cases recorded in Shetland has nearly tripled compared to last year, the isles’ community safety and resilience board heard on Thursday.

Figures presented to members of the board showed that there were 56 instances of domestic abuse reported between April and September this year compared to 20 in the same period in 2018.

Police chief inspector Lindsay Tulloch described it as “reassuring” that more domestic abuse cases were being reported and brought to the attention of officers.

He noted that while the figures have sharply increased, it does not mean to say that domestic abuse has generally increased at the same rate as many cases could relate to abuse carried out in the past.

“There might be historical offences,” Tulloch said.

The police chief added that an important focus is getting to the bottom of the source of offending and “understand how these issues manifest in the first place”.

South mainland councillor Allison Duncan said the numbers were a “substantial increase”, and he questioned why the figures had risen so much.

NHS Shetland consultant in public health medicine Susan Laidlaw, who is involved with the Shetland Domestic Abuse Partnership, said there was a variety of reasons but she noted “there’s been a lot more awareness raising” recently.

She said the introduction of new legislation in Scotlandearlier this year extending the reach of domestic abuse law to include coercive and controlling behaviour has had a “significant effect” on awareness on what constitutes domestic offending.

Laidlaw also said that interest in the subject from the media as well as local campaigns has promoted a greater understanding on domestic abuse.

Shetland Women’s Aid and the local Rape Crisis branch both welcomed the introduction of the new law and the two organisations continue efforts to raise awareness.

“If it’s happening, if we can get in earlier with interventions, that’s better,” Laidlaw said.

Board chairman councillor Alastair Cooper said a concern of his was the reducing budgets of third sector organisations that assist in areas like domestic abuse.

“It’s a struggle more and more with funding in all directions,” he warned – pointing also to the budgets of the likes of NHS Shetland and Shetland Islands Council.

Laidlaw said that having to rely on recurring funding could be troubling for Women’s Aid and Shetland Rape Crisis.

“They do really struggle for funding, and I think it will be an ongoing battle,” she said.

Cooper said he was pleased to see awareness of domestic abuse being raised in the isles.

“As a community I think we need to be very aware it does go on around on us,” he added.

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021