CONTRARY to a widely believed local myth sexual violence against women is as widespread in Shetland as it is in the rest of the country.
Marking its first year as an independent charity Rape Crisis Shetland is embarking on an awareness campaign that should help – among other things – busting this widespread misconception.
As part of the 16 Days of Activism project under the motto #GenerationEquality the charity is hosting the Violence Unseen travelling photography exhibition that officially opens at Mareel on Thursday and will also be on show at Sumburgh Airport and Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary.
Launching the organisation’s first annual report, sexual violence prevention worker Lisa Ward said the charity is looking back at a busy first nine months between July 2018 and the end of March 2019.
Founded as a pilot project in February 2016 with Linda Gray as the driving force, Shetland Rape Crisis became a standalone charity with its own board of trustees on 10 July 2018.
The charity offers free and confidential support to anyone aged 13 and over in Shetland affected by any kind of sexual violence. The vast majority of clients are female but men are also using the service.
Tip of the iceberg
“The service has been manically busy since it first began as a pilot project in 2016, and demand has only gone up,” Ward said, adding there are some local characteristics when understanding the extent of sexual violence in Shetland – in that it is usually more domestic-based.
But it is not unique when comparing the number of reported cases of sexual violence, according to Ward.
“We experience similar rates than elsewhere in Scotland even though there is a perception that is doesn’t happen here,” she said.
She added that it was difficult to precisely say how widespread sexual violence was since services such Rape Crisis Shetland would ever only see “the tip of the iceberg”.
“We only deal with people who require formal support; the vast majority of people don’t require formal support, as they either find a way to cope and carry on whether this is healthy or not, or they get help and support from friends and family,” Ward said.
Writing in the annual report, chair of the board of trustees Carol Scott added: “In the early days of Shetland Rape Crisis, a common misconception was that there could be no need for such a service in this flourishing small island community, but this was quickly demonstrated to be false with demand for services starting out high and growing consistently ever since.”
The service offers specialist trauma and emotional support services to those affected by sexual violence, supports victims through its advocacy service when dealing with police and subsequent legal proceedings, as well as talking to teenagers in schools and youth groups to educate and raise awareness on topics such as the meaning of consent, healthy relationships and more.
During 2018/19 the charity delivered 53 workshops in all seven secondary schools from Sandwick in the south to Baltasound in Unst, reaching more than 800 young people, boys and girls.
Activism worker Lavinia Schmidt said to get the Zero Tolerance exhibition to come to Shetland during the global #Generation Equality campaign was “quite a scoop”.
Working with award-winning photographer Alicia Brown, the images in the Violence Unseen exhibition were created in collaboration with a number organisations including the national disabled people’s organisation People First (Scotland). They aim to encourage people to stop and consider the true impact of violence against women.
A spokeswoman for People First said: “We know that more women with disabilities, including learning disability, are abused more than other women.
“That doesn’t mean we should hide away and it doesn’t mean that we should put up with it. We need to raise our expectations and make sure we are treated in aw ay that we deserve to be.”
Ward added: “It is immensely isolating when it does happen to you. The irony is that although sexual violence is so very, very common, people feel isolated because they are not talking about it.
“Speaking about it is part of removing the stigma and isolation.”
“And because they don’t share their experiences, they think they are the only person that it happened to.
“And that also adds to the other standard myths: that if this happened to you then it must have been because of something you were doing.”
She continued saying: “Part of Lavinia’s and my work is to go out and say to people ‘you are not alone, as most people have experienced some sexual contact they don’t agree with’. Speaking about it is part of removing the stigma and isolation.”
The Violence Unseen exhibition launches at Mareel on Thursday at 6pm, and will be open to the public from 22 to 24 November between 10am and 8pm.
The exhibition then moves to Sumburgh Airport where it can be seen during airport opening hours from 28 November to 2 December, before heading north to the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary. Opening hours there are midday to 5pm between 5 and 10 December, although people are advised to call 01806 503348 before visiting.
Shetland Rape Crisis can be contacted by calling 01595 747174 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org For anonymous support call the Rape Crisis Scotland helpline (6pm to midnight) on freephone 08088 010302.