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Community / Sexual harassment study ‘exceptional work’ but findings are unsurprising, Women’s Aid says

A NEW study detailing first-hand accounts of sexual harassment and abuse people have experienced suffered in Shetland has been hailed as an “exceptional piece of work” by Shetland Women’s Aid.

However, manager Laura Stronach said the accounts in the report, which range from inappropriate touching to rape, did not come as a surprise to the charity.

Shetland Women’s Aid manager Laura Stronach.

Towards a Safer Shetland was compiled by 16-year-old Rhea from Scalloway and it was published on Monday evening with the help of sexual violence charity Shetland Rape Crisis.

It featured a total of 66 anonymous accounts of sexual harassment, abuse and violence and it was widely hailed as a vital piece of work.

Shetland Women’s Aid (SWA), a domestic abuse specialist service for women and children, welcomed the report and said the charity “stands with Shetland Rape Crisis in the fight to eradicate all violence and violation of women and children” in the isles.

“This is an exceptional piece of work by Rhea and we respect everyone who has felt they can share their experiences with her,” Stronach said.

The Women’s Aid team added that “unfortunately none of what is exposed in this document is a surprise to us here at SWA”.

“We hear these things daily, and while not being alarmist, it is of utmost importance that people are made aware and feel able to speak out,” they said.

One aim of the report was to highlight that sexual abuse is as much of a problem in Shetland as it is on the mainland.

Stronach, though, believes that Shetland may actually come with extra risk due to the size of the community.

“Shetland is no different to anywhere else, in fact sometimes there is a greater risk and opportunities for coercion, manipulation, abuse and subsequent silence due to the fact it is such a small community and people will ‘know’ and ‘cast blame’ or ‘not believe me’,” she said.

“We have in Shetland, greater freedom which can be abused and used, and people trust acquaintances perhaps which can create opportunity for someone who can then take advantage of the situation.

“An example of this we have seen is drivers taking advantage of those who need lifts home, especially at the weekends which can lead to sexual assault and rape.

“Sexual assault, rape and pregnancy are all tactics used in the capture and control of women and children. We stand with Shetland Rape Crisis in the fight to eradicate all violence and violation of women and children in Shetland.”

The women’s aid team said they want to warn young people of these dangers, and would “encourage and welcome others to share their experiences”.

“By doing so, this could protect those who may be naïve to potential dangers and also empower us to protect each other and speak out,” they added.

Stronach said as a community “we need to call out, the normalisation of sexual assault, coercion and rape within relationships and marriage, these are not things women and children should ever have to live with”.

“The kind of behaviours exposed here are absolutely unacceptable and no one should have to go through any of these experiences. If you have been affected by anything mentioned in this article or our response please talk to someone about it.”

You can speak to someone at Shetland Women’s Aid on 015959 692070, 07867300565/07810796556, or office@shetlandwa.org. They can also be found on Facebook/Messenger.

Shetland Rape Crisis can be contacted on 01595 747 174, mobile 07470 998 910 or contact@shetlandrapecrisis.scot.