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Community / Reporting of sexual crimes has doubled in a decade

Rape crisis hopes figures point to islanders feeling more able to come forward

SHETLAND Rape Crisis says the organisation hopes an increase in the reporting of sexual crimes in the islands reflects progress in encouraging victims to come forward in recent years.

National Records of Scotland (NRS) data shows the number of such crimes being reported has more than doubled in a decade – numbering 56 in 2019/20 compared to 25 in 2010/11.

It is also up slightly on the 48 crimes recorded in 2018/19, which had been previously the highest recorded. Nationally over 40 per cent of such crimes involve a victim under the age of 18.

Shetland Rape Crisis service manager Lisa Ward said it was “important to recognise that a rise in the number of reports does not necessarily mean that there has been a rise in the occurrence of sexual crime”.

In addition to the global #metoo movement, in the wake of high profile cases such as Harvey Weinstein, Scalloway teenager Rhea has run what Ward described as an “amazing” #wistoo campaign to raise awareness.

“Sexual violence is pervasive in all communities and formal reports make up just the tip of the iceberg, meaning it can be difficult to interpret small number variations year-on-year,” Ward said.

“However, there is a chance that this might signify a positive change in attitudes. We won’t know if this is the case until we see the trend over a number of years, but I am hopeful that this is a sign that people are feeling more able to come forward and speak about what they have experienced.”

With the exception of a few days at the end of March, the figures largely pre-date the nationwide lockdown and so any effect on domestic abuse figures resulting from Covid-19 will only show up in the 2020/21 figures.

Ward pointed to “a lot of positive changes” in the last few years including the aforementioned publicity along with the opening of an on-isles forensic medical examinations service following government lobbying and the establishment of her organisation’s advocacy and support service.

“It is also perhaps a combination of these things that have made reporting feel more accessible to survivors than it was previously,” she said.

Ward encouraged anyone who has been a victim and is interested in finding out more about reporting, or anyone who is “feeling a bit lost in the system” having filed a report, to contact the advocacy and support service.

“We can support you to make the decision that’s right for you and, should you choose to report, we are here to help you navigate the criminal justice system,” she added. “You do not have to be alone in this.”

Meanwhile, crimes of dishonesty including theft halved from 358 in 2010/11 to 179 in 2019/20. Instances of housebreaking also halved from 51 down to 24 in the same time period.

Total crime dropped by a third from 726 to 485 and the number of cases of driving under the influence fell to 16 – the lowest it has been in the last ten years.

Shetland area commander chief inspector Lindsay Tulloch said: “Public confidence in policing was up by 20 percentage points during the first quarter of 2020-21. This increase in confidence means more people are coming forward to report crimes and it is important to distinguish that from the actual number of crimes that have taken place.

“Our national, specialist resources support local policing to investigate thoroughly all allegations of criminality whether in the public, private or virtual space.

“We will continue to identify victims of sexual crime proactively, including complex, online and non-recent offending, and work with partners to encourage survivors to come forward.”