“WALKING home alone at night may not be where women in Shetland are most at risk of misogynistic violence, but this does not mean they are safe from it either. And there is still a lot of work to be done to address this.”
That is the message from Shetland Rape Crisis service manager Lisa Ward following the killing of Sarah Everard, who went missing while walking home alone in London earlier this month.
It has prompted countless women from around the country to share stories on social media about feeling unsafe when out and about, while the police response to a vigil held for Everard in London at the weekend – which saw some women being detained – prompted an outcry from many corners of the political spectrum and beyond.
Thirty three year old Everard was last seen in Clapham in south London on 3 March, and a man who is a serving police officer has been charged with her murder.
Police confirmed on Friday that Everard’s body had been found in woodland.
Ward said the case is the “sharpest point” in the pyramid of gender based violence.
“But we still see all the layers of that structure in Shetland every day,” she said.
Shetland Women’s Aid, meanwhile, said the isles are not “not immune” to sexual harassment.
A recent survey from YouGov showed that 97 per cent of women in the UK aged 18-24 said they had been sexually harassed, while eight in 10 women of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.
Things were brought into sharp focus at a local level last year when a report from teenager Rhea published through Shetland Rape Crisis brought together more than 60 anonymous accounts of sexual harassment, assault and abuse in the isles.
“We know that many survivors of gender-based violence are struggling with the news of Sarah Everard’s murder and the wider public conversation it has prompted,” Ward said.
“If this is you, you are not alone and there is help available. We believe you and we support you.
“For those watching and asking what this has to do with them – it can be tempting to believe that horrific acts of violence like this are freak outliers that have nothing to do with our every day lives, but the research is clear: GBV [gender based violence] has everything to do with our shared cultural beliefs and is enabled by our every day actions or inaction.”
Ward said that no amount of even well intentioned safety advice would keep women safe from misogynistic violence.
“It does, however, make it harder for survivors to seek support, falsely believing they could or should have done something differently,” she continued.
“Survivors and perpetrators live in our communities. We all have the choice to act in a way that lets survivors know they are safe, or to let perpetrators know they are safe.”
Shetland Women’s Aid, meanwhile, said in a statement that reflecting on the events of the Everard case has been “really hard for us”.
“As women, the news has been especially shocking and saddening. We have all felt moved, triggered, angered, frustrated, deep heart break, and confusion,” the charitable organisation said.
“The fallout from the events of Sarah Everard’s case, however, has been immensely important. We have seen women of all ages sharing pictures and information throughout social media about how it feels to be a woman today, living in a patriarchal society characterised by misogyny.
“As the Guardian published, 97 per cent of woman in the UK have experienced harassment at one point in their lifetimes – and of course, often contrary to popular belief, Shetland is not immune.
“Also, it must be mentioned that many of these social media posts include women telling their own experiences of gender-based violence and assault in order to further raise awareness of these issues – something which we have upmost respect and admiration for.”
Shetland Women’s Aid said that a “sense of solidarity has been created over this past week whereby many women are now realising that they are not alone, whether it be in carrying their key between their knuckles, taking the long way home due to lack of street lighting, or not walking with headphones in”.
“Hopefully, this solidarity will strengthen and continue, changing gender stereotypes and assumptions of the challenges women face so that we can effectively create a society where no woman has to fear walking home at night, where no woman has to fear the potential violence from a stranger,” it added.
“Victim blaming highlights how violence against women and girls is still seen as the responsibility of the victims and not the other way around. This has to change.
“Safety planning is part of everyday life for women and girls. We are not safe on the streets at night. There has to be real societal change happening, our community’s need to educate themselves around what inappropriate behaviour may be.
“Call out your friend for using derogatory language about a woman, educate and learn to help keep women and girls safe. We have to shift the responsibility from the victims to the perpetrators.”
The organisation also pointed to Shetland Islands Council recently receiving a bronze accreditation for the Equally Safe at Work programme, which focuses on gender equality at work and the prevention of violence against women.
“Now this is not about gender neutral, this is about safety, this is about recognising that, like the Scottish Government has accepted and adopted, women are disproportionately unequal and subject to violence and domestic abuse,” it added.
“This is about putting policies and practice in place to protect women, children and girls and their safe spaces. The Equally Safe agenda is safety and protection for women and girls. It is a recognition that they are in danger. If we take away women’s safe places, they are disproportionately unequal because they start off unequal in the first place, they are on the back foot.”
Shetland Women’s Aid also described the #notallmen movement – which is used by some men in response to these type of discussions – as “really unhelpful”. They also highlighted a Ted Talk on the issue.
“Not all men perpetrate violence against women – some are rape apologists, some tell jokes, some blame victims and some are simply silent,” the organisation said. “It is time for change.”
Shetland Rape Crisis offers free and confidential information, advocacy and support for anyone in Shetland (aged 13 and over) affected by any form of sexual violence. They can be contacted on 01595 747 174 between 9am and 1.30pm Mondays to Thursdays, and they can be emailed on firstname.lastname@example.org
The Rape Crisis Scotland helpline is open from 6pm to midnight on 08088 010302.
Shetland Women’s Aid is a specialist domestic abuse service for women and children in the isles. They can be contacted via telephone on 01595 692070 or though email on email@example.com.
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