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Last month, inspired by the #MeToo stories being shared on social media across the country, Rhea, a young Shetlander, decided she wanted to show that sexual harassment is as much of a problem in Shetland as it is anywhere else.
Just because we live in a peerie rural community does not mean that we are safe from these kinds of behaviour.
As a volunteer with BEE (Bold, Equal & Empowered), Shetland Rape Crisis’ young activists group, she knows that breaking the silence around sexual violence is an important part of preventing it and also helping victim-survivors to know they are not alone and that they can heal from it.
Asking The Question
Rhea used an anonymous social media app to ask the question: have you been affected by sexual harassment in Shetland? She made it clear that responses would be anonymous and used for a thread on her social media to show how much of a problem this is.
She expected a lot of responses, but was shocked by the sheer amount that came in and the seriousness of the incidents described.
As well as stories of sexual harassment, she received stories of sexual coercion, assault, abuse and rape - a lot of which had occurred against children and young people.
She decided to share everything that was sent to her out of respect for the survivor’s stories and recognition that sexual harassment is just one part of a wider set of cultural values that enable behaviours like assault, abuse and rape. Shetland Rape Crisis helped Rhea to further anonymise these stories before sharing.
What Is Sexual Violence?
Sexual violence/violation is any form of sexual contact that you don't freely agree to.
Contact includes more than just physical touch, it also includes any sexualised interaction you don't want such as harassment, unwanted messages, stalking, inappropriate comments, sharing intimate images, and more.
It also includes physical contact such as groping, taking advantage of someone on alcohol or drugs, coercing or pressuring someone into sexual acts, removing condoms without agreement, sexual assault, and rape.
Sexual violence is common. Anyone can experience it, at any age. Many survivors never tell anyone and it is rarely reported to the police.
The victim is not to blame. Sexual violence doesn’t ‘just happen’. A person commits sexual violence because, at some level, they decide to do so.
A Personal Note From Rhea
I would like to thank everyone who shared their story with me. I am grateful for your bravery and your trust. I have done my best to make sure your words are reflected here, while keeping your identity as safe as possible.
Receiving these stories has been a very powerful but also very overwhelming experience for me. Although I am always happy to support friends and I feel passionate about creating an equal world free from sexual violence, I am still a young person myself and not a trained counsellor.
For this reason, I am asking that if you read this and want to share your story, instead of sending it to me please contact Shetland Rape Crisis or another appropriate organisation or person and they will help you with it.
The following document includes descriptions of sexual violence (including harassment, assault, abuse and rape) which have occurred in Shetland or happened to Shetlanders.
If you have been affected by this and need help, please contact:
Shetland Rape Crisis, Mon-Thurs 9am-1.30pm
01595 747 174 / email@example.com
Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline, 6pm-Midnight
0800 01 02 03 / firstname.lastname@example.org / txt 07537 410 027
Read the full #WisToo Towards a Safer Shetland document online below.
We understand that it is a very difficult time for everyone right now, particularly for survivors of sexual violence.
The vast majority of people who experience sexual violence are affected by someone known to them, often within their own family or by their own partner/spouse. This means that some people in Shetland are currently stuck at home with their perpetrators for a prolonged and indefinite time and therefore may be experiencing increased ongoing abuse.
And even for survivors whose immediate home situation is safe, the lack of access to normal coping mechanisms and stabilising factors such as spending time with friends and family, working alongside others, working out at the gym, and other group hobbies and clubs, means that people are struggling with their mental health and experiencing more symptoms of trauma such as flashbacks, anxiety, and dissociation.
You may be at home, but you are not alone. We are still here for you.
We are accepting referrals and can provide you with emotional support, therapeutic support, advocacy, information, and trauma therapy over VC, phone, message/text, and email.
We can support you through this. Get in touch.
- Centre Hours: Mon-Thurs 9am-1.30pm
- Centre Number: 01595 747 174
- Email: email@example.com
- RCS Helpline: 08088 01 03 02 (6pm-midnight)
- Trauma Counselling Line Scotland: 08088 02 04 06 / firstname.lastname@example.org
We provide support for anyone affected by sexual violence (age 13+), including survivors themselves, friends, family and partners, no matter when in your life it occurred.
Sexual violence is any form of sexual contact that you don't freely agree to.
Contact includes more than just physical touch, it also includes any kind of sexualised interaction that you don't want or agree to such as unwanted messages, online harassment, stalking, inappropriate sexual questions/comments, and more. It also includes physical contact such as groping, taking advantage of someone on alcohol or drugs, removing condoms without consent, sexual assault, and rape.
Sexual violence is common. Anyone can experience it, at any age, but most victims are women and children. Men from marginalised groups such disabled men and gay, bisexual and/or trans men may also be at increased risk. The vast majority of perpetrators are men, but other genders do also perpetrate sexual violence. We see survivors of any gender.
Many survivors never tell anyone and it is still rarely reported to the police.
The victim is not to blame. Sexual violence does not ‘just happen’. A person commits sexual violence because, at some level, they decide to do so. They had a choice about what they did.
Although there are different forms of sexual violence, the effects are similar because the experience is frightening, shocking and can be confusing and difficult to cope with. This is partly because of the abuse itself. But it is also because there may be other factors which make a distressing or frightening experience much worse.
We believe you. We listen to you. We respect you.
Grants from the Scottish Government’s Communities Fund have been made to Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women's Aid to ensure that access to these key support services is maintained and victims still have access to methods of reporting crimes during the crisis, including using online video platforms, text messaging and phone calls.
Scottish Women’s Aid will receive £1.35 million over six months and Rape Crisis Scotland will receive £226,309 over six months.
Lisa Ward, Service Manager at Shetland Rape Crisis said:
"Early last week Shetland Rape Crisis outlined our projected needs to the Scottish Government via Rape Crisis Scotland, and we are very grateful that they have recognised this need and responded to promptly to help us continue delivering free information, advocacy and support to survivors of sexual violence in Shetland."
"This funding will enable us to deliver our service in a way that is accessible, safe, secure and confidential, despite being delivered remotely and from workers’ homes, which can be quite challenging in this line of work."
This money will go towards essentials in the coming months such as upgrades to secure GDPR-compliant video conferencing software, appropriate and secure infrastructure for home-working such as laptops, phones, headsets, printers, scanners, etc and secure storage for confidential files being temporarily kept in home offices.
Staff hours will also be upped over the next six months in order to meet a projected increase in demand for the service.
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said:
“We want women and children experiencing domestic abuse in the home to know that although they may feel isolated and vulnerable during these unprecedented times, they are not alone. Anyone experiencing violence, including coercive and controlling behaviours, should not feel in any way inhibited by the current coronavirus outbreak to report a crime against them... If you are experiencing abuse – please do not feel you have wait to receive vital support. This is available now.”
The Scottish Government has also provided an additional £825,000 to Police Scotland to support the training of officers and frontline staff to respond to and investigate the new domestic abuse offence.
Demand for the service in Shetland is expected to increase over the coming months for a number of reasons.
We know that the vast majority of people who experience sexual violence are affected by someone known to them, quite often within their own family or by their own partner/spouse. This means that some people in Shetland are currently stuck at home with their perpetrators for prolonged spells, at a time where anxiety and stress is high for everyone meaning that some perpetrators are even more likely to offend, and to offend with more violence. This is incredibly difficult for survivors.
We are also acutely aware of the risk for children at home with their perpetrators. Childhood sexual abuse is a significant problem in Shetland and our stats show that around 40% of our clients first experienced sexual violence under the age of 16. With schools closed and children and young people at home, the opportunity for perpetrators to offend is increased.
In addition, even for survivors whose immediate home situation is safe, the lack of access to normal coping mechanisms and stabilising factors such as spending time with friends and family, working alongside others, working out at the gym, and other group hobbies and clubs, means that people will be struggling with their mental health and experiencing more symptoms of trauma such as flashbacks, anxiety, and dissociation.
If any of this sounds familiar, we would encourage you to contact Shetland Rape Crisis.
We are still here for you. We believe you. We support you. Get in touch.
Centre Hours: Mon-Thurs 9am-1.30pm
Centre Number: 01595 747 174
RCS Helpline: 08088 01 03 02 (6pm-midnight)
Shetland Rape Crisis takes the health and well-being of staff, volunteers, and service users very seriously.
Therefore, in light of the escalating public health crisis related to coronavirus/covid-19 we have taken steps to ensure that our service users continue to have safe access to support while at the same time maintaining our duty of care to workers.
With this in mind, we have implemented the following with immediate effect:
- All face-to-face appointments with service users are suspended until further notice.
- All current service users will be offered remote support in lieu of face-to-face appointments (video conferencing telephone, email, messenger and text support all available).
- If staff are working from home, they will carry out remote support using secure IT equipment from an agreed confidential space within their home in order to ensure security and GDPR compliance.
- We are still accepting referrals for support and advocacy and our waiting list protocol remains the same, but initial appointments will be offered as remote support as outlined above.
- Our main office line will remain open Mon-Thurs 9am-1.30pm on 01595747174 but depending on staff circumstances may sometimes be answered securely and confidentially from a home location. There should be no noticeable difference.
Many thanks for your patience and co-operation at this extremely challenging time. All of the above will be kept under close review and we will act in accordance with any official guidance and/or any government mandated restrictions.
Centre Hours: Mon-Thurs 9am-1.30pm
Centre Number: 01595 747 174
RCS Helpline: 08088 01 03 02 (6pm-midnight)
Shetland Rape Crisis, with the support of Aith Charity Shop, the Why Waste? Shop in Lerwick, Dunrossness School, and Unst Leisure Centre and School, has received donations of over 1000 bras and almost 300 pairs of pants to give to the Scottish Charity, Smalls For All, this January.
During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence late last year, Shetland Rape Crisis launched a collection campaign under the theme #Generation Equality. This brought in donations from all over the Isles to be sent to Smalls For All, who collect and distribute underwear to help women and children in Africa and the UK.
Peterson UK Ltd has also offered to ship the bras free of charge to the Aberdeen, and Northern Isles Freightway will deliver from Aberdeen to Smalls For All on the Mainland.
Ana Arnett, Advocacy & Support Worker at Shetland Rape Crisis, said: “The response we’ve had from folk all over Shetland, from Unst right down to the south end, has been absolutely incredible and we’d like to say a huge thank you to all who donated, the shops that gathered the donations, Petersons UK Ltd and Northern Isles Freightway for their generous shipping work, and to everyone who shared and promoted the campaign.”
Bravalanche! Lavinia Schmidt, Prevention & Activism Worker, counts the donations.
For women and girls living in poverty, or who have been displaced and have to live in camps, or who are in hospital suffering from medical conditions like obstretic fistula, underwear is quite often a luxury that isn’t easily available.
The donations will make a direct difference in the lives of these women and girls, enabling girls to access education from which they may have been otherwise excluded due to clothing restrictions, and women to have clean and hygienic underwear supporting them to heal in hospital.
The donations, alongside Shetland Rape Crisis’ call for gender equality and an end to gender-based violence, may evoke in the minds of some readers images of “bra-burning feminists” - a myth the team is keen to dispel.
Lisa Ward, Service Manager at Shetland Rape Crisis, said: “The research clearly demonstrates that, although anyone can experience or perpetrate sexual violence, an unequal distribution of power between groups significantly increases the risk of perpetration by the dominant group against the group with less power, and this is no less true in Shetland.
“We support people of all genders, but our stats continue to show that gender inequality is a major ongoing concern in our community, greatly increasing the risk of sexual violence against women and girls, as well increasing risks for other groups who hold less social power such those in poverty, people with learning disabilities, and children.”
“Campaigns such as this one are an important part of raising awareness of these facts, as well as making an immediate material difference in the lives of women and girls experiencing extreme marginalisation.”
The myth of bra-burning as a feminist ritual began with a single protest at a Miss America contest in 1968. While some bras were set on fire at the protest, it only happened briefly, and the bras were included amongst a large number of symbolic items such as magazines and detergent, aimed at protesting the treatment of women in the society of the time.
According to author W. Joseph Campbell in Ten of the Greatest Misreported Stories in American Journalism, “Invoking bra burning was a convenient means of brushing aside the issues and challenges raised by women’s liberation and discrediting the fledgling movement as shallow and without serious grievance.”
Lisa added: “Gender inequality and other significant social inequalities are no shallow issue and we are not immune to their effects. Shetland Rape Crisis works every day helping people in our community deal with the very worst consequences of these societal structures and beliefs. We believe in a future free from this kind of violence, and these donations give us hope that Shetlanders believe in the same and will join us in working towards this future.”
Lavinia Schmidt, Prevention & Activism Worker at Shetland Rape Crisis, elaborated: “While many myths around feminism, rape and sexual violence are still prevalent in our communities, lots of people, especially young people, are pursuing what they think is right.
“Whether this is fighting for gender equality, LGBTQIA rights or enabling measures counteracting climate change, there is energy and a desire for change in this movement. It is great to see this, and we hope that this spark can be kept alight and ignited further during this year of #GenerationEquality.”
Sexual violence is any form of sexual contact that you don’t freely agree to. This includes everything from sexual harassment (either in person or digital), unwanted touching and sexual comments, sexual assault, rape, and the sharing of intimate images against your will.