Maree Todd calls for specialist forensic examination facilities for rape victims to be provided in Orkney
It’s a real privilege and pleasure to represent the Highlands and Islands region in the Scottish Parliament, and I’m delighted to have an opportunity to communicate directly with folk in Orkney. Please get in touch if there is anything you’d like me to work on for you.
I was appalled to learn last week that if a person in the Northern Isles reports an incident of sexual violence, they have no choice but to board a public flight or ferry to the mainland (accompanied by a police escort) where they will be examined by a professional, because there are no specialist forensic facilities in Orkney or Shetland.
While it is deeply depressing to learn about the inequalities in access and support by those living in the Islands, it was encouraging to see the issue raised in the chamber, and that the Scottish Government is reviewing the way in which forensic examinations are undertaken for rape survivors.
As an MSP, I lodged a written question last week, asking the Scottish Government what consideration is being given to specific circumstances in Orkney and Shetland as part of NHS Scotland’s review of forensic examination services, and how services there compare to services in other rural and island communities.
I believe that the prospect of a couple of days’ travel – initially unwashed and without food and drink – might well prevent a person from reporting the crime. It is completely unacceptable that a person in the Northern Isles should be faced with this dilemma. There are already many societal barriers that prevent incidents of sexual assault being reported, and in a remote rural setting there is this additional barrier. Your postcode should not be another barrier to justice. It is therefore vital that specialist forensic examination facilities for rape survivors are provided in Orkney and Shetland.
I met with Zelda from Orkney Rape Crisis last week when I was visiting Kirkwall to discuss this situation. They are an incredible and dedicated service that was set up last year to support people who have been victims of rape or sexual abuse. The Scottish government provided funding to establish services in Orkney and Shetland and they are proving their worth already.
I hope that the high profile raising of this issue last week will provide the impetus for a more sensitive and understanding approach of the unique barriers that face survivors in the Northern Isles. Statutory services should continue to work with organizations like Rape Crisis Orkney to make progress on these issues.
I accept that there are some distinctive and complex challenges that face our island communities, but I also know that they are great at finding solutions. I’m sure we all agreed with the First Minister when she said last week that a victim of rape in the Islands has the same right to access to justice as a victim of rape anywhere else.
Orkney Rape Crisis Service contact details
Sexual violence affects more people in our community that we imagine. Confidential support and advocacy for anyone from age 13. Whether recent or long ago. Whether you report or choose not to. We believe you.
Mon – Fri 9.30-4.30pm
www.orkneyrapecrisis.scot or call
Rape Crisis Scotland Helpline 08088 01 03 02 6pm till midnight