Getting to know the frontline: Lisa Ward, Shetland Rape Crisis centre
Lisa Ward, the service manager of Shetland Rape Crisis, talks about working in a remote part of Scotland during COVID-19
Tell me about your service and what you do in the community. We provide free and confidential information, advocacy, emotional support and trauma therapy to anyone (aged 13+) in Shetland affected by any form of sexual violence at any time in their life. This includes survivors of sexual violence and their friends, partners and families. We also aim to prevent sexual violence by delivering education in schools and youth settings, raising awareness, challenging myths and campaigning.
What has the situation been like in Shetland during the virus? Initially there was a relatively significant breakout of COVID-19 in Shetland and so there was a lot of worry in the community, but there was also a lot of coordinated effort to contain it and protect the most vulnerable. Happily, the efforts were largely successful and we’ve managed to contain the virus quite effectively (so far), especially after the start we had. We’re also very lucky as a community to have so much beautiful outdoor space for our daily exercise, provided the weather co-operates.
How has your service been impacted by the COVID pandemic, has it had to change the way it operates? From 18 March we moved all face-to-face support towards remote support (video conference, telephone, email, text/message). All workers were equipped to work from home and, with the help of the Scottish Rape Crisis network, we wrote and approved new policies and procedures for doing so.
What have some of the challenges been for the service? Making sure we are working to best practice with regards to confidentiality while at home has been a challenge, but I think we’ve managed to navigate it successfully. Technology, too, provided an initial challenge, but we were lucky that we were already fairly set up to provide remote support due to our rural setting. A larger challenge, which is very difficult to mitigate for, is the effect on workers of doing this kind of work in their homes. Our workers help survivors deal with their trauma and this often involves hearing about the sexual violence that the survivor experienced. Hearing these stories daily is challenging in a protected space like the centre, where your team is always around you, but doing this at home alone and in your own personal space is particularly challenging.
Do you see yourself as an essential worker and how do you feel about that label? Most people who experience sexual violence are assaulted by someone known to them, often within their own family or by their own partner/spouse. This means that some people, including children and young people, have been stuck at home with their perpetrators for a prolonged and indefinite period. Even for survivors whose immediate home situation is safe, not being able to use ordinary coping mechanisms such as spending time with friends and family, working with others or going to the gym means that people are struggling with their mental health. For these reasons, it’s clear to me that Rape Crisis (RC) support workers are absolutely essential right now. However, as an RC worker who does minimal frontline support and mostly works behind the scenes to support this work, it can feel personally a bit strange to think of myself in that way. But when I speak with survivors and my staff, I know that we are needed more than ever
Are there any positives that you can take away from this experience? I have a dog with separation anxiety and her life has improved greatly these last few months – that is lovely to see!