Controversy in Reporting of Sexual Assaults Skip to content

Controversy in Reporting of Sexual Assaults

By Iceland Review

Three women sought help at Landspítali National University Hospital in Reykjavík after allegedly being sexually assaulted during Merchants’ Holiday (Frídagur verslunarmanna) festivities in the Westman Islands last weekend, RÚV reports.

Before the weekend, Westman Islands police chief, Páley Borgþórsdóttir, caused great controversy by stating that should any sexual assault cases come to the attention of the police during the festival, they would not be reported to the media. This statement was fiercely criticized in a declaration issued by the Journalist Association of Iceland. A number of bloggers and journalists expressed their outrage on Facebook and in the news media, wondering what might be the reason for this unusual attitude. Many maintained that this was an attempt to silence any voices that might adversely affect the image of the festival, which this year was attended by about 15,000 people.

On August 3, Westman Islands police gave reporters a detailed report of incidents over the weekend, such as 70 cases of drug possession, one assault that resulted in arrest, and four traffic violations. Missing from the list was any mention of sexual assaults.

When asked by RÚV why she refused to give any information in that category, Páley said this was done in an effort to protect the victims of sexual assault and that the decision to do so had been carefully made in cooperation with experts. That statement enraged experts from Stígamót Education and Counseling Center for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Violence, who claimed they had not been consulted.

Last night, in an interview with RÚV, Páley finally acknowledged that two sexual assaults had been reported. She said she was forced to provide that information after reports from emergency workers at Landspítali that they had admitted victims of sexual assault. The police chief expressed disappointment that the information had leaked that way and frustration over the fact that her phones had been ringing non-stop all day. She maintained the festival was a success and no one suffered serious injuries. “There was no broken skull or any very serious assaults,” she said.

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