Rape Culture a Growing Problem in Iceland Skip to content

Rape Culture a Growing Problem in Iceland

By Iceland Review

The guidelines for entertainment organizers clearly state that specific conditions must be fulfilled to be granted permission to host a festival where large numbers of people are expected; however the same does not apply to festivals organized by local communities. An independent organizer must provide a security staff and center for victims of sexual assault whereas the community festivals do not.

A festival such as the bank holiday Thjódhátíd in South Iceland’s Westmann Islands is not required to follow the same regulations as one held by independent organizers; the festival is organized by the local community and is therefore not obliged to fulfill the necessary conditions of an independent festival.

The Westmann Islands’ festival Thjódhátíd, is a community festival held every bank holiday weekend at Heimaey island, the largest of the Westmann Islands where a population of roughly 5000 people resides; the festival is a legend in Icelandic cultural heritage and for generations Icelanders from all over the country have traveled to the island for the bank holiday weekend in late July or early August.

The highlight of the festival is the the sing along conducted by Iceland’s parliament member Árni Johnsen. The festival is organized by the Thjódhátíd committee led by Páll Scheving Ingvarsson. The festival is held in Herjólfsdalur valley just outside the Vestmannaeyjar town.


Vestmanneyjar town. Photo by Páll Stefánsson.

This year’s festival has exposed the flaws in the regulatory system after six reports of sexual assaults, one of which occurred by the portable WC restrooms; Ingvarsson has said that security cameras must be placed for next year’s festivals and Stígamót, an Education and Counseling Center for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Violence, and the Nei-hópurinn or the “No-movement,” an entity of the Icelandic Feminist Movement, have volunteered their assistance for next year, visir.is reports.

According to the Rúv news room, 6 rapes have been reported in the Thjódhátíd alone and the local police authorities have one man in custody suspected of raping a 23 years old woman inside one of the portable WC restrooms.

Another rape was reported shortly after but the Police department in Selfoss is now looking for witnesses who might have seen a young woman in her twenties assaulted by one or two males between 1:30 and 2:00 am on Monday August 1, visir.is reports.

So far 10 sexual assaults have been reported from festivals around the country and numbers are expected to escalate. A former managing director of UN Women in Iceland, Steinunn Gyða Gudjónsdóttir told the Rúv news room last night that there is a growing rape culture in Iceland.

“With rape culture I refer to the tendency of undermining the severity of sexual assaults in our attitude, legal system and community. It is the rapist who is “excused” rather than held accountable for his action,” she told ruv.is.

Twice as many rapes were reported in the Thjódhátíd this year, where 14.000 were gathered in the Herjólfsdalur valley, than in the Glastonbury festival in England 2008 where 100.000 guests were gathered. The root of the problem lies in the rape culture, Gudjónsdóttir told ruv.is.

Ellidi Vignisson, the mayor of Vestmannaeyjar town on Heimaey island told ruv.is the need for security cameras and better lightning will help to prevent incidents to happen but the fault lies with society as a whole:

“We must find the source of the problem; it seems sexual assaults are occurring more frequently. The perpretators are distorted individuals and we must deal with them as a whole. We must involve parents and the school system,” Vignisson said.

However, several festivals organized by local communities did meet the necessary requirements and the organizers of the Ein med öllu in North Iceland’s Akureyri opened an emergency phone line and had volunteers from Afllid or “the force”, a group against sexual and domestic violence, ready to assist.

Skúli Gautason, the project manager for Ein med öllu told mbl.is that cooperation with local authorities has proved to be very successful and sheriff Björn Jósef Arnvidarson agreed.

The organizers sit down with local authorities to discuss security:“We meet months in advance to discuss security details,” he told mbl.is

Other communities such as Akranes in West Iceland where Írskir Dagar or the “Irish Days” have been held in July every year, the organizers use age restrictions. Tómas Gudmundsson, one of the organizers in Akranes told mbl.is that fifty percent of the expanses go to security matters and children under the age of 18 cannot come by themselves.

All parties agree that prevention is the key.

The Icelandic band Quarashi temporarily came out of retirement and lend a voice to the cause. Last weekend they played in the Besta Hátíd or “the best festival”, held in Gaddstadaflatir near Hella town in South Iceland, and insisted the No-movement be invited to the festival. Volunteers from the organization placed the red “Nei” or “no” on various locations around the area to remind guests no means no, Morgunbladid reports.

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