Thelma Ásdísardóttir, a 38 woman from Hafnarfjördur who experienced repeated sexual abuse throughout her childhood and recently published her story, was selected “Woman of the Year” by the magazine New Life (Nýtt Líf).
Thelma’s story shocked the nation when her book, “Picture of daddy – Thelma’s story”, co-written by Gerdur Kristný, came out this fall. The abuse began when Thelma and her sisters, two older and two younger, were five, and continued for over a decade. The abuse, sexual, physical and emotional included their father prostituting Thelma and her sisters in exchange for alcohol and drugs.
In an interview with daily Morgunbladid, Thelma describes a horrifying youth with a monstrous father who used fear to govern the household. “We were always very poor, lived in a decrepit, yellow house and we sisters usually never got anything new. There was never enough food and often no food,” said Thelma.
In the book, Thelma details how her father used any excuse to exercise his temper. Beside abusing his daughters the father often killed family pets in front of the sisters if he was not satisfied with their behavior.
Thelma said that her mother was also a victim of extensive abuse in the household.
According to Thelma, her extended family did not have any contact with her family except for their paternal grandmother whom they sometimes visited, “But we were never invited to family gatherings such as weddings or parties,” said Thelma to Morgunbladid. She said the reason was that most people could not stand her father.
In the book, and in numerous interviews that Thelma has given to publicize the issue, including a series of interviews on the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service’s news program Spotlight, Thelma said that although there were clear signs of abuse nothing was done to help the sisters. Thelma said that neighbors, children in the neighborhood, school authorities, all knew that something was not right in the household but no one came to their rescue.
After the Spotlight interviews various friends and relatives have explained their side of the story including the man who was the director of social affairs for township Hafnarfjordur at the time of the abuse. He said that it was impossible to react because Thelma’s paternal step-grandfather, Eiríkur Pálsson, was a politician in Hafnarfjördur and mayor for four years and did everything he could to help his step-son. The school principal said that the mother was contacted but would always deny allegations against the father.
In interviews, Thelma has been especially critical of Iceland’s Supreme Court which acquitted her father of charges of sexual abuse even though he had been convicted in Reykjavík District Court. The case took six years and the abuse of the five daughters continued through out those six years. Thelma also said that the school authorities did nothing to help. ” I feel like this safety net has failed. Children who are in the kind of trouble we were should be able to trust that they will be saved,” said Thelma.
Thirteen years ago Thelma sought the help of Stígamót, a shelter for victims of sexual abuse, where she says she was finally able to see the light. Today, Thelma works at Stígamót helping victims of sexual abuse. She has a seventeen year old son and a good relationship with her sisters and mother. She says that she and her sisters have always been very close and that she believes that the fact they stood together got them far. Today, she says that bonds between them are still very strong. All sisters and her mother supported Thelma making their story public and three sisters appeared on the news program Spotlight and told their version of the story.
The editor of New Life, Gullveig Sæmundardótir, said that four women had been in the running for “Woman of the Year” but when Thelma published her story she showed much courage. Gullveig said hat she believes that Thelma has helped many woman and young girls who experienced what she experienced – sexual abuse in the home.
At the award ceremony former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir presented Thelma with a bouquet of flowers – Vigdís was also once chosen “Woman of the Year”.
In his sermon last Sunday, the first Sunday of the Advent, the bishop of Iceland, Karl Sigbjörnsson, suggested that Thelma should be chosen “Person of the Year” for her courage.