Nine Women Sue Icelandic State for Dropping Sexual Assault Cases Skip to content

Nine Women Sue Icelandic State for Dropping Sexual Assault Cases

By Yelena

women sue Icelandic state in sexual assault cases
Photo: From the Stígamót press conference live stream, March 8, 2021.

Nine women have sued the Icelandic state before the European Court of Human Rights for violating their right to a fair trial. The women are all survivors of rape, domestic violence, and/or sexual harassment who reported the crimes to the police, only for the cases to be dropped by prosecutors. They are backed by 13 women’s organisations in Iceland, which state that the weak position of women who are victims of violent crime in Iceland is a systemic issue.

“The vast majority of women’s reports of violence to the police never go to trial,” a press release on the initiative states. “Figures have for ex. shown that only 17% of reported rape cases go to trial, while the rest are either dropped by the prosecutor or the police stop the investigation. Only 13% ended with a conviction. The intention of sending the charges to the Court of Human Rights is to draw attention to a systemic problem and have the Icelandic state answer for it on the international stage as to why the position of women who are victims of violent crime in Iceland is as weak as evidence shows.”

Point to Shortcomings in Judicial System

The nine women ranged from 17-42 years of age when they reported the crimes and most were reported to Capital Area Police. A thorough examination of their cases by lawyer Sigrún Ingibjörg Gísladóttir “revealed various shortcomings in the investigation and handling of cases within the judicial system,” the press release states, including “serious shortcomings” in police investigations.

In general, police took far too long investigating the cases, giving defendants months to prepare for questioning and to co-ordinate their statements or even leading to cases becoming statute-barred due to the length of time it took to summon the accused for questioning. In some of the cases, police failed to summon key witnesses for questioning or ignored witness reports in support of the victims. They also failed to value evidence available in the cases, including physical injuries, property damage, and psychologists’ certificates.

“Is justice for 13% of women enough?”

The 13 women’s organisations, including women’s shelters, counselling centres, the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, and UN Women Iceland, held a joint press conference today to announce the initiative. The organisations also released a video last weekend featuring a visual explanation of how few sexual assault cases end with conviction in Iceland, asking: “Is justice for 13% of women enough?”

The 13 organisations also call for immediate changes to strengthen the position of women who are victims of violent crimes within the judicial system. These include involving them more directly in the criminal proceedings. This is “not least in order to strengthen their legal position vis-à-vis the state. Today, victims are only witnesses in their own case and therefore have little right to monitor the progress of the case or make comments.” The organisations also call for increased funding for the investigation and prosecution of cases involving sexual offences and intimate partner violence.

The press release acknowledges that the European Court of Human Rights has many cases on its agenda and “dismisses the vast majority of cases. Expectations of obtaining a substantial decision in favour of the applicants are therefore tempered.” The process is expected to take 5-6 years, meaning no results are expected in the near future.

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