The emergency ward has handled 131 cases of sexual violence this year, already more than the 130 cases it handled in all of 2020. Nineteen people have gone to the emergency ward due to gang rape so far this year, a rise from 13 in 2020, Fréttablaðið reports. Activists are calling for clearer regulations in support of victims of drugging.
Drugging and sexual assault have been prominent in public discussion in recent days. The rate of gang rape (defined by having two or more perpetrators) has risen since last year, and Hrönn Stefánsdóttir, project manager for victims of sexual offences at the emergency ward, stated that this year has also seen more offences committed by a friend or acquaintance of the victim. Hrönn states that could be one reason for the low rate of police reports in such cases. Of the 130 cases the emergency ward dealt with last year, only 43 were reported to police.
“It can make it even more difficult for victims to report when it’s a friend or acquaintance, or even a family member,” she stated. “Society often asks why people don’t report or take the ‘proper route,’ it’s just not that easy. Even when people report, only 12-20% of cases are prosecuted, cases are dropped even though people have taken all the proper routes.” The emergency ward places emphasis on caring for the physical and mental injuries sustained by victims, collecting forensic samples, and photographs. Samples are only stored for one year.
Most victims who sought help in the emergency room last year were 18-25 years old (52 out of 130), while another 32 were between 26 and 35 years old. Nineteen victims were 16-17 years old while six victims were between 10 and 15 years of age.
Victims of drugging dismissed
Steinunn Gyðu- og Guðjónsdóttir is a spokeswoman for Stígamót, a centre for survivors of sexual violence. She told RÚV there have been cases where victims of drugging have not been provided with an ambulance when they have called for one. Stígamót also helps many victims of drugging who were not victims of a sexual offence afterwards.
“People come to us regularly that have been drugged without having experienced another violent offence afterwards, such as rape or some other crime. They often experience complete confusion and helplessness. Call an ambulance and don’t receive assistance or go to the hospital and don’t receive blood tests, because there was no other violence afterwards,” Steinunn explains.
Over 130 victims of drugging and sexual violence have been sharing their stories in a Twitter thread started last Sunday. Many state that authorities attributed their condition to their own consumption of alcohol and even refused requests for a blood test. Ninna Karla Katrínardóttir of activist group Öfgar says clearer regulations are needed within police, the healthcare system, and the emergency ward in dealing with such cases. Ninna says nightclubs can also clarify their procedures and train staff to recognise signs of drugging and react accordingly.
Justice Minister responds
In an interview published by Vísir, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir underlined the importance of the justice system taking drugging cases seriously and holding perpetrators responsible, but stated one of the main obstacles in such cases was obtaining evidence. Drugging is a crime according to Icelandic law and Áslaug does not believe that regulations necessarily need to be changed to address it differently. It could help, however, to review procedures in the healthcare system in such cases.