Two men are in custody due to the death of a woman in Hafnarfjörður two days ago. A third man is in preventive custody in connection with the death of a woman in Sandgerði, Southwest Iceland, around one week ago. Domestic violence is suspected to play a role in both deaths, and Icelandic authorities have expressed concern that it could be on the rise due to increased social distancing.
On March 28, Suðurnes police were notified of the death of a woman in her home in Sandgerði. A police detective, priest, and doctor, went to the scene, where the woman was pronounced dead. No foul play was suspected until four days later, when an autopsy revealed a strong likelihood the death was the result of criminal activity, specifically that the suspect had constricted the woman’s breathing. Both deaths are under investigation.
Increased risk and more barriers for victims
“We have feared from the outset that it would take nothing more than a miracle to get through this period without domestic violence becoming more frequent and even more dangerous,” remarked Sigþrúður Guðmundsdóttir, director of Kvennaathvarf women’s shelter in Reykjavík. “We base this on the fact that there are so many risk factors now, such as social isolation and stress, worry, and people are very close to their loved ones which can certainly be very nice but can also be very dangerous.”
Sigþrúður stated that the shelter had not seen a direct increase in cases, but they did not necessarily expect to see one either, as “these risk factors are not only factors that predict increased violence but also increased barriers when it comes to ending abusive relationships.” Sigþrúður says it is more important now than ever for people to be on the alert and contact authorities if they have the least suspicion of violence.
Police, government acting on issue
Icelandic police have also been raising awareness of the fact that domestic violence may increase during times of social distancing. National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir told RÚV there has been a slight increase in reports in the capital area, Suðurnes, and Northeast Iceland. “We just need to be vigilant for those numbers,” she stated. “Research shows that violence can increase in such situations, confinement.”
Sigríður said the City of Reykjavík’s Violence Prevention Committee and the Minister of Welfare were working on ways to address the issue. Like Sigþrúður, the Police Commissioner encouraged bystanders to call police if they had suspicions of domestic violence.
If you or someone you know is at risk of domestic violence in Iceland, you can call the shelters Kvennaathvarfið (561-1205), Bjarkarhlíð (553-3000), or Bjarmahlíð Akureyri (551 2520) for assistance. To report possible domestic violence, call the emergency line 112. Further resources on where to get help are available on Kvennaathvarf’s website.