Four Arrested in South Iceland Abuse Case

Four Icelandic nationals are in custody on suspicion of locking up a man for several days and assaulting him in a South Iceland home. The man, who holds Maltese citizenship, was forced to leave the country in April but has returned, according to RÚV’s sources. Icelandic Police are declining to release further information on the case.

Custody extended until May 24

Three Icelandic men and one Icelandic woman are in custody in connection with the case, suspected of deprivation of liberty, assault, and financial extortion. The four are related, according to RÚV’s sources. The alleged crime took place in a residential home in Reykholt in the Biskupstungur area of South Iceland. The four suspects were arrested in late April when police got wind of the case. Last Friday, their custody order was extended until May 24.

Victim living in Iceland for nearly two decades

The victim in the case had been living in Iceland for nearly two decades. He was been deprived of his liberty for several days and assaulted, as well as having money taken from him. He was then taken to Keflavík and sent out of the country. RÚV’s sources maintain that he has returned to Iceland, but Chief of South Iceland Police Jón Gunnar Þórhallsson did not want to confirm that was the case.

Bláskógabyggð’s local council director Ásta Stefánsdóttir stated that the case has shaken the community and expressed her hopes that the police would resolve the matter as soon as possible.

New Book Exposes YMCA Founder’s Dark Past

Friðrik Friðriksson

A new book authored by historian Guðmundur Magnússon alleges that Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson, founder of YMCA/YWCA Iceland, made sexual advances towards a minor. Following an interview with the author on the Kilja literary programme on RÚV, the YMCA/YWCA leadership expressed shock and commitment to uncovering the truth. A spokesperson for Stígamót has said that more individuals had sought professional counselling because of Reverend Friðrik.

Friðrik and his boys

A new book by historian Guðmundur Magnússon about Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson – an Icelandic priest who founded YMCA/YWCA Iceland and the athletic clubs Haukar and Valur – reveals that Friðrik made sexual advances towards a minor. Guðmundur was a guest of journalist and presenter Egill Helgason on the Kiljan programme on RÚV on Wednesday night where he discussed his new book, Reverend Friðrik and His Boys.

The boy in question, now in his eighties, contacted Guðmundur during his writing of the book, which examines Friðrik’s relationship with the boys, his attraction to them, and other material that could be considered sensitive.

“It’s true, I’m entering somewhat unknown territories, at least compared to what I have written before,” Guðmundur admitted, adding that, at times, he found the process of writing the book uncomfortable: “I admit that at one point it was so uncomfortable that I considered abandoning the project.” He decided to press on, however, noting that anything else would have been cowardice.

Collection of personal letters inspired closer examination

Guðmundur stated that he had discovered 15 letters authored by Friðrik in a collection belonging to banker and entrepreneur Eggert Claessen: “What caught my attention was that they all had the appearance of love letters.” This piqued his interest, given that homosexual love was generally not well documented in the late 19th century.

Deciding to delve deeper into the matter, he was allowed access to the archives of Reverend Friðrik, which was under the custody of the YMCA. “The nature of much of the material, his reminiscences, for example, was such that I was shocked. I was so surprised that they had not garnered greater attention – why none of them had become a public discussion; about how he, for instance, talks about his boys, and boys [in general].” Guðmundur noted that the society in which Friðrik lived and worked was unlikely to discuss matters such as these. “All such matters were just absolutely taboo,” Guðmundur added.

“Shocked” by the allegations

After the interview with Guðmundur was aired, YMCA/YWCA issued a press release, stating that the organisations’ leadership was “shocked by allegations of misconduct by their founder,” Reverend Friðrik, and that they were “committed to uncovering the truth.”

The organisations noted that they had placed special emphasis on the importance of child safety in their operations, requiring rigorous background checks and training for all staff. Lastly, they urged anyone who had experienced harassment or violence within their premises to report it, ensuring a conducive environment for addressing such serious concerns.

YMCA/YWCA Iceland is a non-profit and non-governmental (NGO) youth organisation based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. It operates five summer camps.

Stígamót spokesperson tells of other victims

Last night, Drífa Snædal, Spokesperson for Stígamót – a centre for survivors of sexual violence that provides free and confidential counselling – was interviewed on the news programme Kastljós. During the interview, Drífa revealed that others had confided in Stígamót’s counsellors because of reverend Friðrik.

“I can attest that more victims, or those related to them, have approached Stígamót,” Drífa observed, adding that she was unable to provide further details regarding the nature of the alleged offences or their timing. “It has kind of touched a nerve,” she remarked. “It’s referred to as ‘the worst kept secret in Icelandic history’ that [reverend Friðrik] abused or assaulted children.”

Drífa added that victims of abuse often seek help at Stígamót later in life. “Far too long, unfortunately, after the offences have occurred … being subjected to such offences as a child can affect the formation of relationships with one’s own children. The formation of normal, good relationships.”

She added that experiences like these can have various effects on others around the victims, for example, their descendants. “Therefore, it is important that people seek help to process difficult experiences as soon as possible.”

Statue on Lækjargata

There is a statue of Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson, flanked by a young boy, on the corner of Amtmannsstígur and Lækjargata in downtown Reykjavík. The statue was sculpted by Sigurjón Ólafsson, who was taught Christian studies as a boy by Friðrik.

As noted on the website of the Reykjavík Art Museum, Sigurjón and Friðrik found themselves stuck in Denmark, during the German occupation of the county in World War II, unable to return to Iceland. Sigurjón crafted a bust of Friðrik in 1943, “before it was too late,” as he said.

“The bust was displayed, along with other portraits by the sculptor, at the Listvinasalur gallery in 1952. Former pupils of the aged clergyman then proposed that an appropriate monument should be erected, for which Sigurjón was the obvious choice.”

Opioid Abuse Among Young People Growing More Common

Opioid abuse among individuals 25 years old and younger has grown more common, according to Dr. Valgerður Rúnarsdóttir, the Medical Director of SÁÁ (the National Centre of Addiction Medicine). Valgerður addressed the audience at a conference at the Hilton Nordica hotel yesterday, Mbl.is reports.

A “New Opioid Crisis”

Speaking to Iceland Review last month, Dr. Valgerður Rúnarsdóttir, the Medical Director of SÁÁ (National Centre of Addiction Medicine) stated that talk of a “new opioid crisis” in Iceland was not an exaggeration.

Referring to the data, Valgerður noted that between 2010 and 2022, the percentage of patients being treated for opioid addiction at the Vogur detox centre and rehabilitation hospital rose by approximately 200% (from 10.3% to ca. 30% of the clinic’s patients). Furthermore, these patients are twice as likely to relapse than others, and thirty-five of those who have sought treatment over the past five years have died.

Read More: In Harm’s Way: Harm Reduction in the Age of Opioids

Yesterday, Valgerður addressed the audience at a conference held by SÁÁ and FÁR (the Association of Alcohol and Drug Advisors) at the Hilton Nordica hotel in Reykjavík between November 2 and 3. According to her lecture, prescription opioid abuse – including opioids like Contalgin, Oxycontin, and Fentanyl – among individuals 25 and younger has grown more common.

Although opioid abuse is on the rise, alcohol is still the most commonly abused intoxicant in Iceland. Speaking to Mbl.is, Valgerður noted that the problems were “of a different nature” when individuals are abusing potent prescription drugs.

Valgerður also noted that the percentage of working individuals who are admitted to the Vogur rehabilitation centre has declined to 30%. Given this, it was important that the Icelandic Vocational Rehabilitation Fund (VIRK) no longer mandates a 3-6 month sober period as a condition for entering into vocational rehabilitation.

The aforementioned conference was the first to be sponsored jointly by SÁÁ and FÁR. Valgerður told Mbl.is that many parties, including VIRK, FÁR, SÁÁ, and municipal authorities, are determined to work together to combat substance abuse in Iceland.

Parents, Community Appalled by Brutal Bullying Case

Ísabella Von

Sædís Hrönn Samúelsdóttir and her twelve-year-old daughter Ísabella Von Sædísardóttir opened up to local media yesterday about the brutal campaign of bullying that the latter has suffered at the hands of classmates. Abusers encouraged Ísabella to “try again,” following a failed suicide attempt. Parents must shoulder greater responsibility, the Chair of Hafnarfjörður’s City Council has stated.

Hateful messages and physical abuse

As reported by RÚV yesterday, Ísabella Von is an eighth-grader at the Hraunvallaskóli primary school in Hafnarfjörður. Having long been bullied by her classmates, she recently attempted suicide by overdosing on her mother’s prescription drugs. Ísabella notified her mother, who drove her to the Children’s Hospital for treatment. She returned home yesterday.

“I felt like everyone would be happy if I went through with it. That’s what everyone has told me,” Ísabella told RÚV.

Sædís Hrönn Samúelsdóttir, Ísabella’s mother, maintains that she can name at least 35 children who have sent her daughter hateful messages; although the ones sent anonymously are worse. Ísabella has also been attacked physically twice, once at the Smáralind shopping mall, which was recorded and shared on social media. After the beating, she received the following message:

“She probably began fucking bawling. If there hadn’t been people around, she probably would have been fucking dead (…) You should have been fucking dead, Ísabella.”

Sædís says that psychologists with the National Agency for Children and Family have tried to offer assistance; that they’ve applied for so-called MST intervention, which is a cross-institutional treatment geared towards aiding parents in helping their children cope. “The school has also tried to help, but she just doesn’t show up,” Sædís remarked.

Parents’ Association, Mayor Respond

After news of the bullying broke, the Parents’ Association of Hraunvallaskóli released a public statement on Facebook. The association was “shocked by revelations” in the media yesterday and has called a meeting with school administrators.

“It’s important to tackle such matters with determination and to activate protocols. Also, we, as parents, administrators, and school employees must work together toward constructive solutions that put our children’s welfare first. The Parents’ Association will try its utmost, circumstances allowing.”

Mayor of Hafnarfjörður Rósa Guðbjartsdóttir also weighed in on the matter on Facebook yesterday, encouraging a show of empathy, responsibility, and love.

“It’s been heartrending, hearing of the violence that our young girl in Hafnarfjörður has suffered. All of the world’s specialists […] will never replace us as custodians and parents. Let us talk to our children, monitor their activities more closely, explain to them the seriousness of their actions and the consequences of treating other people poorly. The simple message: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ It is so important and true.”

Chair of Hafnarfjörður City Council weighs in

Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Valdimar Víðisson, Chair of Hafnarfjörður’s City Council, stated that bullying was not endemic to Hafnarfjörður. “Bullying in primary school is, unfortunately, our current reality. We must find ways to respond.”

Valdimar says that social media is playing an increasingly larger role. “It’s a reality with which we’ve been unable to adequately deal,” Valdimar observed, adding that some of the options available are helpful, although uprooting bullying always necessitates the involvement of parents.

“It’s often the case that schools are left screaming into the void because there isn’t a lot of participation. But parents must take part, as well as society at large.”

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out to Red Cross Iceland (Phone No. 1717) or the Píeta Association (Phone No. 552-2218)

Evidence to Support Allegations of Pervasive Abuse in Long-Term Mental Health Wards

There is strong evidence to support long-standing allegations of pervasive violence, drug coercion, and abusive conditions endured by patients with developmental disabilities and mental health issues in long-term care facilities, RÚV reports. This according to a report compiled by a working group that the Prime Minister appointed two years ago, following RÚV’s reportage on inhumane treatment in the Arnarholt long-term care facility, as well as additional testimony compiled by the mental health advocacy group Geðhjálp and current and former staff of Landspítali’s secure and forensic mental health wards.

Employees of secure and forensic mental health wards came forward in 2020

In November 2020, staff at the Arnarholt long-term care facility came forward with detailed descriptions of inhumane treatment of patients at the facility, dating back to the 1970s. Following these reports, Geðhjálp, an organization which advocates on behalf of people with mental health issues, received an increase in complaints about the services and facilities provided by Landspítali in its secure and forensic mental health wards, both of which are located in the Kleppur psychiatric hospital. Many of these complaints were made by current or former employees. (Secure wards are intended to serve patients with severe mental health issues who need long-term care and have found success with other treatment resources. Forensic mental health wards are specialized psychiatric wards which aim to rehabilitate patients with serious mental health issues who have committed crimes and help them reintegrate into society.)

Among the complaints were reports of patients being forced to take medication against their will, denied information about their treatment, restrained with shackles, kept in the wards for months at a time if they refused treatment options, or locked in a room for days if they broke the rules of the ward. Forced injections were said to be a regular occurrence on these wards, often causing injuries to both patient and staff in the process—injuries that often went unreported.

As a result of these complaints, Geðhjálp worked with at least eight former and current employees of these wards to compile a report on conditions and patient treatment. The report and staff testimonies were then forwarded to the Directorate of Health, which said it made site visits in response to the allegations. Landspítali said it interviewed a number of employees. But both institutions refused to comment further on their investigations or conditions at the facilities when contacted by RÚV in May 2021.

More granular investigation necessary

Fast-forwarding to the present, the working group’s report, which was submitted to Alþingi on Wednesday, says that a more granular investigation is necessary. Moving forward, it suggests that there be two separate inquiries: one which focuses on the years 1970 to 2011, when treatment of the patients in question was transferred to local municipalities, and one which focuses on 2011 to the present day.

The study focusing on the years 1970 – 2011 should answer three primary questions, says the report. Firstly, what was the experience of adults with developmental disabilities and mental health issues in long-term care facilities during the stated period? Secondly, what abusive or adverse treatment did this group undergo? And thirdly, how did the parties responsible handle supervision and monitoring of these facilities during the time frame in question? The questions of the second study, focusing on 2011 to present day, would largely be the same, with a focus on systemic factors that increase the likeliness of adverse treatment and conditions within long-term care facilities.

The report also notes that while transferring the care of patients with severe mental health issues and adults with disabilities to local municipalities was intended to ensure better monitoring of patient treatment and ward conditions, this has not been the reality in many cases. It also makes particular note of the fact that it was very difficult for the working group to get information from local municipalities and that the answers they did receive were often imprecise.

Nearly half of municipalities, Directorate of Health did not reply to requests for information

In fact, nearly half of the municipalities in Iceland, or 31 of 69, didn’t bother to respond to the working group’s request for information, despite repeated reminders. Very little information was available from West Iceland; there Snæfellsbær, Grundarfjarðarbær, Helgafellssveit, Eyja- og Miklaholtshreppur, Stykkishólmsbær, Borgarbyggð, and Hvalfjarðarsveit all failed to reply. Two municipalities in the Westfjords, Bolungarvíkurkaupstaður and Súðavíkurhreppur, didn’t reply. Nine municipalities in Northeast Iceland—Hörgársveit, Svalbarðsstrandarhreppur, Grýtubakkahreppur, Þingeyjarsveit, Skútustaðahreppur, Tjörneshreppur, Svalbarðshreppur, Langanesbyggð, and Aykureyrarbær, the fifth-largest municipality in Iceland, named for the town of Akureyri—did not answer. Even worse was Northwest Iceland and Suðurnes (the Reykjanes peninsula), where no municipalities replied. The fourth-most populous municipality in Iceland, Reykjanesbær, is located on Suðurnes.

Seltjarnarnesbær and Kjósahreppur did not reply, but all other municipalities in the capital region did. All municipalities in East and South Iceland replied.

The Directorate of Health did not reply.

Upon receipt of the report, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir said it was clear that there are serious and widespread problems in the system, but that it is not yet possible to talk about the report findings in detail. She also expressed surprise at how difficult it was for the working group to information-gather. Looking ahead, Katrín said the report would be reviewed and discussed by parliament, which would then determine the best course of action.

Wants society to learn from history

Following the working group’s delivery of the report to Alþingi, 61-year-old Ólafur Hafsteinn Einarsson spoke to RÚV about his own experience in long-term care facilities. Ólafur lived in facilities for people with mental health issues and developmental disabilities throughout his life, and said that as a child, he was beaten and subjected to verbal abuse at Sólheimar. As an adult, he lived in several different facilities from 1975 – 1990, including Arnarholt and Bitra, which was not even a proper residential facility, but actually a women’s prison. He said Bitra was the worst of the places he lived. In 1990, Ólafur moved to a group home in Kópavogur, where he lived for 22 years before moving into his own apartment in 2011, around the age of 50, which he said felt like his greatest personal triumph.

The results of the report were not entirely surprising to Ólafur, although he said that overall, it was “somewhat rougher than I thought it would be.” He continued by saying he wanted to know why living at these facilities had to be so difficult for the residents. He also said  he was glad that investigations into the conditions in these facilities would go as far back as 1970.

“So people, in society in general, can see and hear it, so that they can learn from these things.”

Patients should have a seat at the table

The working group concluded its report by stating the belief that further investigations into ward conditions and patient treatment should be inclusive of the people these inquiries are intended to benefit. As such, they advocate for people with disabilities and mental health issues to be part of future inquiries and for these individuals to be provided with the necessary assistance to present their cases and experiences to the investigating committees.