Amendment Aims to Increase Reporting on Domestic Abuse

Nurses Hospital Landsspítalinn við Hringbraut

Health Minister Willum Þórs Þórsson’s bill to amend the Healthcare Practitioners Act has been approved by Parliament. The amendment clarifies the authority of healthcare professionals to report cases of domestic violence to the police.

Clarifies the authority of healthcare professionals

As noted in a press release on the government’s website yesterday, a bill proposed by Health Minister Willum Þór Þórsson to amend the Healthcare Practitioners Act has successfully gained approval from Parliament. This amendment is aimed at providing clarity regarding the authority of healthcare professionals to report cases of domestic violence to the police. The consultation process with the victim, who seeks medical assistance at a healthcare facility, is emphasised in the amendment. It clearly outlines the information that may be shared with the police, enabling them to take appropriate measures to ensure the victim’s safety and provide the necessary support.

As highlighted in the press release, healthcare facilities serve as crucial points of contact for victims of domestic violence, with healthcare professionals often being the first and sometimes only individuals to become aware of such incidents. Conversely, the majority of cases reported to the police stem from calls made from homes, while only approximately 2% of domestic violence reports originate from healthcare institutions, as stated in the amendment’s notes. Findings from a doctoral study conducted in 2021 revealed that, on average, one woman seeks assistance at the National University Hospital in Fossvogur every other day due to physical injuries resulting from domestic violence. Records from the hospital indicate, however, that out of the cases involving women admitted between 2005 and 2019 with physical injuries caused by domestic violence, the police were involved in only 12% of those incidents.

Increased flow of information

The Health Minister’s amendment aims to enhance the exchange of information between the healthcare system and the police, with the primary objective of safeguarding and supporting victims of domestic abuse while reducing the likelihood of recurring violence. Moreover, this amendment aligns with the recommendations put forth by the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The Convention recently proposed that the Icelandic government establish a clear channel for healthcare practitioners to report instances of domestic violence to the police.

The press release highlighted the welfare committee’s stance on the need to strengthen collaboration between health institutions and the police in their joint efforts against domestic violence. This amendment plays a pivotal role in advancing that cause, emphasising the importance of “breaking down barriers to information sharing across different sectors.” By doing so, the authorities would be able to better ensure the safety of victims and enhance their trust in the available resources.

Standardised procedures for receiving victims of domestic violence

The press release concludes by highlighting the ongoing efforts to establish a standardised procedure within the healthcare system for receiving victims of domestic violence. These procedures are slated to be adopted in the coming fall and subsequently implemented across all health institutions in Iceland.

The primary objective is to ensure that victims receive appropriate healthcare, which entails not only the involvement of a doctor and nurse but also establishing stronger connections with social workers and trauma teams. Simultaneously, these procedures aim to ensure that all domestic violence cases are consistently registered and handled in a comparable manner, guaranteeing that victims receive equitable services regardless of their place of residence or financial status.

It is important to note that the implementation of these procedures is separate from the aforementioned amendment to the Act on Healthcare Practitioners. However, both endeavours share a common goal of enhancing the handling of domestic violence cases, supporting the work of healthcare professionals in such situations, and improving services provided to victims.

 

Breaking: Iceland Drastically Tightens COVID-19 Restrictions

mask use social distancing

Icelandic authorities have announced a drastic tightening of COVID-19 regulations that takes effect at midnight tonight and will last for at least three weeks. The national gathering limit will drop from 50 to 10, with bars, swimming pools, gyms, and schools being closed as of tomorrow. At a press conference in Reykjavík this afternoon, Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir expressed her hope that immediate, drastic measures would minimise the spread of the virus and shorten the time it took the wave of infection to pass.

The following is a lightly-edited transcription of Iceland Review‘s live-tweeting of the briefing. 

 

Stay tuned for a live-tweeting of Icelandic authorities’ COVID-19 briefing beginning shortly at 3.00pm UTC. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason is expected to announce tighter restrictions following an uptick in cases over the last few days. 12 of the recently diagnosed cases are among children following a group outbreak at a Reykjavík elementary school.

The Prime Minister as well as the Ministers of Health, Education, and Finance are ready to begin the briefing in Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall. Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason, Director of Health Alma Möller, and Assistant to the Director of Civil Protection Rögnvaldur Ólafsson are also present. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir starts by introducing the ministers and health authorities in attendance. “We’re not bringing happy news,” states Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdóttir. Our methodology of testing and contact tracing has brought us success so far. For the past three months, we’ve had more freedom than other countries in Europe but now there are red flags we have to respond to.

We’ve been monitoring these new strains of the virus carefully. They’re more infectious and some might hit children harder than previous strains. Today, we will be announcing tighter restrictions but vaccination efforts are ongoing and many people are already protected. It is important to remember the fact that we see the end of this battle ahead. At a cabinet meeting, it was decided to act quickly with harsh restrictions to catch the situation before it has a chance to spread. Decisive, immediate action should mean that this will pass faster than if we had acted otherwise.

Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir takes over to present the new regulations. The new rules take effect at midnight tonight across the entire country. The gathering limit will be lowered from 50 to 10 and all schools will close until after Easter break, which begins next week. The group infections have all been caused by the British variant of the virus, which is more infectious and causes more serious illness. The restrictions will now apply to all children born 2015 and earlier as the new variant affects children more harshly than others. As of tomorrow, religious gatherings can have up to 30 in attendance. Swimming pools and gyms will close.
Athletic training will halt. Bars and clubs will be closed. Restaurants remain open but must close by 10pm at night (one hour earlier than currently). Two-metre social distancing is mandatory in shops and there are limits on customers. Hair and beauty salons can remain open. Theatres and cinemas will be closed. These are the same regulations that took effect on October 30 last year and helped to curb the third wave of the pandemic. Schools will close today and remain closed until April 1.
They have the option of returning to remote learning or to prepare for how they will deal with the situation.

Vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine will resume again and this time individuals 70+ will receive that vaccine. The message is clear. We will take charge of this situation quickly and securely.

Minister of Finance Bjarni Benediktsson takes over, stating that it’s a disappointment to have to take these actions but that experts agree that it’s better to stop the spread quickly with harsh restrictions than to let it spread and take longer to die down. Some companies will feel the effect of the tightened restrictions, but Bjarni mentions that the closure grants for businesses are still available and will be extended. Support loans will also be extended. Other response initiatives for businesses such as postponement of taxes and reduced employment ratio benefits also remain in effect. We hope that this step will deal with the situation that has arisen and help fight it.

We’re fighting a pandemic that is unpredictable but we’re seeing the continued effect of vaccinations. We’ve gotten to know the virus at this point and we’ll continue to trust in the experts who are leading the effort and in the solidarity of the nation that has managed to curb the spread of the pandemic up until now. We’ll have to make an extra effort for the next three weeks at least.

The panel opens for questions. The Prime Minister says these measures will affect companies who are forced to close once more (bars, gyms, pools), as well as athletic clubs and the arts but we hope that by stepping in early, we can stop the spread fast. Asked about border restrictions, Katrín reiterates the success of the current regulations.

The changes to border restrictions introduced yesterday will remain in effect and no new restrictions at the border are being introduced today. Most notable in the border regulations that have taken effect: children will now also be tested upon arrival, as they’re more susceptible to the British variant than earlier variants.

Finance Minister Bjarni Benediktsson: When dealing with a global pandemic, and the deepest recession in 100 years, you can’t erase all its effects with government actions. The tourism industry is among the hardest hit but we’ve responded with actions intended to help that sector. We’re trying to minimise the effect of the pandemic, not trying to give unrealistic promises that it won’t affect anyone.

Our goal is to discourage people from gathering. A gathering limit of 10 will affect workplaces. Þórólfur takes over to discuss travel over Easter. Authorities are encouraging people to stay at home and not to travel. Vaccination efforts are ongoing and the Ministry of Health is continually looking into new ways of acquiring vaccines to achieve herd immunity as fast as possible, says Health Minister Svandís Svavarsdóttir. Svandís states that she knows that people are impatient for updates to vaccine distribution schedules and dates of larger vaccine shipments and that she is impatient as well.

Minister of Education Lilja Alfreðsdóttir: We need flexibility and courage to react in this way. The Ministers are giving individual interviews and the briefing has ended.

Domestic Abuse Assistance Now Available Via Online Chat

Emergency assistance for people experiencing domestic violence is now available not only by calling Iceland’s emergency number, 112, but also via online chat on their website. This is the first time that people have been able to seek emergency assistance online. The website, 112.is, is only available in Icelandic for now but is currently being translated into both English and Polish.

The initiative is intended to make it easier for those who are experiencing domestic violence to receive the help they need, particularly those who feel unable to make a phone call or who believe that they’ve been in a violent situation too long to report it. The portal is also open to perpetrators of domestic violence seeking assistance and treatment, as well as those who are concerned that someone close to them is experiencing violence in the home.

Domestic violence increased during the first wave of COVID

The 112 chat portal was announced during the COVID-19 press conference on Thursday. As National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir explained, there was an increase in domestic violence during the first wave of the pandemic, as evidenced by a 15% increase in notifications to child protective services and a 14% in reports to police of intimate partner violence as compared to last year’s average.

In response to this, in May, Minister for Social Affairs and Children Ásmundur Einar Daðason and Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir appointed a working group tasked with developing and coordinating measures to address domestic violence in times of economic and social distress.

Four proposals to better address domestic violence and assist survivors

The online 112 portal is one of four proposals announced by the working group in a press release on the government’s website on Thursday. A public awareness campaign about recognizing signs of domestic violence will also be launched in the winter of 2020-21 and will be based around the 112.is website. The campaign will be rolled out in phases, each of which will focus on specific groups who are particularly vulnerable to domestic violence.

The group also proposed that an online cognitive therapy programme to treat trauma be developed in collaboration with the National University Hospital’s psychiatric ward, the Directorate of Health’s National Centre for e-Health, and the Development Centre for Primary Health Care in Iceland.

Thirdly, they suggested that the parental resources available to all parents before the birth of a child and through the first 1,000 days of a child’s life be further developed. These materials should aim to strengthen parental skills so as to reduce the likeliness of neglect, abuse, and violence against children. Parents and children in vulnerable or at-risk circumstances will receive particular attention.

Lastly, the group proposed that a new electronic processing system be developed within the healthcare system, so as to improve healthcare professionals’ responses to cases of domestic violence.

Altogether, it’s expected that these measures will cost ISK 66.7 million [$478,307; € 408,816]. The working group is led by Commissioner Sigríður Björk and former Progressive Party MP and Minister for Social Affairs and Housing Eygló Harðadóttir and will continue its work through January 31, 2021.

Women’s Shelter to Open in Akureyri

Akureyri in winter

The Kvennaatharf women’s shelter will be opening a location in Akureyri, North Iceland, at the end of the summer, RÚV reports. This will be the first time in over 30 years that there’s been a shelter for survivors of domestic abuse outside of the capital.

The Akureyri shelter will be open through next spring as a pilot project that director Sigþrúður Guðmundsdóttir hopes will clearly demonstrate the need for such a facility in the region. Sigþrúður says that two out of ten women who come to the Reykjavík shelter arrive from outside of the capital area.

“We’ve long wanted to better serve [people in] the countryside and this is the first step in that direction. There was, indeed, a shelter in Akureyri in the early days, in 1983/84, I think, but the day came that there weren’t grounds for a shelter there. But so much has changed since then.”

Kvennaathvarf has leased a space for the Akureyri shelter and hired staff. Sigþrúður says that local authorities and residents in the surrounding municipalities have been positive toward the initiative.

“Up until now, the only shelter for women who are fleeing violence in their homes has been in Reykjavík. This restricts the possibility of women in the countryside seeking assistance. About 20% of the women who come to the shelter at any given time are women from other parts of the country. It’s a certainty that the further the shelter here in Reykjavík is [from them], the more unlikely it is that they will come. And that’s natural. So it’s extremely positive for us to be able to provide this service out in the countryside – we’re really looking forward to it,” said Sigþrúður.

Police on Alert for Rise in Quarantine-Related Crimes

Icelandic police

Police are closely monitoring cybercrime, crimes committed in the home, and domestic drug production while Icelanders are (self-)quarantining and the gathering ban is in effect, Vísir reports. The ban, which went into effect this week, prohibits gatherings of 20 or more people and is intended to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19 virus. Fréttablaðið reports that there’s already a shortage of cocaine in the country, as passenger flights have ground to a halt. According to Capital-area police chief Karl Steinar Valsson, people staying home more may also lead to a spike in these crimes.

A COVID-related slow in imports and a reduction of travellers entering the country has considerably reduced the availability of illegal substances like cocaine in Iceland. Fréttablaðið’s sources report that most of the country’s supplies have run dry and what little is left is being kept under wraps to drive up prices. Amphetamine is still available and domestic production of marijuana can respond to demand. Karl Steinar noted that the sale of narcotics is where organized crime makes the majority of its money. As such, when it becomes challenging to import drugs, these organizations are quick to start producing them domestically. “If there’s a temporary shortage of cocaine,” he explained, “then amphetamines are produced instead. That’s, of course, what we’ve seen before.”

As the gathering ban has put a temporary stop to weekend partying at bars and clubs in Iceland, Karl Steinar says that changes in users’ consumption patterns must be taken into account as well. However, he says that it is currently unclear how these changes will manifest. Fréttablaðið’s sources add that “businessmen who’ve been coming two, three times a week have stopped buying and are spending time with their families instead.”

Karl Steinar told reporters that it’s too early to say if there’s been a significant increase in criminal activity in the wake of the ban but says, for instance, that burglaries of businesses can be expected to increase while most employees work from home. An increase in domestic abuse is also a concern. “There are a lot of people working from home, and so naturally, there could be a rise in crimes committed in the home. We’ve haven’t yet seen this happen, but we’re monitoring very closely, both domestic violence and child abuse and crimes of that nature.”

Cybercrime is also likely to increase, he continued. “People are shopping online a lot and doing all sorts of things online from home that weren’t being done to the same extent before. There are thousands of websites popping up that offer you all kinds of protective devices to prevent you from being infected [with COVID-19]. They are offering products that have clearly not been certified or anything like that.”

 

Sues Icelandic Government for Human Rights Violations

Nara Walker

Australian Nara Walker delivered a petition with over 43,000 signatures in her support to the Speaker of the Icelandic Parliament this afternoon, along with a letter urging MPs to do more to protect victims of domestic violence in Iceland. Nara was convicted by the Icelandic courts for violence against her ex-husband, who had been abusing her for years. She has now sued the Icelandic state before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) for their handling of her case.

Faults in Icelandic justice system

The 43,000 signatures, printed in three thick volumes, were formally accepted by Guðjón Brjánsson, first substitute Speaker of Parliament, along with Nara’s letter. “I believe my case reflects severe faults in the Icelandic justice system in cases of violence against women and domestic abuse,” the letter reads. “I bring forward this petition and call on the lawmakers to set an example that domestic violence, intimate partner violence, and gender-based violence is unacceptable in Iceland.”

Lack of investigation

The case’s complaints to the ECHR touch on violations of Nara’s rights by the Icelandic state pertaining to Articles 3, 6, 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Among the main complaints in her case is that Nara did not enjoy legal protection as a victim of domestic violence. Because of a lack of investigation into the case’s background, her assertion of self-defence was dismissed. Nara’s case asserts that her rights were not properly introduced to her, and that she was presumed guilty rather than innocent until proven guilty. It also adds that she has been subjected to demeaning treatment by being denied medical help for her injuries.

By being treated as noted above, the case asserts that Nara was discriminated against by the Icelandic state. This discrimination is evident in the sentence she received as a foreign woman, which is heavier than in similar cases before the Icelandic courts. Iceland Review has previously reported on the obstacles foreign women face within the Icelandic justice system, specifically when it comes to divorce and custody proceedings.

Charged for assault by her abuser

Nara was convicted for assault for biting off a piece of her then-husband’s tongue. Icelandic courts considered this as an isolated incident, disregarding that Nara’s ex-husband had been abusing her for years. “This [history of abuse] was neither investigated nor taken into account in any way by the District Court,” Nara’s application to the ECHR states. It adds that the Icelandic court “examined this act in an isolated manner, as if it had happened in a vacuum and had not been a desperate response from a victim of recurrent abuse who was getting a tongue forced into her mouth by her abuser while he held her down and impeded her from leaving the premises.” The application goes on to state “The ex-husband had no other injuries whereas the Applicant’s injuries were consistent with being pushed, pulled, held, and beaten.”

Akureyri to Open Service Centre for Victims of Violence

The Minister of Justice and the Minister of Social Affairs and Children have agreed to earmark a combined ISK 24 million {$200,402; €176,854] in the establishment of a new service centre in Akureyri for victims of violence, Vísir reports.

The Akureyri Chief of Police will oversee the project in collaboration with a number of other organizations: the town of Akureyri, the University of Akureyri, the Akureyri Hospital, the Health Care Institution of North Iceland, the Kvennaathvarfið Women’s Shelter, the Kvennaráðgjöf Women’s Counseling Centre, the Icelandic Human Rights Centre, and Aflið, the Association Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. They hope to open by March 1, at which point, the new centre will provide free social support services and legal advice to adults who have been the victims of violence.

A similar centre, called Bjarkahlíð is already operational in Reykjavík. The new centre, which is being created at the behest of the North Iceland Police, is intended to serve individuals living in north and east Iceland. It will run as a pilot program for two years and receive its funding from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Social Affairs, who are splitting the cost equally between them.

 

More Domestic Abusers Seek Help

The number of perpetrators in domestic abuse relationships that seek help in the treatment centre Heimilisfriður has increased by 25% from last year, Vísir reports. The majority of those who seek help are males, between 85% to 90% of the total, and male on female violence is often

The treatment centre Heimilisfriður (Peace of the Home), which is run by the Ministry of Welfare, has been in operation for twenty years. Children’s protection agencies, as well as police authorities, have steered perpetrators to Heimilisfriður, but many have also sought help by themselves. Around 920 individuals have sought the services of the treatment centre in those twenty years, but there has been a noticeable increase recently, with a 25% increase between this year and the last.

The psychologist Andrés Ragnarsson, one of the founders of Heimilisfriður, believes that movements such as #MeToo and an increased focus on domestic abuse has led to this change “I believe what we are doing now is incredibly positive, and we are opening the lid on something that has been kept silent for far, far too long.” Some of those who seek help have even mentioned movements such as #MeToo specifically when they arrive for assistance “I don’t have the exact number for those who have done so, but some have. They have mentioned it, that something started to happen, as they examined their behaviour they realized that what they were doing was not simply “something”, but that it was actually violence that they were performing”