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.

 

Women, Life, Freedom: Candlelight March in Solidarity with Activists in Iran and Afghanistan

UN Women in Iceland hosted a candlelight march against gender-based violence on Friday night. RÚV reports that this is the first time the march has been held since the COVID-19 pandemic began and took place under the slogan “Women, Life, Freedom,” echoing the rallying cry that has taken up by feminist activists and protestors in Iran and beyond.

The march began at Arnarhóll and ended at Bríetartorg, a small square in downtown Reykjavík that commemorates activist and suffragette Bríet Bjarnhéðinsdóttir (1856 – 1940). Harpa concert hall was illuminated in orange during the event, as orange has come to symbolize a better, violence-free future for women and girls around the world.

First Lady Eliza Reid and Minister of Foreign Affairs Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir

According to a Facebook post about the event, the candlelight march marks the beginning of 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, “an international campaign that commences on 25 November—the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women—and ends on 10 December, Human Rights Day.” This year, the 16 Days of Activism campaign continues with its ongoing mission to end femicide, “the murder of women  because they are women.” Event organizers say that 81,000 women and girls were killed globally in 2020, around 47,000 or 58% of whom died at the hands of an intimate partner or a family member. This equates to a woman or girl being killed every 11 minutes in their home.

“By taking part in UN Women Iceland’s Candlelight March,” concluded UN Women in Iceland, “we show solidarity with the brave women and girls of Afghanistan and Iran who are leading the fight against their countries’ regimes’ repressive treatment of women and girls, while being met with brutal and often lethal force.”

‘There’s no going back because there’s nothing to go back to’

Zarah Mesbah speaks at the 2022 Candlelight March

Friday’s march was led by activist Zahra Mesbah, an Afghan woman who was born in Iran, Iranian Zoreh Aria, and UN Women in Iceland director Stella Samúelsdóttir. Individuals from both Afghanistan and Iran were invited to walk in front. In her speech, Zahra emphasized unity, saying: “The only thing that matters is that I am a person, and all people deserve freedom and to live with dignity.”

For her part, Zoreh urged attendees to show their support for the Iranian women who are risking their lives every time they protest. “In their minds, there’s only one way forward and there’s no going back because there’s nothing to go back to,” she said. “They are fighting for freedom and dignity. We ask people to stand with peace, freedom, and the Iranian nation and to ask the government to take action.”

All photos taken by Heiðrún Fivelstad on behalf of UN Women in Iceland.

“Society More Vigilant Against Domestic Abuse,” Police Commissioner Says

Metropolitan Police

A record number of domestic-violence incidents were reported to the police over the past two years, a new report from the Icelandic Police indicates. Victim surveys suggest that domestic violence has not increased, but victims report incidences more frequently. The National Police Commissioner calls this a “positive development.”

2,102 incidents of domestic disputes and violence in 2021

A new report on domestic violence by the Icelandic Police indicates that reports of domestic violence and domestic disputes are on the rise. Fifteen-hundred incidents were reported in 2014, compared to 2,102 in 2021.

In an interview with the radio programme Morgunútvarpið on Rás 2 this morning, National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir referred to this increase in reports as a “positive development.”

“Because during the pandemic – when social restrictions were in effect, and when kids were out of school, etc. – we feared that we would receive fewer reports and fewer calls for help. But this wasn’t the case. Child protective services were notified on multiple occasions when there was a suspicion of possible violence. So you could say that we, as a society, were vigilant, with outside parties notifying the authorities,” Sigríður Björk stated.

Sigríður suggests that over the past few years society has begun to “open its eyes” to this kind of violence. (The report also notes that police protocols were updated in 2014, which led to increased reporting.)

“Only 10 or 15 years ago, domestic violence was regarded as a private matter,” Sigríður Björk continued. “But this is deadly serious. You just have to look at homicide data: half of all homicides occur between related or associated parties.”

Sigríður Björk says that the authorities need to consider preventive measures and educational initiatives to curb domestic abuse.

“When it comes to digital abuse, for example, where you have so many young victims and abusers. Just having a web page: kids are learning (to adopt this technology) and trying on different roles. You can be involved in a situation that is abusive in nature, even though you don’t realise it. Public discourse is important, that is, that it’s not considered a private affair, which people have to deal with for years on end, even at a risk to their lives,” Sigríður Björk observed.

As noted in the report, domestic-violence incidences reported to the police increased by a third between 2015 and 2021. 80% of aggressors were male.

Björk’s Harpa Concert Series Supports Women’s Shelter

Björk Guðmundsdóttir musician

Guests filled Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavík last night for the first evening of musician Björk Guðmundsdóttir’s four-concert series in support of Kvennaathvarfið women’s shelter. The concerts were postponed seven times due to COVID restrictions and are Björk’s first performances in Iceland in three years.

Twenty per cent of the profits from the concert series will go to Kvennaathvarfið women’s shelter in Reykjavík, specifically to support children – the shelter houses on average 11 kids at any given time, RÚV reports. The concerts are acoustic (performed without electronics and beats) and feature the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, Hamrahlíð Choir, and other local musicians.

Though tickets to the concerts are sold out, those interested can follow along virtually. In Iceland, the concerts are broadcast live on RÚV’s Channel 2 as well as on via radio on Rás 1. Those located abroad can also purchase access to the live stream. The remaining concerts will be held on October 24 and 31 and November 15.

In Focus: Icelandic Football Association Accused of Silencing Violence and Sexual Assault

Recently, national coverage of high-pro.file sexual assault cases gave second wind to the #metoo movement in Iceland, renewing discussion of the power imbalance between celebrities accused of sexual violence and their accusers. A few of the cases mentioned on social media allegedly involved famous footballers and voices calling for justice grew louder, putting pressure on […]

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Health Clinic for Women Coming to Capital Area

doctor nurse hospital health

The Capital Area Health Service will open a special health clinic for women as a pilot project within the healthcare system. Minister of Health Svandís Svavarsdóttir decided to launch the project in consultation with the Capital Area Health Service. There are indications that women’s healthcare needs are not being met. The Health Service has received ISK 60 million ($485,000/€408,000) in funding for the project and it is hoped the project will gather knowledge that can be applied across Iceland.

Healthcare issues that are particularly relevant to women include menopause, contraception, domestic violence and its consequences, and various illnesses that affect women in particular. A clinic dedicated to women has been suggested as a way to address these issues more directly and improve healthcare for women overall.

The pilot project entails opening one women’s clinic in the capital area that will be staffed full-time by health professionals who have specialised experience and knowledge, e.g. doctors, nurses, or midwives. Emphasis will be placed on staff being able to diagnose and address issues, as well as having accurate and evidence-based information available to healthcare professionals, women, and the general public.

An opening date for the clinic has yet to be confirmed but preparations are now underway.

“Without Perpetrators, There’s No Violence”

Violent Crime Task Force

Yesterday, at an open meeting held by the National Commissioner of the Icelandic Police, a list of proposals to assist perpetrators of violent crimes was introduced. “Without the offenders, there is no violence,” Eygló Harðardóttir, one of two members of a special task force entrusted with devising the proposals, stated.

Technology to play a key role

In May of last year, the Minister of Social Affairs Ásmundur Einar Daðason and Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir established a special task force on violent crime. The task force comprised the former Minister of Social Affairs Eygló Harðardóttir and Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir, who introduced their proposals in an open meeting yesterday.

As noted on the government’s website, technology will play a pivotal role in the implementation of the proposals. Among the task force’s recommendations is the continued use of a risk-assessment system (B-Safer/SARA:SV), which the police has adopted to assess the danger of violence in close relationships to mitigate the risk of further crimes on behalf of perpetrators. An app will also be developed for these purposes. The task force further recommended the development of educational material and the provision of motivational phone calls between perpetrators and violence-prevention units, wherein the former are informed of useful resources.

Additionally, the task force suggested the development of a special risk-assessment system of sexual offences among adults. The system would calculate required assistance based on the number and severity of risk factors, which would serve to assist the police in their decision-making regarding the prevention of sexual offences – especially against children.

Furthermore, the task force recommended subsidies to Heimilisfriður (a treatment facility for individuals who have perpetrated domestic violence) and to psychologist Anna Kristín Newton to develop educational material for the website 112.is. Anna Kristín, in collaboration with her colleagues, is currently preparing to establish an organisation under the heading Taktu skrefið (Take the First Step) to assist individuals in their sexual behaviour and to cease sexual violence.

Trying to break the vicious circle

In an interview with RÚV yesterday, former Minister of Justice Eygló Harðardóttir stated that the task force had endeavoured to devise ways in which the authorities could prevent and more quickly intervene in violent crime. “If we consider the previously available resources, it’s clear that they weren’t sufficient. Without perpetrators, there is no violence; if we don’t have any offenders, we don’t have any victims.”

“It’s this vicious circle that we’re trying to break. The only way to do that is to offer the necessary resources, intervene more quickly, and cooperate. Preventing violence is something that all of us must work together toward,” Eygló stated.

Nine Women Sue Icelandic State for Dropping Sexual Assault Cases

women sue Icelandic state in sexual assault cases

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.

Domestic Violence Emergency Online Chat Now Available in English And Polish

First Lady of Iceland Eliza Reid

“Violence and abuse in close relationships can take many forms and is sadly all too common, even here in Iceland.” So begins Eliza Reid’s introduction to the National Emergency Number’s new online effort (112.is) to reach sufferers, perpetrators and families affected by domestic abuse. The online chat is part of Iceland’s government’s attempt to address domestic violence during the global pandemic.

The online gateway for domestic violence centres around Iceland was officially opened in October but is now available in English and Polish in addition to Icelandic. The most significant change offered by the new platform is that people affected by domestic violence can now contact emergency services not only by calling Iceland’s emergency number, 112 but also via online chat on their website. A notice from the Emergency Services states that the need for such a central information hub has never been greater than in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the pandemic’s effect on households and mental health, the holidays often cause increased strain on families causing tension and violence.

Eliza Reid, co-founder of Iceland’s Writers’ Retreat and wife of President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson officially introduced the English and Polish part of the website. In her online address, she stated that “ Violence and abuse can take place across all, ethnicities, educational backgrounds, socio-economic class, religion, sexual orientation, gender. It can happen to people that you know, to your neighbours, to your family members, and we really need to be looking out for each other.” She spoke on different forms of abuse and the resources available through 112.is, such as the Women’s Shelter, Stígamót, Bjarmahlíð and Bjarkarhlíð, located in Reykjavík and Akureyri. If you’ve experienced any such kind of abuse, either if you’re experiencing it now or if you have in the past, or if you’re concerned that you or someone that you know may be experiencing such abuse in the near future, I encourage you to go to 112.is where you can have an anonymous chat online with someone and you can also see all kinds of resources about the services that are available to you and the help that you can seek.”

The online effort of 112 is one of the main tasks suggested to unite efforts against violence in times of trauma and economic difficulties due to COVID-19. The team’s directors are National Police Commissioner Sigríður Björk Guðjónsdóttir and Eygló Harðardóttir. The Emergency Response Services have also been tasked with organising a campaign to encourage people to disclose violence and seek help with 112.

The full video can be seen below and everyone who has witnessed or experienced domestic abuse is encouraged to visit www.112.is.  

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.