Fourteen Prostitution Cases Reported in Iceland This Year

Chief Superintendent Grímur Grímsson

Fourteen prostitution-related offences have been reported to the police in 2023, with only a few leading to fines or prosecutions. The head of the central investigative department with the Metropolitan Police has told RÚV that the police lacks sufficient manpower to adequately investigate such cases

A total of 562 cases since the enactment

Fourteen cases of prostitution-related offences have been brought to the police for investigation this year. This was disclosed in responses from the Minister of Justice to queries by Brynhildur Björnsdóttir, deputy member of Parliament for the Left-Green Movement.

As noted on the Parliament’s website, the response indicates that of these cases, two have been subjected to fine procedures and three to prosecution. No verdict has been delivered in any of the cases that emerged this year.

As noted by Vísir, Brynhildur had inquired about the number of prostitution offences committed since the enactment of Law 54/2009, which criminalises the purchase of sexual services and provides penalties of fines or up to one year of imprisonment for those who buy or attempt to buy sex. Since 2009, there have been a total of 562 such cases.

Of these, 82 underwent fine procedures, 251 faced prosecution, and verdicts have been reached in 104 of the cases. The Minister’s response also notes the difficulty in compiling information on convictions or acquittals due to the extensive work entailed.

Rare for victims of prostitution to press charges

As noted by RÚV, the number of cases that have been subjected to prosecution procedures has declined significantly since 2013. That year, 126 cases were subject to prosecution and a verdict was delivered in 64 of those cases. Since then, prosecutory actions have been pursued much more infrequently and a verdict in such cases has only been delivered nine times.  

In an interview with RÚV published this morning, Drífa Snædal, spokesperson for Stígamót (a centre for survivors of sexual violence that provides free and confidential counselling), asserted that the statistical data do not align with the actual scale of the offences; the staff at Stígamót feel that incidents of prostitution have increased in recent years, with Drífa pointing to the number of websites offering services of prostitutes.

According to Stígamót’s annual report, 18 individuals sought help from the centre last year due to prostitution. The report notes that processing the traumatic experiences associated with prostitution often takes a long time.

As noted by RÚV, a likely explanation for the low rate of legal action in such cases, as presented in the response from the Minister of Justice, is that these matters are not a priority for the police. Cases often need to be actively sought out because it is rare for victims of prostitution to directly approach police stations to press charges against purchasers.

Drífa also noted that court proceedings in such cases are always closed, which she finds incomprehensible; the identity of the perpetrator never becomes public, which does not affect the victim’s standing in society. Meanwhile, the self-blame experienced by those in prostitution is significant, with victims often holding themselves responsible and resorting to prostitution out of some form of desperation.

Lacking sufficient manpower

Grímur Grímsson, head of the central investigative unit of the Metropolitan Police, told RÚV that the police lacked sufficient manpower to adequately address these cases.

Grímur agreed that there were a significant number of websites offering prostitution services in Iceland and not enough manpower to investigate. He mentioned that the increase in violent crime in recent years had also played a role in this regard. “Violent crime cases take a lot of time, and they are urgent. But it is a matter of prioritisation; hopefully, we can do better in the new year,” Grímur observed.

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.”

Drífa Snædal, President of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour, Steps Down

drífa snædal labour union iceland

Drífa Snædal, president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour, has announced today that she is stepping down from her post.

Citing the formation of certain blocs within the confederation and difficult relations with elected representatives, Drífa stated that it was impossible for her to continue working as president. Upcoming salary negotiations and the annual conference in October were identified as reasons to step down sooner, rather than later.

The announcement can be found below in a Facebook post from the Icelandic Confederation of Labour.

In her statement, Drífa said that as president, she found herself in situations she had never expected. Specifically, she pointed out how Efling’s mass layoffs earlier this year forced her to publicly criticize Efling chairperson Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir for her decision. According to Drífa, the Icelandic Confederation of Labour had been working against such mass layoffs for some time, and that Sólveig’s actions put her in a very difficult position. Given the internal divisions, she said, it was impossible to move forward.

Kristján Þórður Snæbjarnarson, chairperson of the Icelandic Electrical Industry Association and vice-president of the Icelandic Labour Confederation, is slated to take over Drífa’s now-vacant position until the coming conference in October.

In a statement to Morgunblaðið, Kristján said that the situation was still very fresh, and that he had not decided whether he would run for the presidency at the conference in October. Having just received the news this morning, he said that although Drífa would be missed, it was naturally his task to step in and fill her role until more permanent decisions could be made.

The Icelandic Confederation of Labour consists of 46 trade unions and represents service workers, seamen, construction workers, office and retail workers, and several other industries in Iceland. It is the largest union confederation in Iceland, representing 2/3 of Icelandic organized labour, or around 133,000 workers. Approximately 80% of Icelandic labour is organized in trade unions, the largest of which are VR, with c. 40,000 members, and Efling, with c. 30,000 members.

Concluding her announcement, Drífa called the labour movement the “most remarkable human rights movements in the world.” She continued: “However, I can no longer perform my duties as president of the Icelandic Confederation of Labour. It’s best to end things here. And to remove any doubt, this is not part of some larger scheme, I am simply leaving this platform with no intention of returning. I thank my supporters from the bottom of my heart and ask for their understanding in this decision.”

First May Day Without Celebrations in 97 Years

hotel workers strike Reykjavík

May 1, or International Workers’ Day, has been observed with protest marches and workers’ demonstrations in Iceland since May 1, 1923; it has been a public holiday in the country since 1972. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic and prohibitions on public gatherings of over 20 people, however, in-person May Day celebrations were called off in Iceland this year for the first time in nearly a century, Vísir reports.

As such, labour organizers, unions, and workers took their demands online, with a virtual rally organized by The Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), the Confederation of University Graduates, and the Federation of State and Municipal Employees. The rally included performances by a broad range of Icelandic musicians, including Bubbi Morthens, Auður, and the Labour Brass Band, and was broadcast from Harpa concert hall on Friday night. People were also encouraged to make May Day-related signs and post them on social media.

Union Leader Urges Solidarity

In her May Day address, ÁSI President Drífa Snædal emphasized that workers and organizers should not lose sight of either their immediate demands—unemployment benefits and basic security for all workers during the current economic and employment crisis—nor the “big demands,” namely, “equality and justice and a just society.” She also urged solidarity now more than ever.

“There’s always a danger in circumstances such as these that people find themselves in such dire straits that they start undercutting one another and taking worse jobs under worse terms,” said Drífa. “Which is why it’s of the utmost importance that we abide by the framework that we’ve set out for ourselves here in Iceland and stick to our collective bargaining agreements and terms.”

Wage Disputes and Contract Negotiations Ongoing

May Day also threw into relief several high-profile wage disputes and contract negotiations that have been ongoing in Iceland of late. On Wednesday, the Icelandic Nurses Association voted to reject the contract that was signed by their union on April 10. Icelandic nurses have been without a contract for over a year; 46% of union members supported the new contract, while 53% voted against it.

Icelandic police have also been without a contract for over a year. Unable to demonstrate and make their demands publicly on May Day, they opted to take part in a digital demonstration. “One year without a contract,” declares the video, reminding viewers that 19 years ago, police took part in a public march on April 30, 2001, when their contract with the state had lapsed. “Police are on the front lines!” continues the video. “We venture in when others take shelter. We demand wage corrections without delay!”

Efling Union members employed by five municipalities in the capital area and South Iceland will also resume striking on Tuesday, May 5. The members working for the municipalities of Kópavogur, Seltjarnarnes, Mosfellsbær, Hveragerði, and Ölfus voted overwhelmingly in support of strike action. The union’s negotiation committee postponed strike action during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic but announced that the strike would be voted on again after Easter. The strike will affect elementary schools and home services.

Wage struggles must be allowed to continue, concluded Drífa Snædal in her May Day address, responding to criticisms of continued strike actions amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “If we push everything aside because of the situation—be it a collective bargaining agreement or wage dispute—we don’t know where it will end.”