Reports of Sexual Violence Decreased by 15% in Iceland

police station Hlemmur

The number of reported incidents of sexual violence in Iceland has decreased significantly, according to a newly-published report from the National Police Commissioner’s Office. In 2023, a total of 521 offences were reported to police, a decrease of 15% compared to the average over the last three years. About 45% of victims were children.

Sexual offences against children decrease

There have not been so few reports of sexual offences to police in Iceland since 2017. In 2018, 570 sexual offences were reported, an increase of 18% from the previous year. Over 600 offences were reported in 2019, 2021, and 2022. The number of reports of rape and sexual violence against children decreased significantly last year, according to the report, while reports of rape decreased by 13% compared to the average over the previous three years.

While reports of child abuse increased by 21% compared to the three-year average, reports of sexual offences against children decreased by 20%.

Only 10.3% of victims report to police

In the 2019-2023 Law Enforcement Plan, Icelandic Police have made it a goal to decrease the rate of sexual violence while increasing the rate of reporting. In a victim survey conducted in 2023 which asked about respondents’ experiences from the year 2022, 1.9% stated they had been sexually assaulted and only 10.3% of those victims had reported the incidents to police.

Survivors call for shorter processing times and harsher sentences

Those who do report sexual abuse in Iceland have complained of long processing times: sexual assault cases take around two years to go through the justice system in Iceland. A new organised interest group for sexual abuse survivors was established in Iceland last year with the aim of improving survivors’ legal standing. The group has called for shortening case processing times for sexual offences as well as less lenient sentencing for perpetrators.

Help and support through 112

Sexual violence and abuse in Iceland can always be reported via the emergency phone line 112 or on the 112 webchat. The 112 website has extensive information on how to recognise abuse and ways to get help and support in Iceland. Support is available to all, regardless of immigration or legal status in Iceland.

15% of 10th-Grade Girls Have Been Raped By Peers, Study Finds

Farsældarþing

A new study presented at the Children’s Prosperity Congress reveals alarming rates of sexual harassment and violence among Icelandic youth, with one in six tenth-grade girls stating that they had been raped by a peer and the majority of victims not reporting it, RÚV reports. Almost 60% of teenage girls report having encountered sexual harassment online.

Voices of the youth “extremely important”

Professionals, government officials, children, and relatives convened at the Harpa Music and Conference Hall yesterday for the Children’s Prosperity Congress (i.e. Farsældarþing).

Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Education and Children, told RÚV that parliament played an important role in implementing laws contributing to the prosperity of children. “It’s significant that experts involved in children’s issues from various sectors are convening here. We’re not just discussing the current state of affairs, but also identifying the key challenges, scrutinising data, and setting policies. This helps us decide, as a society, where to focus our efforts in the upcoming seasons,” Ásmundur Einar observed.

Ásmundur Einar emphasised the crucial role of children’s input in shaping the service. “Their voices are extremely important and should be included in every discussion and decision-making process.”

Important to articulate the concerns of the youth

Hanna Valdís Hólmarsdóttir, a 15-year-old participant, remarked that she was struck by the extent to which their voices, as young people, were heard. “It’s awesome.”

Sixteen-year-old Ernir Daði Arnberg Sigurðsson concurred, saying that it felt crucial to articulate the sentiments and concerns of the younger generation. “Society faces numerous pressing issues, and it’s important that professionals hear our perspective so they can effectively address them.”

Fifteen-year-old Emilía Karen Gunnthórsdóttir hoped that the congress would prove successful. “I have both hopes and confidence that this congress will yield successful results,” she stated.

Striking statistics on violence

During the congress, findings from the Icelandic youth study (i.e. Íslensku æskulýðsrannsóknarinnar), conducted among primary school students this past spring, were disclosed. Ragný Þóra Guðjohnsen, who managed the study, highlighted several positive outcomes from the children’s responses. “A significant majority of children feel content in their school environment and exhibit increased social awareness,” Ragný noted.

There are, however, pressing concerns, as well. For instance, between 30-44% of children report feeling sadness, and as many as 56% experience anxiety. “Here, we see a marked gender discrepancy, indicating that particular attention must be paid to girls,” Ragný added.

Shockingly, 11% of children have been exposed to domestic violence, and an alarming 58% of teenage girls have encountered sexual harassment online. “A disturbingly large segment of children have experienced sexual abuse or domestic violence,” Ragný Þóra observed. “We’re witnessing a rise in violence against children, with boys requiring particular attention.”

Other statistics are equally alarming: 15% of 10th-grade teenage girls have been raped by peers, and 17% have suffered sexual abuse from an adult. A majority of abuse victims have not disclosed their experiences to anyone.

Violence is rampant

“Violence is rampant today,” 15-year-old Hanna Valdís told RÚV yesterday. “It’s disheartening to see how normalised it has become for people my age to engage in physical fights and even suffer from stabbings or severe abuse.”

Emilía Karen emphasised the importance of accessible support for struggling teens. “Everyone needs someone to talk to when grappling with anxiety or depression. Greater societal support is imperative.”

Perpetrators encouraged to seek help

Speaking to RÚV yesterday, Guðbjörg S. Bergsdóttir of the Data Science and Information Department of the National Police Commissioner pointed out that violence can be reported via the website 112 or by contacting a trusted adult.

The office has recently launched an initiative targeting perpetrators, or individuals pursuing inappropriate contact with children. Help can be sought at the website taktuskrefid.is, which offers a self-assessment for those concerned about engaging in harmful online behaviour.

“Is Everything Alright?”

is everything alright

Iceland’s Justice Minister, National Police Commissioner, and Emergency Response Service 112 launched a sexual assault prevention campaign today, with the first phase specifically aimed at nightclubs. The campaign asks the public to be on the lookout for violence when taking part in nightlife, ask “Is everything alright?” if they suspect it may not be, and call 112 if necessary. Some locals have criticised the campaign for focusing on bystanders rather than the perpetrators of sexual offences.

Decrease in reported rapes during periods of social restrictions

A press release from the campaign states that reports of rape decreased by 43% in 2020, a statistic authorities relate to the social restrictions that were in place that year, closing bars and nightclubs for some periods and limiting their operational hours during others. According to the Police Commissioner’s Office, a large proportion of reported rapes take place between Friday and Sunday, between the hours of midnight and 6:00 AM. While the police registered 114 cases of rape in 2020, the average number between 2017 and 2019 was 201. Reports increased once more when restrictions were relaxed in 2021. “Changes to restrictions therefore had a clear impact on the frequency of rape,” the press release states.

“I have emphasised that in order to reduce sexual offences, we need to mobilise all of society. We must all be vigilant and our responsibility to eradicate this evil in Icelandic society cannot be ignored,” Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson stated. “Our experience throughout the pandemic shows that rape and other forms of violence are not inevitable. We all want a life without infection prevention restrictions again but we also want a life without violence. To that end, we are raising awareness about sexual assault.”

“Educate perpetrators”

Some locals have criticised the campaign for not placing responsibility on the perpetrators of sexual assault. “Seems at first glance that this is yet another campaign where the responsibility is shifted to everyone other than the perpetrators,” one Icelandic woman tweeted. “This is so ridiculous,” another wrote. “Almost as ridiculous as when the Icelandic Travel Industry Association launched the project ‘Protection against prostitution’. Put the money into something useful. Educate perpetrators. Don’t place the responsibility on victims or bystanders.”

Jón Gunnarsson and his assistant Brynjar Níelsson have previously been criticised for their voting record on women’s issues. MP and Reform Party Chairperson stated last December that she did not trust the two when it came to supporting issues of gender equality.

Out of National Horse-Riding Team Due to Sexual Assault Conviction

jóhann rúnar skúlason jockey

Veteran jockey Jóhann Rúnar Skúlason has been removed from Iceland’s national equestrian team due to a sexual assault conviction. Mannlíf reports that in 1994, Jóhann Rúnar was convicted for raping a 13-year-old girl the previous year, when he was 24 years old. The jockey was also recently convicted for domestic violence in Denmark, his country of residence.

Guðni Halldórsson, chairman of the Icelandic Horse Association (Landssamband hestamannafélaga, or LH) told Vísir it was a difficult decision to remove Iceland’s “biggest competitor and biggest name” in the sport from the national team, but added that “sexual offences, especially involving children, cannot and will not be tolerated on our watch.” Guðni stated that he first heard of the conviction when Mannlíf reported on it late last month and that he is not aware of any other sexual assault cases coming up within the association previously.

Sexual violence within sport has been a big topic in Icelandic media lately after several cases of sexual violence emerged connected to the national men’s football team. The Football Association was accused of silencing victims of violence and sexual assault in cases involving team members. “It’s a different discussion and a different way of dealing with issues today than it was five years ago,” Guðni stated in reference to the cases involving football players. “This decision was made based on the environment and the situation today and we stand by it.”

In 2019, Jóhann Rúnar was a triple world champion in horse riding and was also nominated for Iceland’s Athlete of the Year award.

Activists Call for Clearer Regulations on Drugging and Sexual Assault

The emergency ward has handled 131 cases of sexual violence this year, already more than the 130 cases it handled in all of 2020. Nineteen people have gone to the emergency ward due to gang rape so far this year, a rise from 13 in 2020, Fréttablaðið reports. Activists are calling for clearer regulations in support of victims of drugging.

Drugging and sexual assault have been prominent in public discussion in recent days. The rate of gang rape (defined by having two or more perpetrators) has risen since last year, and Hrönn Stefánsdóttir, project manager for victims of sexual offences at the emergency ward, stated that this year has also seen more offences committed by a friend or acquaintance of the victim. Hrönn states that could be one reason for the low rate of police reports in such cases. Of the 130 cases the emergency ward dealt with last year, only 43 were reported to police.

“It can make it even more difficult for victims to report when it’s a friend or acquaintance, or even a family member,” she stated. “Society often asks why people don’t report or take the ‘proper route,’ it’s just not that easy. Even when people report, only 12-20% of cases are prosecuted, cases are dropped even though people have taken all the proper routes.” The emergency ward places emphasis on caring for the physical and mental injuries sustained by victims, collecting forensic samples, and photographs. Samples are only stored for one year.

Most victims who sought help in the emergency room last year were 18-25 years old (52 out of 130), while another 32 were between 26 and 35 years old. Nineteen victims were 16-17 years old while six victims were between 10 and 15 years of age.

Victims of drugging dismissed

Steinunn Gyðu- og Guðjónsdóttir is a spokeswoman for Stígamót, a centre for survivors of sexual violence. She told RÚV there have been cases where victims of drugging have not been provided with an ambulance when they have called for one. Stígamót also helps many victims of drugging who were not victims of a sexual offence afterwards.

“People come to us regularly that have been drugged without having experienced another violent offence afterwards, such as rape or some other crime. They often experience complete confusion and helplessness. Call an ambulance and don’t receive assistance or go to the hospital and don’t receive blood tests, because there was no other violence afterwards,” Steinunn explains.

Over 130 victims of drugging and sexual violence have been sharing their stories in a Twitter thread started last Sunday. Many state that authorities attributed their condition to their own consumption of alcohol and even refused requests for a blood test. Ninna Karla Katrínardóttir of activist group Öfgar says clearer regulations are needed within police, the healthcare system, and the emergency ward in dealing with such cases. Ninna says nightclubs can also clarify their procedures and train staff to recognise signs of drugging and react accordingly.

Justice Minister responds

In an interview published by Vísir, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir underlined the importance of the justice system taking drugging cases seriously and holding perpetrators responsible, but stated one of the main obstacles in such cases was obtaining evidence. Drugging is a crime according to Icelandic law and Áslaug does not believe that regulations necessarily need to be changed to address it differently. It could help, however, to review procedures in the healthcare system in such cases.

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.

Reykjavík’s Ninth Annual SlutWalk

Reykjavík’s ninth annual Drusluganga, or SlutWalk, will take place on Saturday, mbl.is reports.

The main goal of the march, is to “create a platform for solidarity with survivors of sexual violence and return the shame to where it belongs, with the perpetrator,” write organisers, as well as to bring an end to rape culture. The Reykjavík SlutWalk has grown continually since it began in July 2011, and last year, 20,000 people took part. The protest was founded in Toronto, Canada and took place in April 2011 after a police officer suggested that if women didn’t want to be assaulted, they “should avoid dressing like sluts.”

Participants made signs and sold walk-related merchandise at Loft Hostel on Thursday; organiser Sigrún Bragadóttir also held a ‘craftivism’ workshop. “Craftivism is when crafting is used as a motivating force, as activism—to compel changes in the world and promote a better world,” she explained.

Saturday’s SlutWalk will start at Hallgrímskirkja at 2.00pm and end at Austurvöllur Square.

US Man Facing Federal Charges May Have Fled to Iceland

Police

An American man facing charges of numerous sexual offenses in Columbia, Missouri is thought to have fled to Iceland, but Icelandic authorities have not been contacted by any law enforcement agencies in the US regarding his detainment or extradition, RÚV reports.

In August 2018, Jay Paul Robinson (42) was arrested on suspicion of privacy invasion when it was discovered that he had installed and concealed a video camera in a public library restroom. According to an article published in the Columbia Daily Tribune, “evidence obtained from other electronic devices following the execution of a search warrant showed Robinson committing multiple additional sex crimes.” Additional charges, including rape, were then filed against the suspect in October.

Not long after his first arrest, Jay Paul seems to have fled the US with $7,000 (ISK 823,555/€6,141), telling family that he was going to be working abroad as a handyman. “I fear you have no idea how bad this is going to get,” he wrote to family members in an email quoted in the Columbia Times article. “…I am pretty certain I am going to be going away for a quite long time. There is no way to undo the hurt and disgustingness I have done. At least this will keep me from causing more damage.”

According to an agent with US Homeland Security, Jay Paul booked an August 5 flight from Chicago, Illinois to Iceland. There is currently no report of his whereabouts since then, but the Ministry of Justice, the international division of the Icelandic state police, and state prosecutor Sigríður Friðjónsdóttir have all confirmed that they’ve not been contacted by American authorities about him at all.

Orri Páll Demands Media Stop Coverage of Allegations

sígur rós tax case

Icelandic media outlet Stundin received a letter from Orri Páll Dýrason’s lawyer on Thursday, demanding that the publication cease any further coverage of the rape allegations made against Sigur Rós’ former drummer by American artist Meagan Boyd. Stundin published the letter from Gunnar Ingi Jóhannsson on Thursday night, in advance of a piece that would include an interview with Meagan, as well as interviews with two of her friends who corroborate her allegations. Stundin reached out to Orri Páll for comment on the article, but were contacted by his lawyer instead.

Meagan came forward with her story in early October, and the allegations have since gained wide-spread attention in Iceland and abroad. Given this, the letter came as a surprise to Stundin editor Jón Trausti Reynisson, who told Vísir that he found the request strange considering the fact that the allegations against Orri Páll have already been widely discussed in all major Icelandic media outlets, as well as in numerous foreign publications.

It is interesting to note that Orri Páll’s lawyer, Gunnar Ingi Jóhannsson, is an advocate for Iceland’s Supreme Court and considered an expert on media and freedom of speech issues. In 2012, in fact, he represented journalists Erla Hlynsdóttir and Björk Eiðsdóttir in their free speech case against the Icelandic government, which was tried in the European Court of Human Rights. Erla and Björk won their case.

The letter that Gunnar Ingi sent to Stundin, he states that his client can “demonstrate that [Meagan Boyd’s] story will not stand up. My client is working to clear himself of these accusations, but intends to do so outside of the media spotlight.”

The letter requests that Stundin not publish the allegations, “especially while they have not been proven and the relevant authorities have not considered them.” The purpose of the article, asserts Gunnar Ingi, “…can hardly be other than to further disseminate these serious claims and increase the readership of [Stundin’s] publication at the expense of the more important interests of my client.”

Gunnar Ingi closed the letter by stating the Orri Páll reserved his right to pursue legal action against Stundin if the article is published on Friday.

(As of time of writing, the Stundin article, planned for Friday publication, had not been published.)