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.

YMCA/YWCA Iceland Issues Apology Over Founder’s Abuse

Friðrik Friðriksson

Following witness testimonies in October, YMCA/YWCA Iceland has acknowledged that Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson, founder of the organisation, sexually harassed boys and overstepped their boundaries. The board of YMCA/YWCA Iceland issued an apology this morning.

Witnesses invited to share experiences

In late October, a book authored by historian Guðmundur Magnússon alleged that Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson, the founder of YMCA/YWCA Iceland (a non-profit and non-governmental youth organisation based on the life and teaching of Jesus Christ), had made sexual advances towards a minor.

The leadership of YMCA/YWCA Iceland stated that they were shocked by the allegation and invited those who had been subjected to sexual harassment or abuse by Friðrik, or those who had information about such incidents, to come forward and share their experiences.

Beyond a reasonable doubt

In a statement published on Facebook and in the newspaper Morgunblaðið today, YMCA/YWCA Iceland has concluded that Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson sexually harassed boys and overstepped their boundaries. A formal channel had been opened with the assistance of two experienced professionals:

“Through this channel, testimonies have now emerged, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Reverend Friðrik Friðriksson, founder of YMCA/YWCA Iceland, exploited his respected position to overstep boundaries in interactions with boys and sexually harassed them. YMCA/YWCA Iceland hereby sincerely apologise to the victims,” the statement reads. “We regret that the organisation was not aware of the founder’s behaviour at the time, as Reverend Friðrik passed away in 1961.”

“The board of YMCA/YWCA Iceland thanks the many who have concerned themselves with the matter and have in various ways contributed to this reckoning with the past.”

The statement concludes by saying that the organisation does not condone sexual harassment or abuse, and the safety and welfare of children are of utmost priority.

“We make very strict demands on those who work with children and youth in our organisation. They must, among other things, undergo thorough background checks and receive training and education on ethical standards, child protection, and boundaries in interactions.”

In November, the Reykjavík City Council voted to remove the statue of Séra Friðrik from downtown Reykjavík and put it into storage.

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.

#MeToo “Revolution” Within Icelandic Secondary Schools

#MeToo

This week, students at MH junior college protested a history of perceived inaction on behalf of school administrators in matters of sexual abuse and misconduct. During a staged walk-out, students called on administrators and government officials to take action. In addition to offering formal apologies, school administrators, alongside one government minister, took steps to rectify the state of affairs in the future.

Lipstick smeared on bathroom mirrors

Tuesday, October 3, was a day of protest at the Hamrahlíð Junior College (Menntaskólinn við Hamrahlíð) in Reykjavík.

Rhetorical questions were smeared on bathroom mirrors with lipstick:

“Why are there so many rapists?”

School administrators were addressed via typed-out messages hung in the hallways:

“As a student at MH, I refuse to accept that full-on rapists are sitting across from me in class, are participating in group projects – are passing me by in the halls.”

The source of these protests?

The perception that history was repeating itself at MH: that once again school administrators were handling accusations of sexual abuse passively – and that victims were being made to confront perpetrators in the halls.

“For fuck’s sake, do something. I refuse to attend the same school as a person charged with raping his little cousin.”

The same war, ten years on …

In an op-ed published on Vísir.is on the following morning, MH alumna Brynhildur Karlsdóttir delineated her experience at MH junior college ten years ago:

“When I was a 17-year-old student at MH, I was raped by my friend and schoolmate. When I finally mustered the courage to open up to school administrators – I was met with closed doors. Despite anxiety attacks, fear, and post-traumatic stress, I never reported the incident to the police, and the only solace that the administration could offer was the prospect of switching schools.”

Brynhildur’s best friend waged a similar war:

“Having been brutally raped, my friend Elísabet pressed charges and offered substantial evidence. Nonetheless, she was made to confront her rapist in the hallways and attend the same classes. There was no justice for Elísabet, no one looked out for her, and she alone was made to shoulder responsibility for the violence she suffered. She committed suicide in 2019.”

Later in her piece, Brynhildur weaves her narrative into contemporary events at MH, describing how a student, as mentioned above, had decided to take matters into her own hands, writing lipstick messages onto bathroom mirrors. “I know this because my sister and my sister-in-law attend MH, and they tell me of a kind of student revolution that’s taking place.”

Speaking to a journalist from Vísir, Brynhildur described the administration’s reaction to the protests vicariously, through her sister and sister-in-law: “They said that the administration had been rather upset, and referred to the protests a kind of ‘group hysteria.’ They don’t seem to be showing any consideration for the experiences of students, who are opening up about the injustice that they’ve suffered. It’s just silenced, and, once again, the shame lives on with the victims.”

The President of MH, Steinn Jóhannsson, reached out to Brynhildur on the following morning, offering an apology on the school’s behalf (despite not having been President during Brynhildur’s time at the college):

“He offered a former apology on behalf of MH … it was unexpected,” Brynhildur remarked. “One is somehow not used to someone accepting responsibility and saying, ‘Yes, that’s awful, we’re so sorry to hear it, and we failed you.’ That was big.”

MH administrators also offered a formal apology to students, observing that they regretted the fact that current and former students had experienced distress relating to matters of sexual abuse and misconduct within the school premises.

“These are sensitive issues; we want to learn and do better,” a press release from the school read.

1,000 students participate in protests

At 11 AM yesterday morning, dozens of MH students staged a walk-out, congregating outside the walls of the school in a meeting of solidarity and to voice their demands. Other students from other secondary schools also attended.

Agla Elín Davíðsdóttir, a student at MH, read a list of demands geared toward changing school contingency plans regarding matters of sexual abuse.

“We demand that administrators treat sexual offences with the same, if not greater, gravity as other violent offences,” Agla stated.

As noted by RÚV, the protestors made four demands:

  • Perpetrators of sexual violence be expelled from school (i.e. that victims be spared confrontation with perpetrators on school premises)
  • Gender studies be made mandatory in all schools
  • Administrators, teachers, and staff receive gender and sexology training
  • Students be able to report sexual offences in an easy manner

The minister responds

Among those who attended the protests was Ásmundur Einar Daðason, Minister of Education and Children.

When asked why he had decided to attend the protests, Ásmundur remarked that the students were calling for the government and school administrators to listen. “And that’s why I’m here … I think that for too long we’ve failed to engage with these voices … these young people, they’re heralding a new era, and if we fail to listen – we’re in trouble.”

Addressing the crowd, Ásmundur offered an apology on behalf of the Icelandic government: “We apologise for not having listened to you over the past years,” he stated.

Aside from the apologies, the upshot of the protests was also more concrete: school administrators from MH held a meeting with the Association of Icelandic Secondary School Students (SÍF) and decided that the school would partner with the association in its efforts against sexual violence and harassment. Minister Ásmundur Einar has also stated that he would call a meeting with the headmasters of Icelandic secondary schools to review contingency plans.