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.

Westman Islands Celebration Marred by Offensive Effigy

vestmannaeyjar á þrettándanum

Icelandic journalist, podcaster, and athlete Edda Falak has spoken out against recent racist and misogynistic depictions of her at a holiday celebration in the Westman islands.

The parade in question was organized by the Westman islands municipal council alongside local sports club ÍBV for Þrettándinn, or 12th Night of Christmas. Postponed in recent years by COVID-19 restrictions, the parade traditionally includes playful troll figures, the holiday bearing many associations with folklore and magic.

One troll, however, bore Edda’s misspelled name: Edda Flak.

In the above Twitter post, Edda Falak stated: “This is a very dangerous message. Everyone involved in organizing this event needs to be held accountable and answer for what they plan on doing to fix this disgusting culture of violence that thrives there. This is not humour, this is violence and racism.”

Edda Falak was born to a Lebanese father and Icelandic mother. She has been a key figure in Iceland’s MeToo movement, hosting a podcast where she talks with victims of sexual assault.

Edda made headlines when her story of sexual assault involved a nationally recognized musician. At first unnamed, it later came out that the musician in question was allegedly Ingó, when he sent her a cease and desist order, claiming her statements referred to him. Ingó, a pop singer, is particularly beloved in the Westman islands, where his appearance at the annual music festival there after the allegations caused controversy.

Haraldur Pálsson, manager of sports association ÍBV, made a public statement in which he stated that he was not aware of the effigy in question beforehand. Videos of backstage preparations for the parade, however, clearly show the presence of the offensive effigy in plain sight. When asked if he planned to contact Edda to offer an apology, he stated that he had thought about it, but had not found her number.

The Westman islands’ Twelfth Night Parade traditionally lampoons community figures, but the line between good-natured communal ribbing and bullying and worse is not always clear. Also “satirized” this year was former ÍBV football player Heimir Hallgrímsson, who also coached a Qatari football team for some 2.5 years. In this year’s parade, his likeness appeared in an Arab costume.

Íris Róbertsdóttir, mayor of the Westman islands, has also weighed in on the case. In an interview with Vísir, the mayor said: “I think it is inappropriate to drag the holiday into this in this way, and I have conveyed these comments to the chairman of the ÍBV. I think that the association should not be dragged into such things […] Things that were okay ten years ago are not okay today and we all just have to go along with our changing society. This was just very inappropriate.”

As of yesterday, January 8, Edda Falak has stated on social media that no one has offered her an apology for the incident.

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.

Emergency Responders ‘Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst’ Over Merchants’ Weekend

Emergency responders are “hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst,” in advance of the upcoming Merchants’ Weekend holiday, widely known as the biggest travel weekend of the year in Iceland. Fréttablaðið reports that there was a significant increase in calls to Iceland’s emergency line, 112, as well as a 30% increase in incidents involving the police during last year’s holiday weekend, even though all outdoor festivals had been called off due to social distancing regulations.

“We hope that everyone behaves well and has a good time and doesn’t drive under the influence,” said Tómas Gíslason, assistant director of the 112 emergency line. “Naturally, we expect there to be traffic and emergency responders all around the country are ready.”

The weekend’s biggest festival, the Westman Islands’ Þjóðhátíð, will take part in a largescale collaboration between the 112 emergency line and the office of the National Police Commissioner, which aims to prevent violence in the course of nightlife, music, and other entertainment events. As part of the collaboration, Tómas says there’s been targeted training this summer to help staff better respond to incidents of violence.

The ultimate goal, he continues, would be to have zero incidents of violence reported over the holiday weekend, but Tómas is careful to frame this goal in a more nuanced way. “The goal is naturally zero reports, but still 100% reporting of incidents that need to be reported. We don’t want any incidents of violence anywhere, but if someone misbehaves, then it must be reported,” he said.

Iceland’s National Emergency Line, 112, operates 24 hours a day, anywhere in the country. You can either call the number on your phone or access the webchat, here. You can also download the 112 app, which allows you to access 112 from your phone without calling. You can speak in English on the phone line and the webchat. Resources about violence of all stripes, including abuse in close relationships, human trafficking, child welfare, online safety, and more are available on the 112 website in Icelandic, English, and Polish.

Sexual-Assault Victims Can Now Monitor Their Cases Online

Metropolitan Police

Yesterday, the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police introduced a new online gateway that will allow victims of sexual assault to access information regarding their cases, Vísir reports. Nearly four hundred such cases are being investigated by the police. There’s long been an appeal for improved service, says the Chief of Police.

A majority have complained of insufficient information

A new service gateway will afford victims of sexual assault who have pressed charges to the Reykjavík Metropolitan Police access to information relating to their cases. The gateway will also offer information regarding available resources and services. Halla Bergþóra Björnsdóttir, Chief of Police, compares the new online resource to Heilsuvera.is: a website that offers educational material relating to diseases, preventive measures, and preemptive strategies “toward a better and more healthful life.”

Speaking to Vísir.is, Halla Bergþóra explained that the new gateway will keep complainants updated on the status of cases, whether or not their cases are being investigated, and if they’ve been handed over to prosecutors. “There is also information regarding what you may expect, in terms of an outcome and how long the investigation is expected to take.”

“We’ve conducted numerous surveys among victims of sexual assault,” Halla Bergþóra continued. “75% of respondents are pleased with the service that the police provides, but at the same time, 88% have complained that they didn’t receive adequate information regarding the processing of their cases.”

The service gateway is an experimental project that in its initial iteration will only be available to victims of sexual assault in the Greater Reykjavík Area. According to Halla Bergþóra, the aim is to offer the same service in other jurisdictions and in other crime categories in the near future.

“If all goes well, we hope to provide a similar service to individuals who have pressed charges in other categories of the law, as well.”

With increased cases, increased processing time

As noted by Halla Bergþóra, the investigative phase of sexual assault cases are often time consuming; the processing time has lengthened as cases have increased and as the police authorities aim to improve the quality of investigations. The authorities are also short on staff. In light of this, Halla explained, it’s important to allow victims of sexual assault to monitor the status of their cases.

“There are 255 sexual assault cases currently being investigated. And then we have the prosecutorial department, and other departments, so I think there are about 370 cases in total.

The gateway can be accessed here.

New Report: Football Association Urged to “Shoulder Responsibility”

Football fans in Iceland

A workgroup established by the Icelandic Football Association (KSÍ) has submitted proposals on how the association could better handle allegations of violence and sexual assault. The report, which tackles issues of “procedure, attitude, and culture,” encourages the association to shoulder increased responsibility.

To “take a clear stand” against all manner of violence

Following resignations by Director Guðni Bergsson and the board of directors earlier this year, the Icelandic Football Association established a workgroup to examine procedures relating to allegations of violence and sexual assault. The group’s mandate was to review responses to sexual and violent assaults within Icelandic football “in collaboration with outside professionals.”

A few days ago, the workgroup submitted its report, which was subsequently published on the association’s website. On the first page of the report, the authors urge the leadership to assert their opposition to all kinds of violence publicly:

“This summary report contains the workgroup’s proposals alongside an encouragement to the leadership to make good use of the present opportunity to take a clear stance against violence of any kind – especially sexual violence – and, thereby, improve the culture and attitude of individuals connected to the association.”

Betterment founded upon four pillars

The report is predicated on four proposals.

First, the workgroup advises that the association update its code of ethics, adding provisions relating to allegations of violence and creating channels for individuals to report misconduct and bring charges. The Icelandic Football Association is encouraged to sign contracts with members of national teams in which the code of conduct is explicitly referenced. Furthermore, the report advises that these contracts include provisions regarding violent misconduct, wherein – among other conditions – athletes commit to declaring any charges of violent or sexual misconduct. Finally, the authors counsel that employees who occupy positions of confidentiality within the association be made to confirm the code of ethics with their signatures.

Second, the workgroup stresses the need to create clear channels and response protocols for instances of violence within the Football Association and its member societies. The Director of the Football Association is to be designated as a “special liaison” to communication consultants within sports and youth clubs. Furthermore, instructions on how to report violence are to be made accessible on the association’s website and on all member societies’ websites.

Third, the association is encouraged to take a “clear stance” against violence and to coordinate the messaging of its member societies. The workgroup also advises that leadership attend seminars on equality and violence each year following the annual meeting.

Fourth, the workgroup advises that the association assume a leading role in equality within sports in Iceland, that it adopt an “equality plan,” and that it work to ensure gender balance within all of its internal committees and councils.

The association  should “welcome its responsibility”

The report concludes with further encouragement in which the association is urged to welcome its responsibility while at the same time taking it seriously:

“The association cannot, by itself, change society; however, it does occupy a unique position in terms of effecting significant and positive change. The association’s messaging and policies matter. By acting on these four proposals, and by leaning on the insights of professionals in the field of equality and violence, the association can become a role model and demonstrate that it is intent on shouldering responsibility.”

Police Review Officer’s Controversial Posts About Victims of Sexual Assault

Reykjavík Capital Area Police are reviewing the case of a police officer who has been criticised for several social media posts about victims of sexual assault. The officer, Aníta Rut Harðardóttir, has since deleted her comments. Aníta also made headlines last year when a news photograph showed her sporting hate symbols on her uniform.

Aníta has deleted a series of comments she made on Facebook in response to the latest #metoo wave in Iceland, where victims have come forward asserting sexual violence at the hands of athletes and other public figures. In one of her posts, Aníta shares an article about Þórhildur Gyða Arnarsdóttir, who was assaulted by a national team football player, and accuses her of “drunken partying.” Another labels feminist activists as an “army of psychos,” calling their statements “nonsense.”

Newly-elected Deputy MP Lenya Rún Taha Karim has harshly criticised Aníta’s posts and demanded that police respond to the case. “This is first and foremost about her expressive her unequivocal views on a specific victim and I find that very inappropriate in and of itself,” Lenya Rún stated. “People look to the police in their worst moments, victims of sexual violence and other crimes, and they must be able to assume that they will resolve their cases on the basis of professionalism and impartiality. This is simply not in that spirit.”

Police responded to last year’s case involving Aníta by implementing rules that ban officers from wearing any symbols on their uniform that were not standard issue. In one of her deleted posts (pictured above) Aníta calls the patches “very controversial and innocent” and shares a photograph of them framed and hung up, presumably in her home.

In a radio interview yesterday, Police Chief Halla Bergþóra Björnsdóttir stated that the force sets extensive requirements on officers due to the nature of the job. While public service employees may express themselves, the Court of Human Rights has stated that it is normal for restrictions to be placed on freedom of expression due to the nature of certain jobs. “The reason for restricting our freedom of expression is that we need to have the public’s trust, and the public needs to be able to trust that we fulfill our responsibilities in a neutral manner.” She did not comment on Aníta’s case as police do not discuss cases involving individual police officers.

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.

President Hopes that “Things Have Changed for the Better.”

President of Iceland

Following allegations that have plunged the Icelandic Football Association (KSÍ) into crisis, President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson weighed in on the recent controversy in an interview with RÚV yesterday. Speaking before the Men’s National Team faced off against Romania, Guðni remarked that competing on behalf of Iceland is an honour, but that that honour comes with responsibility – that of “not being an idiot.”

Distressed by the revelations

Following revelations that the Icelandic Football Association (KSÍ) was privy to allegations of sexual offences, contrary to public statements made by its Director – who has since resigned, along with the board – President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson addressed the ongoing controversy in an interview with RÚV yesterday. Speaking before a match against the Romanian National Team, Guðni admitted that the recent allegations had caused him distress.

“Of course I’ve been distressed. We must be able to support Iceland’s representatives on a stage like this, while at the same time supporting victims of violence and harassment; otherwise, we’re in deep trouble. The leadership within the Icelandic Football Association has shouldered responsibility, and now we hope things have changed for the better. I think that we will also see that society is evolving; what once was covered up, will be forced into the light of day,” Guðni stated.

“At the same time, however,” Guðni continued, “we must beware not to jump out of the fire into the frying pan. The Icelandic National team is about to compete. I try to attend all of Iceland’s matches, no matter the sport, whether men or women, and there’s no original sin that comes with being a man and enjoying football. We can attend the games and enjoy ourselves, but we must be certain that if something untoward occurs, that there will be consequences.”

“There’s a great honour that comes with representing Iceland, whether in sports or other arenas. That honour comes with responsibility; to behave decently – not being an idiot. From here on out, we will learn from our experience and look ahead with optimism. That’ll make living in this country good.”

Disappointed by recent developments

As noted by RÚV, President Guðni was contacted by the father of a woman who alleged that she was physically and sexually assaulted by a member of the men’s national team in 2017. The President replied  to the man’s email stating that he had discussed the matter with the Director of the Icelandic Football Association; however, given the nature of his office, he could not involve himself in the matter directly.

Asked if how the Icelandic Football Associated handled the matter was a disappointment, President Guðni replied in the affirmative, but qualified his affirmation with reference to a past settlement: “Yes, as far as recent developments are concerned. At the time, however, it was my understanding that the victim had been content with how these matters were resolved, and I believe that all of the evidence, which has since come to light, confirms this.”