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.

Accounts Shed New Detail on Bankastræti Club Attack

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

Five defendants in the high-profile Bankastræti Club attack in Reykjavík have submitted varying accounts to the District Court, ranging from claims of intending only to intimidate the victims to complete ignorance of the planned violence, RÚV reports. Due to the unprecedented number of defendants, the court proceedings will be held in a larger venue, the Gullhamrar banquet hall, from September 25 to October 3.

Denies all allegations

In a case drawing considerable public attention, five defendants involved in last November’s knife attack at the Bankastræti Club in downtown Reykjavík have submitted statements to the Reykjavík District Court. Each of the five defendants offers a different narrative of events leading up to the incident. While some claim they were there to confront and intimidate the victims, others assert they had no prior knowledge of the planned violence.

As noted by RÚV, among the defendants is a man in his 30s who police suspect orchestrated the attack at Bankastræti Club. In his submitted report, he denies all allegations, stating that he initially intended only to intimidate the victims outside the venue. The situation escalated when someone in the group urged everyone to enter the club.

Although he has encountered violence in his role as a doorman, the man insists he is not violent and points to his criminal record as proof. He claims “certain groups” had aimed to remove him from his job to take control of the door supervision (i.e. bouncer services) business he operates. The man also alleges he had been kidnapped and tortured three years ago.

According to the report, the man took security measures, such as placing a fire blanket at his bedroom window to protect against potential petrol bomb attacks. Despite these threats, he has never sought revenge or engaged in violent actions.

On the night in question, his aim was to deter the victims from engaging in “extremely violent behaviour,” as stated in the report. He criticises police investigators for having been bent on painting him as the mastermind of a premeditated attack, despite claims from other defendants that the attack was spontaneous.

Unaware of any weapons

Another defendant stated that the group involved in the incident was fragmented, composed of smaller friend circles that didn’t necessarily interact with one another. As noted by RÚV, court documents corroborate that individuals were participating under different circumstances.

The defendant asserts that he had no prior relationship or conflicts with the victims and minimal interaction with the other accused individuals. He had been persuaded to accompany three friends from Suðurnes to confront the victims, although the report does not specify the intended nature of this confrontation.

The defendant noted that he was only mentioned in police interviews by himself and was unaware of any weapons among the group. He contends that his mere presence at the scene, such as wearing a hat or entering the club, should not constitute grounds for punishment.

Disparate stories among the other three defendants

In his statement, the third defendant explained that he joined the group after an outing with a friend, where they drank beer and played video games. He learned from his friend, a doorman, that people were gathering downtown to intimidate some individuals. Although he followed his friend, he claimed to have stayed at the back of the group and had no intention of active participation. He asserts that he was unaware of any plans beyond scaring the victims to deter them from further threats or attacks.

According to his own account, the fourth defendant was a person of interest for the police and claims to have cooperated fully. He maintains that he was not present on the lower floor of the Bankastræti Club during the incident and was unaware of any plans other than intimidating the victims to cease their threats.

The fifth defendant claims complete ignorance of the event’s particulars, learning of the incident only through next-day media reports. He contends that he could not have posed a threat to the victim as he was not present at the scene.

Larger venue required

Since the number of defendants in the case is unprecedented, the judge had to look outside the district court for suitable accommodation for the main proceedings. The banquet hall Gullhamrar in the Grafarholt neighbourhood of Reykjavík met all the conditions and the main treatment will take place there from September 25 to October 3.

Underage Manslaughter Suspects in Custody at Youth Rehab Centre

The three underage suspects in a manslaughter case that occurred last week are in custody at the youth rehab centre Stuðlar, Vísir reports. The fourth suspect in the case is 18 and is currently in custody at Hólmsheiði Prison. Chief Superintendent Grímur Grímsson of the Icelandic police’s central investigative department told RÚV the case investigation is proceeding well. The case has sparked concern among experts of increased violent behaviour among Icelandic youth as well as xenophobia towards the immigrant community.

The four teenagers are all of Icelandic origin and are suspected of manslaughter in the stabbing and death of a 27-year-old Polish man in Hafnarfjörður last week. According to RÚV’s sources, one of the suspects recorded the attack on their phone. Police are investigating whether the video is being shared.

Underage suspects placed in isolation

The four suspects were at first placed in isolation for the interest of the investigation, with one of the underage suspects initially housed at Hólmsheiði Prison, a facility for adults. That suspect has since been moved to Stuðlar youth rehab centre where the other two underage suspects are being held. It is unusual to keep suspects under the age of 18 in isolation, but the decision to do so was made in the interest of the investigation. The suspects were provided with therapy and consultation and efforts were made to reduce the negative impact of the isolation. The custody ruling on the four suspects runs out on Thursday. At least one of the four has appealed the detention to the Court of Appeal (Landsréttur).

Violent behaviour more normalised among youth

The case has shocked the local community, with some experts concerned about growing xenophobia as well as increased violence among youth in Iceland.

Criminologist Helgi Gunnlaugsson says the belief that carrying and using weapons is normal has gained a foothold among certain groups of youth in Iceland. Young people often don’t seem to understand the dangers and consequences of using weapons, according to Helgi, who says a concerted effort is needed to address the problem.

Helgi told Vísir that a certain polarisation is taking place. While society in general has less tolerance for violence of any kind, “At the same time, among young people, especially men, often on the margins, it seems to be happening that this idea arises that it’s simply natural and justifiable to carry various kinds of weapons. And not only carry these weapons, but also even use them if some sort of conflict or disagreement comes up.”

“Many people need to participate in this, to uproot this use of weapons and the ideology behind it. It is in essence not just one party, law enforcement, that can do it,” Helgi says. “Rather school authorities, families, after-school centres, and more, must also come together to make us, and especially young people, aware of what is at stake.”

Growing Violence in Downtown Reykjavík a Cause for Concern

capital area police, police

In an interview with the Kastljós news programme yesterday, an assistant chief superintendent with the capital area police expressed growing concern over increased violence in downtown Reykjavík. The threshold for the use of sharp weapons, he noted, appears to be lower among young men.

Recent incidents of violence

Following recent incidents of violence in downtown Reykjavík, Ásgeir Þór Ásgeirsson, Assistant Chief Superintendent with the Capital Area Police, was interviewed for the news programme Kastljós on RÚV yesterday.

He began by confirming reports that some of the incidents – among them the apprehension and detainment of a man who had discharged a firearm in the Dubliner pub in downtown Reykjavík – were, in some way, related to the knife attack in Bankastræti Club nightclub last year.

When asked if these incidents were the results of a kind of gang war, Ásgeir stated the following: “Some of the cases are in the early stages of the investigation … but there are, as we’ve seen, groups in downtown Reykjavík, and beyond that area, that are fighting.” These groups are rather sizable, according to the police officer.

Ásgeir also stated that most of the individuals involved in the recent violent attacks were young men and that the police were worried about this trend. “Young people, mostly young men, and boys are increasingly fighting in larger groups and the threshold for employing sharp weapons has become quite low.”

“And is this a new trend? Is violence growing more extreme and increasing?” the interviewer inquired.

“Yes, over the past few years, violence has certainly increased,” Ásgeir responded. “It’s grown more extreme. The threshold for employing sharp weapons and even firearms has been lowered. And that’s a cause for concern.”

Altering conceptions of violence

Ásgeir also noted that the concept of “violence” appeared to have shifted among the youth. “We’ve had surveys where respondents are asked if they’ve ever been subject to violence, and the response is ‘No.’ But then there’s a follow-up question where interviewees are asked if they’ve been punched or put in a chokehold, and these same respondents reply ‘Yes.’ So the concept of violence appears to be somewhat distorted among young people.”

In reference to another interview with a law enforcement officer, Ásgeir was asked whether it was true that the atmosphere in downtown Reykjavík had changed. Ásgeir replied that the police have increasingly been forced to dispatch larger units when violent incidents involving sharp weapons are reported. “There has been increased training in order to meet these new circumstances, which began in 2014 or 2015 … but these are tools that we don’t want to use. We want peace in the city. We need to find a solution. And the only way to do that is to work with the youth.”

Ásgeir was also asked about the newly approved regulations authorising police officers to use electroshock weapons, that is, whether such weapons could prove effective in incidence involving sharp weapons. Ásgeir stated that the most extreme weapon in the officer’s belt, aside from the firearm, was the billy club. Which was why electroshock weapons were useful. “Electroshock weapons are classified in the same category as clubs,” Ásgeir noted.

#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.

Four Arrested for Intended Domestic Terrorism

iceland terrorism

Four Icelandic men were arrested yesterday, September 21, for terroristic plots against state institutions and civilians.

In the press conference which took place at 3pm today, the police have stated it is safe to assume either parliament or the police themselves may have been targets. The police have so far not been forthcoming with details of the arrests.

Stundin reports that the suspects are men in their twenties and were found to have hoarded a number of weapons, including dozens of semiautomatic guns and large amounts of ammunition. Nine houses are reported to have been searched. Semiautomatic weapons are considered especially deadly, as they can hold high-capacity magazines.

According to Stundin, the suspects may be connected to other international organizations under investigation by the police.

At the press conference, Chief Police Inspector Karl Steinar Valsson stated, “It’s safe to say that our society is safer than it was before.” He continued: “This is the first investigation of its kind to be launched in Iceland. Of course, we don’t want to reveal what the exact police response was. But at the height of the operation, 50 police personnel took part.”

The case is still developing, but as Stundin notes, acts of terrorism can carry a maximum sentence of  life imprisonment in Iceland. In addition to violent terroristic acts, financing terrorism can carry a maximum sentence of 10 years, and inciting terroristic acts can carry a maximum sentence of 6 years.

The men are also suspected of having 3D-printed components of the firearms in question.

This is a developing story and details are subject to change. Iceland Review will update coverage of the story as it develops.

 

 

 

 

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.

“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.

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.”

Six National Team Players Accused of Violence and Sexual Assault

Former national team member Kolbeinn Sigþórsson

Six members of Iceland’s men’s national football team have been accused of sexual assault. The board of the Football Association of Iceland received a confidential email from activist group Öfgar naming six members of the team and dates of their alleged violent and sexual offences, according to mbl.is sources. The national team coach was also accused of belittling the alleged victims in the wording of his statements to media.

Aron Einar Gunnarsson, Kolbeinn Sigþórsson, and Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson have all been named in Icelandic media in relation to violent or sexual offences. The other three players remain unnamed. The players will not play on the national team while the cases are being investigated.

Read More: Football Association Accused of Silencing Sexual Assault

Sigurbjörg Sigurpálsdóttir, Sports and Youth Activities Communication Counselor is overseeing the investigation. Her position was created last spring under the auspices of the Ministry of Education and Culture to address bullying and violence in sports and youth activities and to “contribute to a safe environment within sports and youth activities” as per the position’s official website.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with a more accurate photo.