Chief of Police in Vestmannaeyjar Páley Borgþórsdóttir told Fréttablaðið today that the police will not inform the media about sexual assaults which may occur during the outdoor festival Þjóðhátíð, July 29-Agust 1, until after the investigation has been concluded.
The police intend to maintain their policy from last year, in spite of criticism. Páley reasons that this is done to protect potential victims from outside pressure and to increase the likelihood of truthful testimonies.
“Later, when the time is right, and it does not sabotage the investigation, the media will naturally be informed about the number of cases which were reported to the police. But if the information is to be reliable, some time must pass first,” Páley explains but doesn’t specify the number of days.
Páley states that this is the same policy which is in effect every other time of the year and that the police won’t change their work methods on the account of Þjóðhátíð. Páley recently contacted the ER of Landspítali national university hospital and asked that they, too, maintain the same policy.
Hrönn Stefánsdóttir, the ER’s project manager, states that it’s the hospital’s policy to respond to media enquiries and report on the number of cases they treat, regardless of their nature. Therefore, they will not comply with the police’s demands.
Hrönn points out that social media sometimes have a bigger influence on the investigation of cases than coverage in the traditional media. “For example, if the friends of a victim comment on an assault on Facebook, it may have an impact on that person and his or her decision to report it.”
Guðrún Jónsdóttir, spokesperson for Stígamót – Education and Counseling Center for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Violence, believes it’s wrong not to report sexual assaults at Þjóðhátíð as they occur.
Guðrún does not agree that the police’s policy protects victims. “I know that most professionals [who work with victims of sexual assaults] agree that it’s right to report this information,” says Guðrún, adding that it would be interesting to know whether the police chief also intends to keep quiet about other offenses which may occur during the festival.
Þjóðhátíð is the largest festival held during Verslunarmannahelgi (‘Merchants’ Weekend’), traditionally celebrated with camping and outdoor concerts across Iceland—many of them targeting teenagers and young adults—always in late July/early August.
Drugging, drinking and sex offenses have often proven a problem during these festivals. After Verslunarmannahelgi 2015, 18 sexual assaults, of which 12 were rape, were reported to Stígamót. Three cases of rape which occurred at Þjóðhátíð last year were reported to the Landspítali hospital ER.