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Strong Reaction to Silence on Sex Assaults

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Strong Reaction to Silence on Sex Assaults

From Vestmannaeyjar. Photo: Dagmar Trodler

Vestmannaeyjar Police Chief Páley Borgþórsdóttir’s decision not to provide the media with information about potential sexual assaults during the outdoor festival Þjóðhátíð in Vestmannaeyjar has caused a strong reaction, both on social media and by professionals.

For the second year in a row, Páley refuses to provide the media with information regarding the number of sexual assaults which might occur during the festival, which is to take place July 29-August 1. She has said that in doing so, she is acting in the interest of victims and she will not provide such information until after the cases have been investigated.

Páley’s comment to Vísir on Tuesday only added fuel to the fire, causing many to voice their opinion on Twitter. She said: “Most of these assaults take place between two individuals in a closed space where people usually go of their own free will. That is the fact. We don’t see these offenses, fortunately, and hopefully we won’t see them, and with a strong police watch and such we try to prevent these offenses in public places. And that, of course, is constantly the job of the police, trying to ensure security in public places and everywhere, so people are safe when out walking and in different areas. But it is tougher to deal with, and that’s why these offenses are so sensitive; they often occur between connected and closely-connected individuals inside a closed space.”

That comment caused a popular radio host, Margrét Erla Maack, to mockingly remark on Rás 2, “We remind people only to commit rape at home in Vestmannaeyjar.” Margrét has since apologizes for her words, which she said went too far and she regrets, DV reports.

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, a lawyer who has represented sexual assault victims, disagrees that providing information to the media during the festival about the number of sexual assaults, if any, would damage the victims’ legal interests.

She remarked, “If the media seek information regarding whether such offenses have been reported and how many, then I think those questions should surely be answered and the media be given such information. But more detailed news or information regarding those offenses could, in my opinion, hurt the investigation.” Jóhanna believes providing information about whether sexual offenses have taken place is definitely in the public interest.

Yesterday, RÚV republished part of a statement issued last year by the feminist website Knúz.is and the activist group Activism against Rape in response to Páley’s announcement at the time that the number of sexual assaults would not be provided to media during the festival:

“For years and especially in recent weeks and months, victims have made it clear to anyone willing to hear their voices that silence has never benefitted them, but is instead additional violence against them. Suggestions not to reveal sexual assaults, even when people inquire about them, appear to serve the purpose of covering up the fact that sexual violence is a persistent problem at Þjóðhátíð and festival organizers have never done enough, nor appeared to be interested in doing enough to protect their guests against offenders.”

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