From Iceland — Split Opinions Over Supposed Media Silence In Westman Islands

Split Opinions Over Supposed Media Silence In Westman Islands

Published August 1, 2015

Gabríel Benjamin
Photo by
Tolli Einisson/Creative Commons

The Westman Islands’ police commissioner’s decision to refuse to disclose any information regarding reported acts of sexual assault during the ongoing Þjóðhátíð í Eyjum festival has proven very controversial.

Police commissioner Páley Borgþórsdóttir told RÚV the media embargo is meant to shield victims of sexual assault from further harm, and had consulted with professionals before sending a memo out to all first responders at the festival, telling them not to talk to the media. Meanwhile, Brynhildur Yrsa Guðmundsdóttir who was gang raped at Þjóðhátíð eighteen years ago told DV that Páley wasn’t doing sexual assault victims any favours, but instead contributing to silencing and shaming them.

We reached out to numerous people working at Þjóðhátíð, and their opinions on the matter were split. Everyone spoke highly of Páley, saying she has a reputation for championing women’s rights.

One person said that because they knew her opinions on sexual assault so well, it surprised them to see her act in such a way. They pondered whether she was defending Þjóðhátíð’s interests instead of the interests of sexual assault victims, adding that festival organisers had become more worried about Þjóðhátíð’s reputation in recent years, rather than the safety of its attendees.

Others said that the memo Páley sent had been taken out of context. They argued that it wasn’t about the police hiding their heads in the sand, but instead giving themselves time to assess the situation before releasing sensitive information to the press. One person said that in such a small society, word always got out about who had gone to the ER, with another commenting that things will happen, “but all in good time.” 

Most of the people we reached out to refused to comment about reported rapes. One person confided that they didn’t know of any so far.

This morning police disclosed that around 30 people had been busted on narcotics charges in the first day, and that no physical assaults had been reported , says RÚV

The festival was first held in 1874. This year it is estimated that 15,000 people are attending. The festival has had a bad reputation when it comes to sexual assaults, with sixteen charges filed there since 2004.

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