Four Women Come Forward About Sexual Harassment From Icelandic Elder Statesman - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Four Women Come Forward About Sexual Harassment From Icelandic Elder Statesman

Published January 15, 2019

Andie Fontaine
Photos by
Estonian Foreign Ministry/Wikimedia Commons

Four women have come forward detailing sexual harassment they suffered at the hands of Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, a former Foreign Minister, social democrat MP and ambassador. These cases stretch back to the 1960s, with the most recent incident occurring only last summer, but instances of sexual harassment from him last appeared in the Icelandic media in 2012. He denies having done anything wrong.

Stundin broke the story last weekend, in interviews they conducted with four different women.

Two of the women who spoke with Stundin are Matthildur Kristmannsdóttir and María Alexandersdóttir, who both attended the Hagaskóli secondary school in the late 1960s, where Jón taught. They allege that he had sexually harassed the both of them when they were around 13 and 14 years old.

More recently, Carmen Jóhannsdóttir described an incident which occurred in Spain in June 2018. She alleges that she was sexually harassed by Jón in his and his wife Bryndís Schram’s home in the town of Salobreña, at the conclusion of the Iceland vs Argentina match in the World Cup.

This is not the first time descriptions of sexual harassment from Jón were brought to light in the media. In 2012, the magazine Nýtt Líf brought to light letters of strong sexual content that Jón Baldvin had written to Guðrún Harðardóttir, the daughter of his wife’s sister, who was between the ages of 14 and 17 at the time. Guðrún, speaking candidly to Nýtt Líf, described the letters as sexual harrassment, which she charged him with in 2005. The case was dropped on the grounds that the letters were written from overseas.

“It’s been a very healing process to watch this case unfold this time, because finally, Jón Baldvin’s survivors are getting the support that they have desperately longed for and deserved all of this time.”

The following year, Jón was hired by the University of Iceland to be a guest lecturer for a course in international politics. The decision was met with public criticism, most notably from noted Icelandic feminists Helga Þórey Jónsdóttir and Hildur Lilliendahl Viggósdóttir, who wrote a column on the matter and questioned the hiring. The public reaction to the hiring prompted then president of the Social Sciences department Daði Már Kristófersson to say that the decision would be reviewed. Ultimately, the guest lecturer spot was withdrawn from Jón.

Jón Baldvin criticised the university’s decision, likening those who criticised him to the Taliban, saying that the university has “allowed an extremist minority to pressure [the university] to sacrifice fundamental human rights”. In his response to Stundin’s story, he has taken a more measured response, but categorically denies any of the allegations against him.

Grapevine spoke with Hildur about the matter, on how such a public figure as Jón could engage in this kind of behaviour for decades with very little said publicly about the matter.

“As a people, we’re quite codependent,” she told us. “It’s a very small society, which means that it’s really difficult to try to ruffle feathers and smash walls and ceilings. This case disrupted the social harmony [in 2012] immensely. It’s been a very healing process to watch this case unfold this time, because finally, Jón Baldvin’s survivors are getting the support that they have desperately longed for and deserved all of this time.”

In addition, Jón being a particularly beloved public figure, there were other prominent Icelandic figures who spoke up in his defence when the story first broke, making things even more difficult for survivors and their supporters. However, the environment in Iceland now when it comes to survivors of sexual abuse and harassment is much different than what it was only five years ago. In fact, in the wake of the Stundin piece, a #MeToo Facebook group was formed to provide a space for those who say they have been sexually harassed by Jón, and their supporters. As such, Hildur believes the incidents that have thus far been brought to light are “just the tip of the iceberg”.

In terms of a best possible outcome from this news, Hildur believes that now is the time for Iceland to engage in some serious examination of itself.

“I want this nation, and the media specifically, to have a long hard look in the mirror, and open and frank discussion about how we could let this happen,” she says. “He just keeps going, because we let him.” Ideally, Hildur would like to see Jón and his wife “stay out of the media for the rest of their lives”, but is also hopeful that there is a positive side in the wake of these revelations.

“I would like Icelandic society to think long and hard, and to talk about how this could happen and how we can prevent this from happening again,” Hildur told us. “We can prevent this by not staying silent when survivors of sexual abuse try to get us to listen. I’m so glad, and so relieved, that these women are finally getting their voices heard, are being believed, and are getting the respect that we have denied them all of these years.”

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