Iceland is currently experiencing a resurgence of the #MeToo movement due to a recent case involving a nationally famous man, and as survivors of sexual assault share their experiences, some parliamentarians are calling upon reforms in Iceland’s legal system.
The resurgence, which never really went away, kicked off last week when two women came forward on May 5th saying that the well-known podcaster and media personality Sölvi Tryggvason has sexually assaulted them. Sölvi used his platform to make a tearful denial of what he called slander aimed at ruining his reputation. Another media personality, Sigmar Vilhjálmsson, in turn posted a video of himself watching the video of Sölvi crying, and exhorted the general public to consider how Sölvi must be feeling.
This prompted untold many Icelanders, most of them women but including some men and nonbinary people, to take to social media and employ the #MeToo hashtag to talk about their own experiences with sexual assault, and there has been an upswing in people reporting to the crisis centre Stígamót as well. Many of these testimonials urged men to talk to other men about consent and boundaries. Some men seconded this sentiment, encouraging other men to examine their own behaviour.
In addition, many of these survivors recounted why they did not come forward sooner or why they did not seek the help of the police. This was due, in part, to a large portion of commentary on social media questioning the motivations of those recounting their trauma. A large part of reasons given for not coming forward, for many of these survivors, was a lack of faith in the police and courts to effectively address these crimes.
This lack of faith is not without foundation. RÚV reports that, according to data provided by the Appellate Court, the court reduced sentencing or even acquitted some 40% of sexual assault cases that crossed the bench in the last three years. For context, drug or physical assault cases only received this treatment about 25% of the time.
Social Democrat MP Helga Vala Helgadóttir, herself a lawyer who has worked with survivors of sexual assault, believes that numerous reforms are needed in Iceland’s judicial system in order to better serve these survivors.
These proposed reforms include increased funding for the investigative division of the police in order to shorten investigation times, and to better educate judges on how survivors of sexual assault respond to their trauma.
Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir agreed, saying that the government as a whole needs to do better by survivors of sexual assault. While saying that Iceland has shortened investigation times and increased education in recent years, “we are continuously reviewing our legislation, to improve it”.
What proposed reforms will end up making it into law, and if they will better serve survivors of sexual assault, remains to be seen.
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