CNN has published a scathing report that sheds further light on the women, all of them survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, currently with cases filed against the Icelandic state in the European Court of Human Rights, on the grounds that the state failed to protect them against domestic abuse and gender-based violence.
All of these cases focus primarily on how the police and the courts in Iceland mishandled their cases, in some cases declining to investigate charges of violence despite overwhelming evidence. In the four cases outlined in the ECHR filing, police or prosecutors dropped these cases on the grounds that they were “not likely to lead to a conviction”.
One of the women who spoke candidly with CNN was Maria Árnadóttir, whose case was also reported by the Grapevine. As CNN details, “she says she worked up the courage to go to the police, submitting photos of her injuries, medical notes, a list of witnesses to the violence and psychological abuse she was subjected to, as well as text messages from her alleged attacker, by then her ex-boyfriend, in which Árnadóttir says he admitted to the assault and threatened to share nude photos of her if she spoke up.
“A court filing includes all of these documents. According to the court documents, the man denied assaulting her, but admitted to sending the threat, although he said he never intended to follow up on it. …
“But for the police, that evidence was not enough. A year and half after she had pressed charges, Árnadóttir says officers told her the case was being dropped because it would not lead to a conviction.”
CNN reached Iceland’s Ministry of Justice for comment on Margrét’s case, to which they replied, “it has concluded that a certain mistake was made during the investigation [of Árnadóttir’s case], the government’s opinion is that the mistake does not meet the minimum level of severity” to qualify as a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Iceland on the international stage is often touted as “the best place to be a woman”, and has topped the World Economic Forum’s list for over a decade now. This is due primarily to equal pay laws, the percentage of representation in government and in private sector management, and the rights afforded in maternal care.
However, gender-based violence remains a huge problem in Iceland. A 2018 study showed that roughly one-quarter of women in Iceland have experienced either rape or attempted rape, and some 40% have experienced some form physical or sexual violence by their partners–significantly higher than the World Health Organization’s global average of 27%.
Ólöf Tara, a member of the feminist activist group Öfgar, succinctly illustrated the divide between Iceland’s global perception and its reality when it comes to the rights of women, telling CNN: “The idea that Iceland is a feminist paradise has been shoved down our throats since we were little kids: ‘Why are you so angry? Do you see these women in the third world countries? … You have it so good.’
“But the violence that women have been facing throughout the years, we never had the power to raise our voice about it. Violence thrives in silence, because if you speak out, somebody connects with your story and realizes this is their story too and then they may go and start seeking help and break the pattern, because it is a generational pattern. I got it from my mom and my mom got it from her mom, like my grandmother from her mom, and I’m gonna carry it to my kids if we don’t speak and talk about it.”
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