Lack of Legal Security for Victims of Online Violence

Online violence against women is on the rise and the laws in the Nordic countries are not keeping up. In a new Nordic project, women are interviewed about their attempts to seek justice.

NIKK spade symbol’Most studies on online violence concern only the actual violence, but we have a different goal. We want to look at how the police and the legal system treat women who report these crimes,’ says Brynhildur Heiðar- og Ómarsdóttir. She is the executive manager of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, which is in charge of the new project together with the Women’s Council in Denmark and Norwegian KUN Center for Knowledge and Gender Equality.

What’s the purpose of the project?
‘Based on the interviews with violated women, we want to develop guidelines for the police and the Nordic governments. Technology has developed very fast, and as societies we’re still trying to figure out how to handle it. For example, many adolescents like to send nude photos to each other. It’s quite common, and it’s ok. It’s ok to share pictures with a partner. The problem is when pictures are shared without consent, and the justice system must be able to handle this.’

How can a victim of online violence seek justice?
‘Many victims don’t know what to do. And not even the police may know, because it may not be clear whether a crime has actually occurred. For example, online stalking is not illegal in Iceland, so it’s ok to send somebody 500 messages as long as they don’t contain explicit threats.’
‘A new law was recently proposed here in Iceland. It would ban so-called revenge porn, which is when somebody shares pictures or films of somebody else online without that person’s consent. It’s the first legislative proposal ever in the Nordic countries that directly addresses online violence. Unfortunately, the proposed law is pretty bad, but it still means a lot that the policy makers are acknowledging the issue.’

Brynhildur Heiðar- og Ómarsdóttir

Brynhildur Heiðar- og Ómarsdóttir

Why do you think the proposed law is bad?
‘It places these crimes under the law against pornography, and that’s misleading. Instead they should be covered by the law against sexual harassment, because that’s how we must view and understand this phenomenon. The proposal will hopefully be revised based on the feedback received. In other Nordic countries, these cases have been brought under privacy laws, but that’s not right either. This is sexual violence and it’s important that we treat it accordingly.’

What can the Nordic countries learn from each other?
’We have all just started, and I hope we’ll be able to share experiences and methods with each other. Here in Iceland we’re currently looking west, at the U.S. That’s where most studies are done. The Nordic countries are technologically advanced and there is a feminist momentum. We should lead the way and not trail our American colleagues.’

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This is an article about one of the projects granted funding through the Nordic Gender Equality Fund.

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