Although the Nordic countries have come a long way in their gender equality work, they have not been able to reduce the incidence of rape and sexual assaults. This is concluded by Siri Thoresen, one of the researchers behind a report on the incidence of violence and rape in Norway in a lifecycle perspective (in Norwegian). The report is based on a survey where Norwegian citizens describe their experiences of violence and assault. 9.4 per cent of the female respondents indicate that they have been raped, which implies that there has been no reduction from previous studies.
‘It’s problematic that the overall level of gender equality has improved without any noticeable decrease in sexual violence,’ says Thoresen.
The study was conducted by the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies as part of the Norwegian government’s action plan against domestic violence. The report was presented Wednesday. Coincidentally, a Swedish population study on women’s and men’s exposure to violence and the link with health (in Swedish) was presented the same day.
Both studies are based on a lifecycle perspective and show that individuals exposed to violence during childhood are more likely to experience violence later in life. There is also a connection between exposure to violence and mental problems, according to the Swedish study, which was conducted by the National Centre for Knowledge on Men’s Violence Against Women.
One third of the victims never tell anyone
The two reports confirm each other and show that the violence is a widespread social problem in both Norway and Sweden. Both reports also indicate that especially sexual violence tends to occur in secrecy, and many victims do not seek medical attention and never receive help to deal with their experiences.
‘The taboo is so strong many victims choose not to talk about it,’ says Thoresen.
Almost one-third (29 per cent) of the female victims in the Norwegian study stated that they have never told anybody about the rape. Thoresen explains that the decision to keep quiet can be carefully deliberated.
‘Many rape victims feel that they somehow were at fault. Telling people implies a major social risk,’ she says.
Besides the incidence of rape, Thoresen finds the statistics on domestic violence noteworthy. About the same number of women and men report to have been exposed to mild violence by a partner, but women are more likely to have been victims of severe violence (9.2 per cent of women vs. 1.9 per cent of men).
Helena Ewalds, leader of a project on risk assessment in domestic violence initiated by the Nordic Council of Ministers, believes that domestic violence could be handled much better in the Nordic countries through better coordination.
‘It is not clear in all countries who is in charge of the violence prevention work,’ she says.
Preemptive work saves lives
The project has brought representatives from social services, healthcare and the police in the Nordic countries together to share experiences regarding risk assessment. The dialogue has revealed that the methods used vary. According to Ewalds, however, the biggest problem is that many public actors use no method at all.
‘Some think that it’s already part of their professional role to deal with these issues, but it’s not enough. They need these aids,’ she says.
She thinks that the work to prevent domestic violence should be structured better. It needs to be made more clear how the work should be carried out and who bears the chief responsibility.
‘Doing this right may save lives, so it’s of course very important,’ she says, and Thoresen agrees.
She thinks that the actors involved are starting to realise that the violence causes health problems and is very expensive.
‘It’s becoming increasingly evident that these issues are worth focusing on,’ she says.