Examining sexual assault in one of the world's most affluent countries
Chilling rates of sexual assault: a contradiction of gender equality, or a product?
By Emmie Deaton
The Global Gender Gap Report of 2018 ranked Norway second out of 149 countries in gender equality
In 2018, 8,372 sexual offences were reported to Norwegian authorities.
Norwegian women currently hold the majority of leading positions within the public sector.
The Oslo rape unit recieves, on average, two patients each day.
The alarming rate of sexual assault in a country praised for egalitarianism creates an initial paradox. Shouldn’t rape and sexual assault be decreasing in a nation where women and men are nearly equal in parliament? Where women are out-educating men?
But perhaps high reports of sexually violent crimes towards women are actually a valuable accessory to gender equality.
Camilla Johannassen works as a nurse at rape unit in Oslo, one of 24 emergency medical facilites for rape and assault victims in Norway.
“We have seen a big general increase in patients since 2015,”
explained Johannassen. In fact, reports of sexual assault have
increased by 44.5 percent since 2014 according to a study by the
Norwegian Ministry of Culture.
But Johannassen believes this may not mean assault is occurring
"I do think women feel more comfortable
coming forward now,” she said.
While popular movements such as #MeToo have certainly contributed to
empowering victims of sexual assault, Norwegians have made many
independent strides in helping victims feel comfortable speaking up,
starting with treatment and its availability.
"If you live in an area that is very far away, you can call the police
and they will provide your transportation to the nearest
rape unit," Johannassen said."Treatment and everything alike is free
Women in Norway also are not required to report their assaults.
Johannassen believes this is an important part of treatment
because many countries require reports to be filed in order to
receive a full medical examination.
Treatment in Oslo is also fully inclusive. According to Johannessen, the rape unit in Oslo accepts all patients, even undocumented immigrants. The medical facility is not concerned with the origins or status of the victim, only their recovery. Patients can also book optional follow up appointments for health checks and therapy.
Norway has also invested in 47 crisis centers around the country. Crisis centers also treat victims of rape and assault, among many other tragedies. Proportionatley, this means there is one treatment unit per 75,000 people. Higher availability could mean victims are more likely to seek treatment.
But treatment wasn’t always so accessible. DIXI, a treatment center for victims of sexual assault was founded by a victim who saw the value of treatment availbility in encouraging women to report their assualts.
“DIXI was founded in 1998 by a woman who herself was a victim of rape.,” said sexual assault counselor Lene Nerland. “She found it hard to get help in the public health-care system, and wanted to meet with other victims who also knew how she felt.”
Since then, Norway has been working to dissolve gender boundaries across all sectors. DIXI is a free treatment center that helps victims arrange legal
And a vital part of this open conversation includes judicary handling of sexual assault cases.
The rape unit in the Oslo Medical Center. Patients are taken to a private wing of the hospital where they can meet with nurses, doctors, psychiatrists, police officers, or a lawyer upon their first visit.
assistance, recover from physical and mental trauma, meet other women through lectures and theme nights, and much more.
Nerland reported that since 2018, DIXI has established 2,554 new patient contacts, with 7.5 percent being men. As a professional working closely to the issue, She says her experience has not lead her to believe that rapes are actually occurring more frequently in Norway than elsewhere.
"We might have fewer unrecorded numbers because we are more open about sexual assault than we used to be. Maybe we then uncover more sexual assaults than other countries who don’t communicate as openly about this topic.”
Lene Nerland is a counselor at DIXI center for sexual assault in Oslo. Her degree is in psychiatric nursing and group therapy.
According to police attorney Rita Parnas, victims of rape will be provided a free sexual assault lawyer by the state.
"This is not the case for victims of consent," Parnas added.
Parnas also mentioned that consent cases have become more common for women to report within the last few years.
“Because we tend to be more equal, people report more than they would have 20 years ago. It is more natural to have an article of consent.”
But cases of consent are often complex, which might explain why many countries have been hesitant to adopt them.
“Many reports today are two people going home together, one may feel pressured and say no yet it keeps escalating. Of course you would believe them, but the problem is evidence. There is typically not enough to put someone away for four years,” said Parnas.
And yes, Norway does have an article of consent in their Penal Code. In fact, they are one of the few countries in the world to address consent in their legislation.
"Norway actually does have a law of consent," explained Parnas. "Section 297 addresses consent of a qualified sexual act, but it is a lot more nuanced than what you hear."
According to Norwegian Penal Code, non-consensual sex is defined as sexual contact performed without consent and is punishable with a fine or a maximum sentence of one year in prison. Rape and sexual assault are described as non-consensual sex obtained by force. The minimum punishment is four years.
Parnas explained consent initiatives were created to legally acknowledge that sexual assault and rape are not always violent and are often more complex than brute force.
“Consent cases might be, ‘I gave up and just kind of froze,’” explained Parnas. “Or two people in a bed after a night out and we just don’t know what happened.”
Parnas also mentioned that most consent cases, around 80 percent, will go on to be dismissed due to lack of evidence. Despite the odds of dismissal, consent legislation is shaping the way the youth of Norway view assault.
"We have very strict legislation that makes sure you are respecting girl's boundaries," explained Joseph Wilskow, a senior at Oslo Handelsgymnasium.
"If you touch a girl and she doesn't want it, she can press charges."
Wilskow says his school began teaching them about consent and setting boundaries as early as the sixth grade. This has continued into his higher education, with Norwegian gymnasiums holding assemblies every three months to discuss sex education and consent.
“We’re taught that we are responsible for our actions and our friends actions,” explained Wilskow. “And really just to take care of each other and treat everyone good.”
Unfortunately, Wilskow says these preventative measures don’t stop all assaults.
“I’ve been at parties where I’ve heard the next day about a guy trying to get with a girl who was too drunk or something,” he recalled. “There was one guy that was accused of this and worse by a lot of girls. No one really talks to him now though, even his old friends don’t have any respect for him.”
Felicia Viken, also a senior at Oslo Handelsgymnasium, said she doesn’t believe Norway's high rate of sexual assault means the issue is more prevalent in her country.
“I’ve personally never heard of big stories like rape or something,” said Viken. “Just small things.”
But Viken said she feels safer from assault at parties with friends than in the city alone. When defining small incidents, she described a personal event from the past weekend.
“Last Friday night I was walking home and there was a driver who drove up behind me,” she explained. “He asked me if I wanted to get in and I began filming because I was scared.”
The following Saturday, Viken opted to take a taxi home from the city, only to experience another incident.
“The taxi driver kept staring at me, and when I handed him my card to pay, he told me I couldn’t have it back until I gave him a hug.”
Fortunately Viken was not harmed and retrieved her payment card. While she didn’t feel it was necessary to report the incident, she said she would feel comfortable talking to her parents and authorities about assault if she needed.
“I didn’t really think it was so scary until I tell you now,” she said. “But I would feel fine talking to my parents or the police if I ever needed.”