I think it’s fair to say that the Icelandic nation is profoundly shaken as a result of a book that came out a few days ago. It’s called Myndin af pabba [The Picture of my Father] and tells the true story of five sisters who as children were systematically molested by their father, and sold to other men in exchange for booze and drugs.
The book focuses on the story of one of the five sisters, who appears under her own name. A couple of days ago she was interviewed on one of the current affairs programmes on TV and I think it is safe to say that most people watched with a mixture of utter revulsion and absolute awe. What those poor girls were subjected to is a nightmare too horrible for words. Not only were they physically and sexually abused, but they had to endure the most horrific emotional and mental torture, as well. Their father was a very, very sick man who did unspeakable things, but who also appears to have had a loving side, because despite everything, the sisters [three of the others were also interviewed] appear to have had some sort of love for him – at least for a while.
The feeling of awe, of course, is for the survivors themselves. Not only for the incredible courage it has taken for them to come out and talk so frankly and composedly about the abuse, but also that the human spirit should be resilient enough to survive such horror. And not merely to survive, but to overcome it to the extent that they’ve managed to carve out lives for themselves – lives that work – and to look back on the past with some semblance of serenity.
Meanwhile, the nation wonders how something like this could have happened in the small community of Hafnarfjörður [a municipality adjacent to Reykjavík]. Because, as it turns out, the girls’ friends, neighbours, teachers – lots of people – knew that something was going on, some form of sexual abuse – although nobody seems to have had an inkling about the child prostitution. A former head teacher at the school has revealed that the girls were taken aside and spoken to, but were unwilling to admit that anything was wrong. Nonetheless, child protection authorities were sent to their house, as was the police. Eventually, the father was accused and tried, and despite confessions from the other men, was acquitted on grounds of insufficient evidence.
So – the system failed. And yet – could anything have been done differently at the time? Evidently the police came to the house repeatedly due to neighbours’ reports of domestic violence, but when they knocked at the door, the girls’ mother told them to go away, that nothing was wrong. The girls, too, were unwilling to admit to anything being amiss. And in those days – in the 1960s and 70s – sexual abuse was ‘something that did not happen’ in Iceland. Not in our little community.
The amazing thing, though, is that this has now surfaced. I truly believe that the time is absolutely right – that the nation has finally come to the point where it is ready to face dark issues like this one, name them, understand their gravity, break through the denial. Until now, the call for reform in lenient sentencing for sexual offences has been mainly at a grassroots level. But that’s changing, as more and more people are outraged by the system’s ineffectiveness and, it must be said, sheer stupidity.
Since this story broke a few days ago, the main grassroots organization dealing with sexual abuse – Stígamót – has been inundated with calls. Not only from survivors, but also from people who wish to donate money. Yesterday, Stígamót invited the Deputy Attorney General to attend a lunchtime question-and-answer session – which was packed with people demanding answers. One can only hope that this horrible and shocking story has the ability to become a catalyst for change. At least that way some snippet of good could come out of it.
STORM WARNING IN EFFECT
For today and this evening. All the fishing boats heading for shore. We’re also told to brace ourselves for a torrential downpour. Just the sort of evening to stay indoors, under a blanket, in front of the telly, with lots of lit candles. Temps at the moment are 2°C and sunrise was at 08.15, sunset due for 18.11.
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