Nor­way: po­lice un­cover more than 150 rapes and sex­ual as­saults in La­p­land

The Guardian Australia - - World News -

Nor­we­gian po­lice have un­cov­ered 151 al­leged sex­ual as­saults, in­clud­ing child rape, in a small com­mu­nity in La­p­land, send­ing shock waves across the coun­try.

The case has high­lighted long­stand­ing dis­trust be­tween na­tional au­thor­i­ties and the in­dige­nous Sami com­mu­nity, of which most vic­tims and sus­pects are part.

An in­ves­ti­ga­tion was launched af­ter the Ver­dens Gang news­pa­per (VG) in 2016 pub­lished tes­ti­monies of 11 men and women claim­ing to have been as­saulted in Tys­fjord, a north­ern mu­nic­i­pal­ity lo­cated above the Arc­tic Cir­cle with less than 2,000 in­hab­i­tants.

A new po­lice re­port iden­ti­fied 82 vic­tims aged be­tween four and 75, and 92 sus­pects, in­clud­ing three women, with some fall­ing into both cat­e­gories.

Around 70% were mem­bers of the Sami, for­merly known as the

Lapps. Many were also fol­low­ers of Laes­ta­di­an­ism, a con­ser­va­tive Lutheran re­vival move­ment.

Two peo­ple have so far been charged with 10 as­saults in to­tal, the po­lice said, adding that more in­dict­ments could fol­low.

The re­port showed that of the 151 sex as­sault cases – in­clud­ing 43 rapes, three of them on chil­dren – more than 100 were dropped mainly due to the statute of lim­i­ta­tions. Some cases date as far back as 1953.

“The po­lice have no rea­son to be­lieve that eth­nic­ity or re­li­gious be­liefs are an ex­pla­na­tion to the as­saults that took place,” po­lice of­fi­cer Tone Van­gen told a news con­fer­ence.

But she stressed that cer­tain “mech­a­nisms” in this com­mu­nity “have made it dif­fi­cult for things to emerge”. She said some sus­pects had turned to re­li­gion for re­pen­tance in­stead of the ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties.

There’s “a strong need to close the ranks in the fam­ily in a sit­u­a­tion where the Nor­we­gian so­ci­ety is look­ing down on you”, Van­gen added.

But she also apol­o­gised for po­lice hav­ing failed to act af­ter sev­eral com­plaints had been filed.

Lars Magne An­dreassen, direc­tor of a Sami cul­tural cen­tre in Tys­fjord, said that he was di­vided be­tween “pain” and “pride”.

“It’s painful to note that there have been so many cases over so many years ... and se­ri­ous for some,” An­dreassen said but ex­pressed “pride over so­ci­ety dar­ing to break the si­lence”.

“In the Tys­fjord case, si­lence of the vic­tims was met with a sim­i­lar si­lence from the au­thor­i­ties,” he said.

“It’s not so much the fact that the Sami have a cul­tural prob­lem which we should clean up but the fact that no one has lis­tened to them,” An­dreassen added.

“The scope (of the facts) is huge,” the mayor of Tys­fjord Tor As­geir Jo­hansen told Nor­we­gian news agency NTB.

“This is a small com­mu­nity and this of course af­fects it,” he added.

The Sami pop­u­la­tion is es­ti­mated be­tween 40,000 and 60,000 in Nor­way but this fig­ure is dif­fi­cult to count ac­cu­rately due to mi­gra­tory flows and ethnic blends.

Samis re­ceived an of­fi­cial apol­ogy from Nor­way’s King Har­ald in 1997 for fac­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Their way of life, which is closely as­so­ci­ated to na­ture, has be­come threat­ened by min­eral min­ing, wind farms and ex­ten­sive log­ging, which are en­croach­ing more and more upon rein­deer herd­ing grounds and fish­ing ar­eas.

Chil­dren play in front of the Ar­ran, the Lule Sami multi-ac­tiv­ity cen­tre, in Tys­fjord mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Pho­to­graph: Tore Meek/AFP/ Getty Images

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