Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape carries a maximum penalty of 16 years in prison. Judges typically imposed sentences of one to three years. Spousal rape is not explicitly addressed in the law. In previous years the Icelandic Counseling and Information Center for Survivors of Sexual Violence noted that the number of reported rapes consistently rose faster than the number of convictions. According to national police statistics, there were 98 reported rapes in 2010, the latest data available. During that year prosecutors brought 24 cases to trial and obtained a conviction in 13. In 2009 convictions were obtained in eight of the 14 cases that went to trial. Activists continued to complain that the burden of proof in rape cases was too heavy and discouraged victims from reporting acts of rape and authorities from prosecuting them. The government did not respond formally to these concerns.
The law prohibits domestic violence; however, violence against women continued to be a problem. The penalties can range from a fine to 16 years in prison, depending on the type of violence committed. In addition the law permits judges to increase the sentences of persons who commit violence against persons with whom they had a domestic relationship or other close bond. However, there were no domestic violence cases in which judges actually handed down stronger sentences, and one respected activist expressed concern that sentences were too mild and too few.
Law enforcement agencies reported 203 cases of domestic quarrelling and 295 cases of domestic violence to the state prosecutor’s office in 2010, the latest data available. Some observers suggested that many incidents of domestic violence went unreported. In January a study conducted in 2008 for the Ministry of Welfare found that 22 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 80 had suffered violence in a close relationship at some point after the age of 16.
Female Genital Mutilation (FGM): The law criminalizes FGM. The general penal code stipulates that violations are punishable by imprisonment up to 16 years depending on the impact on the individual’s health and the type of violence committed.
Sexual Harassment: Two laws prohibit sexual harassment. The general penal code prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates that violations are punishable by imprisonment up to two years. The law on equal status defines sexual harassment more broadly as any type of unfair or offensive sexual behavior--physical, verbal, or symbolic--that is unwanted and affects the self-respect of the victim, and is continued despite a clear indication that the behavior is undesired. The law requires employers and organization supervisors to make specific arrangements to prevent employees, students, and clients from becoming victims of gender-based or sexual harassment. Victims of harassment can report incidents to the Complaints Committee on Equal Status. Only employers with 25 or more employees are required to provide their employees with information on the legal prohibitions against sexual harassment in workplaces.
Some local human rights monitors attributed the underreporting of domestic violence and sex crimes to the infrequency of convictions and to traditionally light sentences. In the few cases of domestic violence that went to court, the courts often continued to base sentences on precedent and rarely made full use of the more stringent sentencing authority available under the law. According to statistics from the Icelandic Counseling and Information Center for Survivors of Sexual Violence, in 2010, the latest year for which data was available, 11.4 percent of its clients pressed charges.
In response to concerns regarding the effectiveness of restraining orders, in June parliament amended the law to grant victims of domestic violence the right to have police physically remove perpetrators from the home for up to four weeks at a time. Police can also impose a 72-hour restraining order to prevent the abusers from coming into proximity with the victim, and courts can extend this restraining order for up to a year. Victims of sex crimes are entitled to lawyers to advise them of their rights and to help them pursue charges against the alleged assailants; however, a large majority of victims historically have declined to press charges or chosen to forgo trial, in part to avoid publicity.
During the year, 107 women sought temporary lodging at the country’s shelter for women, mainly because of domestic violence. The shelter offered counseling to 191 clients. During the year up to December 19, 116 women sought assistance at the rape crisis center of the National University Hospital of Iceland.
The government helped finance the Icelandic Counseling and Information Center for Survivors of Sexual Violence, the rape crisis center of the national hospital, and other organizations that assisted victims of domestic or gender-based violence. In addition to partially funding such services, the government provided help to immigrant women in abusive relationships, offering emergency accommodation, counseling, and information on legal rights.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. There were no restrictions on the access to contraceptives and maternal health services, including skilled attendance during childbirth. Women had easy access to prenatal care, essential obstetric care, and postpartum care. Women also used nurses and midwives for prenatal and postnatal care unless the mother or child suffered more serious health complications. Women were diagnosed and treated for sexually transmitted infections equally with men.
Discrimination: Women enjoy the same legal rights as men, including under the family and property laws and in the judicial system. However, despite laws that require equal pay for equal work, a pay gap existed between men and women. According to a salary survey conducted by the VR, the country’s largest commercial and office workers’ union, and published in September, women working full time earned 87 percent of the base pay of men who also work full time. The law states that employers and unions should work towards gender equality in the labor market, especially in managerial positions, and that employers should work towards declassifying jobs as primarily female- or male-oriented. According to the Center for Gender Equality (CGE), the government took steps to attract men to female-oriented jobs and vice versa, with only limited success. The CGE reported that many more men than women are in managerial positions.
The government funded a center for promoting gender equality to administer the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women and Men. The center also provided counseling and education on gender equality to national and municipal authorities, institutions, companies, individuals, and nongovernmental organizations. The minister of welfare appoints members of the Complaints Committee on Equal Status, which adjudicates alleged violations of the act. The minister also appoints members of the Equal Status Council, drawn from national women’s organizations, the University of Iceland, and labor and professional groups. The council makes recommendations for equalizing the status of men and women in the workplace.
As of September 30, the Complaints Committee on Equal Status had decided four cases. In one case the committee found that the prime minister, who is a woman, breached the law on equal status when appointing a male director for the Office of Administration and Community Development at the Prime Minister’s Office. In another case, the committee found that a forestry company breached the law on equal status when it terminated a female employee.