Behind Closed Doors Investigation
Norway is not doing enough to address violence and intersectional discrimination against women, according to several international organisations that are working on women’s rights and violence against women. Researchers from NKVTS and an investigation conducted by The Oslo Desk found similar failures.
Definitions of governing bodies and certain terms can be found at the bottom.
Trigger warning: The article contains content of specific persons’ experiences with post-separation abuse. This may be triggering to readers with similar experiences
By Ka Man Mak and Macel Ingles
The reports from GREVIO, CEDAW, NKVTS, and Amnesty International highlighted the following:
- The absence of systematic training and capacity-building programmes for judges and lay judges, as well as among public sector workers and other professionals who have contact with victims of gender-based violence.
- A lack of linguistic support and geographical accessibility to public services for victims of violence.
- The absence to recognise violence and power dynamics in family disputes and child custody cases.
- The lack of proper data collection on cases of violence against women, especially in terms of prosecutions.
- The impact of the measures taken to overcome intersecting forms of discrimination, disaggregated by age and relationship between victim and perpetrator for example.
- A lack of stronger legal frameworks to address all forms of violence against women.
- The absence of freely given consent should be at the centre of the definition in Section 291 of the Penal Code for rape.
European Commission’s Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) stressed the need for “the Norwegian authorities to ensure that all professionals dealing with victims receive training on the gendered understanding of violence against women when offering counselling and support” in their report and saw that “the quality of interventions by local authorities and the availability of specialist services varies significantly within Norway.”
While GREVIO appreciates the strong commitment of the Norwegian Government to combating domestic violence, negative social control, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, it notes that the co-existence of different national action plans may lead to the compartmentalisation of policies which can stand in the way of coherence and continuity in the efforts to prevent and combat violence against women.
GREVIO “observed an insufficient level of recognition of women’s specific experiences with and vulnerabilities resulting from gender-based violence” in Norway. The services provided for victims of domestic abuse “fall short of addressing the increased vulnerability of certain groups of women exposed to intersectional discrimination, in particular those belonging to an indigenous population such as the Sami, women with addiction issues and women with disabilities.”
Sexual violence, rape, sexual harassment, and stalking, especially ex-partner stalking, as well as intimate partner violence, are forms of violence that disproportionately affect women.
In a recent NKVTS (Norwegian Center for Violence and Stress Studies) report on the overview on sexual abuse and rape among the Norwegian population, it found that 1 in 5 women were subjected to rape by force or coercion, rape while sleeping or both (equivalent to 3 per cent for men) at least once in their lifetime. Also, serious physical violence from a boyfriend, partner or ex-partner was much more common for women.
Inadequate Norwegian Rape Law
Another report by United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), echoed similar concerns from GREVIO already in 2017. CEDAW was also particularly worried about the absence of freely given consent that should be at the centre of the definition in section 291 of the Penal Code for rape.
Amnesty International has been monitoring the developments of Norway’s combat on rape and sexual violence. In February 2023 it stated that Norway has always been praised as being a “haven for equality” but also took the country to task for the prevalence of sexual violence including rape. It also said that Norway failed repeatedly to “take all appropriate measures to prevent as well as investigate, prosecute, punish and provide reparation for gender-based violence against women and sexual violence,” especially amending the rape law.
In particular, Amnesty is directing its criticism against Norwegian legislation where rape is still defined as sexual intercourse by use of violence or threatening behaviour, a definition that falls short of international human rights standards.
Some of the key recommendations that Amnesty forwarded include revision of the legal definitions of rape in the Penal code, ensuring specialised training in sexual crimes is made mandatory for judges who handle sexual crimes, ensuring sufficient resources for the courts and police for capacity building in dealing with rape cases, and lastly, ensure sufficient resources for support centres to provide care and assistance to all victims of sexual violence.
1 in 10 Norwegian Judges are Gender Biased
In a report to CEDAW early this year, the Norwegian government admitted that the higher prosecuting authority has not developed such a dedicated training programme that Amnesty, GREVIO and CEDAW demand.
Systematic gender training and capacity-building programmes for judges and lay judges have also been largely ignored in the most recent National Action Plan for Freedom from Violence (2021-2024) (NAP). The Norwegian Bar Association confirmed to TOD that the topic of gender-based violence is not obligatory in the continuing education of lawyers and judges. However, lawyers working on this topic must have the necessary knowledge to take up such cases.
In addition, the lack of gender and domestic violence awareness among the judges was found in a 2014 study where one in 10 judges who responded to the survey agreed with statements such as: “Many women report falsely because they regret having had sex” and “In most rape cases, it is not the man’s intention to rape, but he can’t control his sexual desires”.
Norway’s National Action Plan (2021 – 2024) for Freedom from Violence
In August 2001, the Norwegian government appointed a public committee which was tasked with investigating the extent of violence against women in close relationships and providing recommendation. The Norwegian Official Report NOU 2003:31 The Right to a Life Free from Violence (Retten til et liv uten vold) was the committee’s result.
To prevent violence against women, the committee believed that it “requires a greater willingness and ability to work actively, systematically and preventively across sectors and levels of administration” and “a well-integrated support service (hjelpe- og behandlingstilbudet) requires stronger governance, a focus on policy formulation and quality assurance in all decision-making bodies, regardless of the level of administration.”
It found among others, the need for dedicated training for all public sector workers who come into contact with victims of violence in close relationships, including judges and the police force; the strengthening of public services to respond to cases of violence in close relationships. It also reported the need for a new penal provision to capture the complexity of cases involving violence against women.
The report also revealed that public services offered to victims of violence in close relationships hold unclear lines of responsibility. Therefore, as a consequence, victims of violence may experience being what is described as ‘kasteballer’, balls that are thrown around in a bureaucratic system.
A decade after the publication of NOU 2003:31 and to comply with the Istanbul Convention (2011), Norway unveiled its new National Action Plan (NAP) Freedom from Violence (2021-2024) which includes 82 measures to prevent violence against women.
NAP addresses some of the criticism from multiple international reports such as the prevention and protection of the Sami people from violence, but it does not address women of other minority backgrounds and intersectional identities.
Women with minority backgrounds have long been overrepresented in the statistics on violence in close relationships, intimate partner homicides and in women crisis shelters. This overrepresentation has also been long explained by cultural reasons instead of looking into how public services fail to understand the risk factors such as living condition challenges and marginalisation that could contribute to their victimisation.
There are however, measures in the NAP that will reassess the quality of the women’s crisis centre services (Measure 30) and develop family welfare services’ preventive work on violence (Measure 9), as well as strengthening the coordination between different parts of the service apparatus, such as health services, crisis centres, child protection, the police and NAV.
Post-Separation Abuse Ignored in Norwegian Family Legal Proceedings
In 2008, the Norwegian Ministry of Children and Equality published an information guidance brochure for judges, lawyers and other professionals, on allegations of violence in child custody cases.
The brochure cited that, “Family courts often do not consider the history of violence between the parents in making custody and visitation decisions. Psychological evaluators not trained in domestic violence may contribute to this process by ignoring or minimizing the violence and by giving inappropriate pathological labels to women’s responses to chronic victimization. Terms such as «parental alienation» may be used to blame the women for the children’s reasonable fear of or anger toward their violent father» (American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force Report, s.100).”
15 years later, NOVA researcher at the Oslo Metropolitan University Anja Bredal co-authored with Kari Stefansen wrote an article on ‘Violence or parental conflict?’ for Norway’s Child Welfare Journal (Tidsskriftet Norges Barnevern) which documents the abused mothers’ experiences with child welfare services (barnevern) post separation. The article is based on an ongoing research project on violence.
In the project, Bredal has interviewed 40 women about their experiences and revealed that case workers ignored evidence of explicit threats from their partners, seeing it as part of parental conflict and concerns over the mother’s ability to take care of her children rather than violence.
Violence is a combination of threat and control, and recognising the power imbalance therein. “These are women who walk on eggshells, and who have done so for a long time. Then glances and small comments from the partner can be enough to trigger the same fear. It can also act as a trigger if they have to participate together with the ex-husband in meetings with the child protection agency,” said Bredal to Kilden magazine.
Mothers who are exposed to violence end up in difficult situations where they are caught between protecting their children and being seen as sabotaging the relationship between the father and the child. “The mother’s ability to care is at stake, and perhaps she has not been able to protect the child from a violent partner. It is a reality to some extent, you can become so broken down that you do not become a good mother. But the fact that the father, by being violent, also shows poor caring skills, is little thematized.” This results in mother shaming.
The terms ‘paper abuse’, ‘custody stalking’ and ‘procedural stalking’ refers to the use of legal and other bureaucratic procedures to coercively control their partners or former partners. These procedures play a role in post-separation abuse which can result in devastating consequences for women in family or criminal courtrooms. The mothers of immigrant background interviewed during the Behind Closed Doors investigation revealed that all mothers were subjected to violence by their partners and have since lost custody of their children, which their immigration status are now at risk.
The GREVIO report also raised serious concerns related to mandatory mediation in divorce and separation proceedings for couples who have children under 16. This obligation is in violation of Article 48 of the Istanbul Convention, which fails to recognise the power imbalances in relationships marred by violence. GREVIO requires that all necessary legislative or other measures be taken to ensure domestic violence victims are exempt from mandatory mediation.
While a circular exists that presents a list of criteria for mediators to consider such as the presence of violence in close relationships, this is highly subjective to the mediator’s bias as to what ‘compelling evidence’ means and can still dismiss reported violence whether the perpetrator is reported to the police or not.
Most post-separation abuses aren’t recognised in Norwegian law and by professionals working in public services, let alone intersectional discrimination experienced uniquely by women of minority backgrounds. Researchers such as Anja Brendal and the Norwegian Center for Violence and Stress Studies (NKVTS) are just beginning to shed light on how deeply embedded these abuses are within the family context.
The need for the Norwegian authorities to strengthen measures to prevent and combat violence that affects women who are or might be exposed to intersectional discrimination was stressed by GREVIO. It proposed to integrate the perspective of such women into the design of policies for preventing and combating violence against women. GREVIO also recommended more support for research into the prevalence of violence experienced by specific groups of women and girls at risk of or exposed to intersectional discrimination.
In its campaign on violence against women of minority background, Mira Senteret had to explain to Norwegian equality activists that the struggle of women of minority background for equality goes beyond mere gender discrimination. It also includes ethnic discrimination on several grounds: skin colour, sexual orientation, religion, social and economic class and gender identity.
Mira Senteret took up the challenge to dispel stereotypes of women of minority background in the public sphere – as victims of their men and their religion, culture and traditions. Stereotypes that inform on the kind of assistance and care that they get from public services.
They are also fronting the lobby to revise the three-year regulation that ties the juridical status of minority women to their marriage. The immigration rule deprives women of the right to get assistance if they decide to leave their marriage before the three-year rule and risk being sent home. A permanent residence permit can only be given after three years of residing in Norway.
Norwegian Government’s Response
Intimate partner homicides accounted for a quarter of all homicide cases in Norway. The majority of the victims were women. The National Criminal Investigation Service (Kripos) reported 231 people were killed by their partner or ex-partner in the 30-year period between 1990 and 2019. A GREVIO report also revealed that out of the 19 cases reviewed, in all of them, intimate partner violence preceded the killing of the victim. In 15 of the reviewed cases “the police and other support services failed to assess the risk of further violence and implement preventive measures in a timely manner despite being in contact with the victim. The committee identified shortcomings in the handling of cases, mainly the lack of knowledge and expertise on intimate partner violence, insufficient coordination between agencies and insufficient communication between the support services and the victim.”
In March, a report financed by the Norwegian Ministry of Justice and Public Security and prepared by Menon Economics revealed that violence in close relationships cost Norwegian society almost NOK 92.7 billion (~7 billion GBP / ~9 billion USD) in 2021.
“We base our policy on knowledge. Earlier this week we received a report on the extent of violence in close relationships, while today’s report looks at the costs. The government is now working on an escalation plan on violence and abuse against children and violence in close relationships. It will take the work against violence one step further, strengthen efforts and ensure that we tackle the challenges that exist,” says Minister of Justice and Public Security, Emilie Enger Mehl in a press release in March.
Mehl continues, “In January 2024, we will have a permanent partner homicide commission to prevent partner violence and partner murder. The government has recently set up a rape committee which, among other things, looks at the causes of rape and why so few report it. We will also put forward a proposal for a consent act.”
As of today, there are no national guidelines for health services when it applies to the treatment of perpetrators of violence or victims of violence. It is difficult to see from the reports how the Norwegian authorities will address the rolling out of competence training on gender-based violence nationally to all related professionals and reach quality assurance of public services, especially for intersectional identities.
If the interventions are to be effective, it is important to know something about which groups are at particular risk of being exposed; considering individual differences in vulnerability, the consequences of vulnerability, people’s socio-demographic background, as well as victims’ varying degrees of networks and resources, because victims of violence are a heterogeneous group with complex needs.
Do you have information you would like to share with The Oslo Desk? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can visit the Dinveiut.no for help.
Disclaimer: The Oslo Desk is aware of the terms ‘women of minority background’, ‘immigrant women’ and ‘with immigrant background’ has been the subject of debate over the years as its usage promotes othering, erasure and disempowering marginalised communities, as the terms place them on the side of oppression. In order to enable the searchability of our articles for the time being and also for the Norwegian professionals who read these articles to understand who we are referring to in their own lexicon, we have chosen to use these terms. We hope in the future when there is more awareness of how we use these terms in Norway, that we would pave the way to using more accurate and less harmful words such as ‘women of BIPOC background’, ‘community of colour’, ‘global majority’ and ‘racialised people’. Though as language develops through time and terms in their social context can be seen differently, we will do the best we can to use fitting terms that seek to empower.
GREVIO – Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence
UN CEDAW – Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
Circular – A government circular is a written statement of government policy. It will often provide information, guidance, rules, and/or background information on legislative or procedural matters.
The Istanbul Convention is stating its purpose to protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence.
Child Protection Services / Child Welfare Service – Barnevernet
NKVTS – The Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies
NOU – Norwegian Official Report (Norwegian: Norges offentlige utredninger, NOU) is a report published by a panel or committee appointed by the Norwegian government.
Mira Senteret – A Norwegian Resource Centre for Black, Immigrant and Refugee Women
Intersectional discrimination against women – includes women with disabilities, women with ethnic minority background, LGBTQI+ women, elderly women, women in prostitution, and women with addiction issues.
Domestic violence and violence in close relationships are used interchangeably. The latter term is used in the Norwegian lexicon on the subject matter.
Behind Closed Doors is supported partially by FrittOrd Foundation with a fund of 50 000 NOK. Our investigations are important and expensive. Ka Man Mak has been working on this topic for the past 3 years voluntarily and onboarded Macel Ingles in 2022 as a contributing editor and reporter.