Thousands of Norwegians turned out Monday afternoon for demonstrations all over the country against the acquittals of three men who’d been charged with gang raping an 18-year-old woman at a ski resort in Hemsedal two years ago. The protestors were demanding stronger legal rights for women.
The three men initially were convicted by a local court in Hemsedal and sentenced to prison terms of as much as six years. They appealed and were acquitted by a jury, but the professional panel of judges disagreed and set aside the acquittal.
The case was then retried, and all three men were found guilty by three judges and a lay judge, while three other lay judges found them innocent. Since five votes are needed for convictions, the majority ruling was set aside and the men were ultimately acquitted.
Women’s rights groups were outraged as was the plaintiff Andrea Voldum, now age 21, who took matters into her own hands and identified not only herself but all three of her alleged attackers on social media. The demonstrations held on Monday from Oslo in the south to Tromsø in the north, and not least in Hemsedal itself, were also billed as a show of support for her.
The protestors also asserted that justice had not been served in this case, while also complaining that rape sentences in Norway are lenient compared to many other countries. The defendants’ attorneys argued just the opposite, with one saying that his client felt obliged to flee the county because of what they feared was a “lynch mob” attitude among the protestors.
Many interviewed by Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), for example, denied that, claiming they merely felt a need to voice a loss of faith in the justice system. Voldum herself said she has never encouraged anyone to send threats to her alleged attackers. “That’s not my responsibility either,” she told NRK. “That must lie with whomever makes any threats.”
Overwhelmed by the show of support
Voldum, who took part in the largest demonstration in front of the Norwegian Parliament in Oslo Monday afternoon, said she was overwhelmed by the national show of support. She thanked all those engaging themselves in the call for more support for women’s rights.
“I never though so many people would get involved in this,” she told NRK. “I simply wrote a piece on Facebook. All this has developed into something much, much larger than I thought it could be.”
Pil Teisbo, a member of the board of Kvinnefronten, the women’s rights organization that arranged Monday’s demonstrations, also denied there was any “lynch” attitude among those protesting what she called a “justice system that wasn’t functioning” as it should. Protesters also questioned why there are so few rape convictions in Norway.
“Of course we must follow the law, but it’s supposed to be based on ethics and people’s feelings of justice,” Teisbo told NRK. She added that she was “more worried about all those who are victims of attacks in our country and who choose to remain silent. They’re the ones who are really betrayed by the Norwegian legal system.”