More rape victims are seeking help

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Just days after the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced a Peace Prize that boosts awareness of sexual violence, comes news that rape remains a major problem in Norway itself. New statistics show a strong increase in the numbers of women seeking help from health centers that receive victims and can secure evidence of their alleged assaults.

Oslo’s public emergency hospital, Oslo Legevakt, has a rape victim reception center that has seen a major increase in women arriving for help. The trend is the same nationwide. PHOTO: Oslo University Hospital

“It happened late last night, she wants all the tests that can secure evidence and she is terribly frightened that she’s also been exposed to infection,” the leader of the special department at Oslo’s emergency hospital (Legevakt) that receives rape victims, Anne Berit Lunde, told her colleagues during a recent weekend. Her briefing came just before another woman who’d been sexually assaulted arrived as well. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) was allowed to cover the session, for a report on the rise in reported sexual assaults released on Monday.

The woman who was the subject of Lunde’s briefing was the 10th to either be brought to the emergency hospital by police or arrive on their own that weekend. Increasing numbers of women are also showing up at assault victim reception centers all over the country.

Still many unreported cases, too
A total of 552 patients sought help in Oslo last year and the number this year is up by nearly 10 percent. “We’ve taken in 54 more patients this year than we had at the same time last year,” Dr Eline Thorleifsson, chief of staff at the Oslo center, told NRK’s documentary program NRK Brennpunkt. It’s unclear whether there actually have been more rapes of whether more women are reporting them, but Thorleifsson stresses that the numbers of unreported rapes remain large.

“There are still such large mørketall (unreported cases) when it comes to rape,” Thorleifsson said. “So I hope and think that this doesn’t reflect more rapes, but rather that’s it’s become easier to get help.”

The numbers are highest in Oslo, which also has the country’s largest population. With the exception of slight dips in 2008 and 2012, a graph charting the numbers of victims seeking help at reception centers (called Overgrepsmottakene) in Oslo and Bergen has been climbing consistently since 2003.

Case numbers up from north to south
The numbers have also been climbing at Norway’s 23 other rape victim reception centers, often at a higher rate. In Tromsø in Northern Norway, which has seen a major increase both visitors and local residents, the number rose an astonishing 70 percent from 2016 to 2017, and the number this year is already higher than last year.

“We’ve never seen a summer like this past one, with a doubling (of women seeking help after assaults) in July,” the leader of the center in Drammen, Liv Heidi Brattås Remo, told NRK. “There’s also been an unusually high amount since.” Most of the victims are young women aged 15 to 20, reflecting teen rapes that have been a major issue since it was highlighted on the popular Norwegian TV series Skam.

The center in Fredrikstad near Norway’s southern border to Sweden has seen a doubling of patients, not least after the center marked its 10th anniversary by releasing a video on its Facebook page aimed at boosting awareness of rape and the center’s own existence. It’s been viewed around 1.8 million times.

“Folks have called us from all over the country, and we can help refer them to their own local reception centers,” Ann Helen Lomsdalen, leader of the center in Fredrikstad, told NRK. “We work hard to assure them that’s it’s safe to report rapes or suspected rapes, so the reports have increased.”

Women ‘in a state of shock’
Only two of Norway’s 25 rape victim reception centers have seen a decline in patients: in Kirkenes in the far north near the Russian border and in Ålesund on Norway’s west coast. The centers are otherwise extremely busy, offering medical examinations, conversations with rape victims and advice for those in crisis. The centers also offer the special testing and procedures that secure biological evidence that can be used in court if the victim decides to report the assault to police and file charges.

“Most of those coming to us are in a state of shock,” Lunde at the Oslo center told NRK. The young woman who had just arrived said she had fallen asleep at a late-night party and woke up to someone raping her. She was in pain and suspects someone at the party had drugged her.

“We don’t advise on whether they should go to the police,” Lunde said. “I have great respect that filing charges is difficult, and carries a lot of costs. It’s stressful to undergo questioning. But I always advise them that they have a right to three hours of free professional help from an attorney. Then they can make a more qualified choice.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund