More women are revealing incidents of bullying, sexual harassment and even rape within the Norwegian military. Defense chiefs now admit to a “culture problem” among young male recruits who attack their own female colleagues.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) led weekend newscasts with reports of how male soldiers have ganged up against women, most recently during what’s called førstegangstjenesten (basic training) at Camp Rusta in Bardufoss, Northern Norway. Both men and women have been called in to serve in the Norwegian armed forces for many years, and even are expected to share rooms, but it can lead to traumatic experiences for the women.
“Girls are here be be abused,” one young soldier told his fellow recruit Silje Falmår, who had looked forward to a career in the military at a time when Norway needs to build up its defense forces. Falmår ended up being repeatedly humiliated and threatened by fellow recruits, and according to her, raped at a social gathering she’d felt pressured into attending.
She went public on NRK’s nightly national newscast Saturday with the abuse to which she was subjected. She claims her complaints to officers were not taken seriously and her report of being being raped was dropped by local police. Another rape report within her division wasn’t even reported to local police. NRK took contact with the men accused of rape but they declined comment and reportedly were not punished.
‘Like the guys were on a hunt’
Another young woman drafted into the service told NRK that “it was like the guys were on a hunt.” Military officials have long claimed that sexual harassment and assault is “completely unacceptable” and met with zero tolerance. Not true, according to several women, some of whom are warning that basic training is not safe for women.
Both Defense Chief Eirik Kristoffersen and the chief of the Army, Lars Lervik, initially refused to answer questions from NRK about the most recent harassment cases. On Sunday, however, both men appeared on NRK’s nightly newscast Dagsrevyen to once again answer to charges of harassment and assault in Norway’s armed services. They claimed, as they have on previous occasions, that such charges are taken seriously and investigated by military police.
Kristoffersen claimed that “the vast majority in the defense department react like everyone else, sad and upset that these things happen.” Asked why such incidents keep occurring despite the military’s alleged “zero tolerance,” Kristoffersen agreed “there is a culture problem, but I want to be precise. I want to know what the cases are about, which divisions are involved and what we can do about this problem.” He said it was his “highest priority” to make sure “our values in defense” are carried out.
Lervik said one of the recent cases has not yet been resolved while another, involving nine defendants, ended with four of them being subjected to a military reprimand. Only one of them, however, was formally reprimanded. The others had left the army. Lervik claims the army tried to get a grip on harassment last spring. “We have boosted resources for handling complaints, sharpened routines for information (up the chain of command) and that the most serious cases come to me,” Lervik said on national TV. “The stories told by Silje and other affect me deeply. They shouldn’t occur.”
Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram of the Center Party, who found himself caught in a case of harassment of the party’s former leader Liv Signe Navarsete himself during a gathering of Center Party men a few years ago, called the Falmår case “very serious.” He said NRK’s report shows that “there are more young women who haven’t received the treatment they should have.” He thinks Kristoffersen, Lervik and other military brass are taking the reports seriously, though.
“We have launched several measures to improve the situation,” Gram told NRK, adding that he’s met “many of our soldiers, both men and women, who have very positive experiences in basic training. When we hear of other cases, it’s sad and unacceptable.”