More than 20% of Norwegian women victims of rape, a new report found. Violence against women in Norway, a ‘Nordic paradox’

A study commissioned by the ministry of Justice found that severe physical violence, domestic violence and rape have increased in Norway over the past nine years. Almost one in five Norwegian women reported having been the victim of rape at least once in their life. Violence in close relationships was estimated to cost Norwegian society 9 billion dollars in 2021.

Norway Minister of Justice Emilie Enger Mehl
Maria Teresa Grønning Dale, researcher at NKTVS (left) and Norway Minister of Justice Emilie Enger Mehl (right) receiving the report on Violence and abuse in the Norwegian population | © Norway government

The report on the Extent of violence and abuse in the Norwegian population from the Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS) shows that exposure to violence remains high in Norway. Moreover, the extent of rape seems to have significantly increased in the last decade.

Findings of the research on self-reported violence and abuse have been handed over on February 28 to the minister of Justice and Public Security Emilie Enger Mehl since the study is commissioned and mainly funded by the ministry of Justice as part of a research program on violence in close relationships.

In another report commissioned by the ministry to be received on March 1, social costs of violence in close relationships were estimated to amount to 92.7 billion Norwegian crowns (9 billion dollars) for 2021.

Overall, violence is largely present in Norwegian society as about 40 percent of all respondents, and almost half of the men, were exposed to at least one form of severe physical violence in their adult life. But women are more exposed to domestic, sexual and repeated forms of violence.

In the study, 23 percent of women and 4 percent of men are found to have been raped at least once in their lifetime. People may have been victims of rape by force or coercion, while incapacitated (unwanted sexual penetration and unable to consent or oppose the act, for instance, while asleep, unconscious or intoxicated by drugs or alcohol), or subject to sexual abuse before they turned 13.

Half of the people reported by the study as victims of rape by force or coercion were under 18 at the time of the events. Five percent of the women respondents and three percent of the men had sexual intercourse with someone significantly older before they were 13.

Other than rape, almost one in five women (18%) were sexually abused at least once in their lifetime. Data published on September 2022 by Statistics Norway show similar results with as many as 15 percent of women who were forced or were tried to be forced to have sexual intercourse (4 percent in the last 12 months among the 18-24 age group).

Incidence of rapeTotalWomenMen
Rape by force/coercion8%14%2%
Rape while sleeping6%11%2%
Rape of a child (<13 years old)3%5%1%
At least one of the above
(respondents may be victims of more than one rape)
Source: Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies (NKVTS), 2023

To build the report and get those findings, 4,299 people aged between 18 and 74 (51% men and 49% women) accepted to be interviewed between June 2021 and June 2022 and answered questions about their experiences of violence and abuse. The interviews were conducted by phone by the opinion polling institute Ipsos and latest about 30 minutes. The previous report from NKVTS dates back to 2014, the first time such an extensive study was carried out in Norway.

Significant increase in the number of rape in Norway but no clear conclusion on the reasons

Figures in the 2023 report are much higher than in 2014 and higher than researchers anticipated.

In the 18-29 age group, 19 percent of women were victims of rape, twice as many as in 2014.

The increases can be partially explained by “incapacitated rape” (or “sleep rape”) which was not included in the previous study. Eleven percent of the women were subject to unwanted sexual penetration and unable to consent or stop the act, such as when they were sleeping or drunk.

Nevertheless, 14 percent of the women are reported having been victims of rape by force or coercion, which accounts for almost 50 percent more answers compared to nine years ago (9.4% of female respondents in 2014).

The report doesn’t investigate the reasons why the figures have increased. If researchers note that the analyses “suggest that the differences are likely to reflect changes in the society since 2014,” they however cannot give clear conclusions whether the rise is temporary, whether figures are going to remain high, nor can they say whether the higher data are due to underreporting in the past.

Findings may indicate that there has been both an increase in incidence and increased awareness of violence and abuse, as well as increased expectations of the police and the justice system, according to Maria Teresa Grønning Dale, researcher and lead project manager of the study at NKTVS.

The increase from the previous survey in 2014 is worrying and painful to hear,” reacted Minister of Justice Emilie Enger Mehl. “NKVTS concludes that violence and abuse are fairly common in Norway. This is sad,” added Ms. Mehl.

In 2021, 2,581 rapes in a 5.4 million-people country have been reported to the Norwegian police, according to official police statistics. A 7.5 percent increase compared to the average of the five previous years.

A significant gap between the research and reports to the police

But according to the NKVTS report, four in five people who were victims of rape and/or online sexual abuse (sharing film or image material with sexual content, or causing others to perform sexual acts against their will using digital media) declared that the police are not aware of their case.

Moreover, only one in ten went to a medical examination a few days or weeks after being exposed to severe violence. The perpetrator or perpetrators were convicted in four percent of the rapes or assaults declared in the study by respondents.

Such a gap between the number of violent acts in the study and reports to the police was already in the 2014 report.

People say they didn’t want to involve the police or didn’t go to a doctor because they thought it was not serious enough, or out of concern for negative consequences for themselves or people close to them.

In many cases, the victim of violence or rape knows the perpetrator who may be a partner, an ex-partner, a lover, a friend, or an acquaintance.

One in ten women answered they have already been exposed to severe physical violence from their current or previous partner, which may consist of, among other things, being punched by a clenched fist or an object, kicked, choked, beaten up, or threatened with a weapon.

Many women said they felt guilt or shame, while almost half of the women who were raped also answered they were afraid of being killed or seriously injured during the assault.

Nevertheless, the number of sexual violence reports to the police has significantly increased in past years, particularly since 2014. As a consequence, nearly twice as many sexual offenses were reported to the police in 2021 (7,989) as in the early 2010s, according to Statistics Norway. Reports of rapes and attempted raped grew by 50 percent between 2014 and 2021.

Earlier this month, the minister appointed a special rape committee that will look at the causes of rape and why so few people report them. The ministry plans to present proposals for strengthening the law around consent. A partner homicide commission will also start on January 2024.

High incidence of violence against women in Norway, the ‘Nordic Paradox’

The NKVTS report criticizes past government actions to fight against abuse and sexual violence since the differences between the two reports show “there are indications that the measures and action plans that have been introduced in this area have not had the desired effect on the extent of rape and severe violence.”

Violence and abuse are still a serious social problem in Norway. The extent of violence is still high in the Norwegian population, and the findings from this survey point to important areas of focus when it comes to the prevention and handling of violence and abuse in Norway,” the report adds.

Reported violence almost always comes from other men (80% of cases). Men are exposed to violence mostly from someone they don’t know, and unlike women, often in public spaces.

Overall, the majority of women who were victims of rape were victims of more than one rape in their lives. A report from the Netherlands in 2021 also showed that victims of abuse and violence are more likely to be again victims of abuse.

Figures about women exposed to physical violence are similar in proportion to the average findings in Europe, according to the report. But Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway tend to show a particularly high incidence of violence against women whereas they usually score high on gender equality indexes. This situation is often referred to as the “Nordic paradox,” the report points out.

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