Druslugangan is the Reykjavik iteration of the SlutWalk, a transnational movement that began in 2011 in protest of a rape culture that’s characterized by victim blaming and shaming.
I met Druslugangan’s team of directors on a Wednesday morning at the group’s HQ in Hitt Húsið on Pósthússtræti. Eva Sigurðardóttir, Stella Briem Friðriksdóttir, and Kolbrún Birna Hallgrímsdóttir Bachmann, along with Helga Lind Mar, are the minds behind the 2018 SlutWalk in Reykjavík, and they work communally—nobody is above the others—embodying their utopian feminist vision in true egalitarian fashion.The rallies began on April 3, 2011 after a Canadian police officer said that women should “avoid dressing like sluts” to avoid being victimized, effectively placing the onus for sexual assault on the survivor instead of the perpetrator.
“He was basically putting the blame on the victims for putting themselves in the situation where this could happen,” Eva Sigurðardóttir, co-director of Druslugangan, added as she summarized the story behind the SlutWalk, which, she argued, was no less important in a sexually-liberated society like Iceland, where 22% of women nevertheless experience some form of domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime.
SlutWalk 2018: Back to Basics
The inaugural Drusluganga, held in 2011 in the midst of rallies across the world, was attended by just a few hundred people; but by 2017, attendance had grown to over 20,000.
Since its first iteration in Reykjavík and elsewhere, Kolbrún says, the movement’s emphasis has shifted from classic SlutWalk assertions that focus on resistance to a dress and behavioural code imposed upon the female body, to issues like digital sexual violence (cyber-harassment, internet shaming). One in 10 women in the European Union has reported experiencing cyber-harassment since the age of 15.
This year’s walk has also returned to a core message in opposition to systemic violence: rather than simply addressing “the exterior facts” like clothing and drinking culture, it demands an end to the attitudes that condone sexual violence and demands that the judicial system deal effectively with these crimes.
It goes “back to basics,” Stella said. “We want everyone to be able to find themselves inside the walk instead of focusing on one particular group. After the #metoo revolution, we saw that [sexual violence] is in every single group of society and drew the conclusion that we needed to include them all.”
When asked about Druslugangan’s practice as an intersectional feminist movement, Stella clarified that “the organization has built a stage that aims to include groups on the margin—immigrants, people of colour, the disabled—and to create a safe platform for everyone to feel heard and to feel empowered.”
A Platform for All
In the weeks leading up to Druslugangan, the organizing team holds small, intimate meetings alongside organizations, like TABÚ and Stígamót, where attendees can speak about their concerns and make contributions to the development of the SlutWalk.
These meetings create an opportunity for them to provide much-needed input into the ongoing discussion around sexual violence.
“You don’t have to be a voice on stage in front of 20,000 people—you can also feel safe with just a few people who are supporting you. Then it’s more of a discussion.” Eva added.
If We Lead, Will the System Follow?
But solidarity, advocacy, and action are only one side of the coin; the politicians that control legislation around sexual violence and harassment, and the structures that punish perpetrators too lightly, must respond to the demands of the citizens who see rape culture for how deeply malignant it is. They must adapt.
The minimum punishment for rape, in Iceland, is one year. The maximum is 16 years. But judges almost inevitably tend to be lenient, delivering sentences of two to four years when cases are brought to court. They don’t often make it to an Icelandic court.
In a 2013 research report, Hildur Antonsdóttir and Þorbjörg Gunnlaugsdóttir found that, of 189 cases of rape that were reported to authorities in 2008, only 21 cases ended with a conviction.
The rate of recidivism, however, for sexual offenders two years post-release, according to a 2015 study, was the lowest of any type of crime in Iceland.
“Maybe the problem is that the system isn’t following.” —Eva Sigurðardóttir
Breaking Down the Image of the Rapist
“This year, we have Kiana [Sif Limehouse] speaking.” Stella explained that this choice of keynote speaker, one who was failed by the system, was intended “to make people aware of the fact that violence is everywhere, that it’s in every sort of occupation—it’s the people we trust: it’s police officers, it’s teachers, it is our friends.”
As a child, Kiana was sexually assaulted by her stepfather, a police officer, who went on to assault two other girls. The officer has not been removed from his position at the police. He recently pressed charges against the Icelandic news outlet, Stundin, for their coverage of the three cases, none of which made it to court. But the publicity surrounding the case signified a step toward revealing sexual offenders for what they are: not monsters in back alleys, but normal people.
“In Icelandic, we call it ”afskrímslavæðing,” demonstrification.” In the mainstream media, the demonisation of perpetrators makes it difficult for survivors to see the crime for what it is: it wasn’t perpetrated by a monster, but a normal person, and it is still rape.
If you tear down this ‘myth’ of the rapist, then you take away its power to trivialize what survivors have gone through. Rapists “can have friends, families, a good job,” Stella concluded.
Victim or Survivor?
The way we talk about the survivors of sexual assault carries as much weight as the way we envisage the perpetrator.
“Terms like victim are so damaging because they put you in a position that you don’t want to be in. You don’t want to view yourself as a victim; you want to view yourself as a survivor.” she added. The Icelandic term ‘fórnarlamb’, meaning literally ‘sacrificial lamb’, translates to ‘victim’ in English. But the group instead uses its own vocabulary, preferring the term ‘þolandi’, the more neutral ‘recipient’.
Language has taken a prominent position at SlutWalk 2018. This year, Druslugangan translated their core messages, which include “let’s stand with survivors of sexual violence” and “you are not the violence that you went through” into the seven most used languages in Iceland.
“We want to affect the media so that they talk about it in the same way.” —Eva Sigurðardóttir
“We need the message to get to everyone because we saw, with #metoo, that this affects foreign women a lot, and a lot of them don’t know about us. They don’t know how they can get help.”
Acknowledging Your Story
“Just wearing [the SlutWalk shirts] is a statement; you don’t have to tell your story if you’re not ready but you can feel that the love and the support is there.” Kolbrún explained that the Druslugangan merchandise is a way to speak out without speaking and to offer solidarity with survivors. “You feel so much shame when you’re alone with this experience. You don’t even have to say it out loud; you can just write it down, just to acknowledge that this happened.”
“Acknowledging your story and acknowledging what you’ve been through and believing it yourself and telling someone you trust,” are the first steps. “As long as you have some support from someone you love, then [healing] takes off from there.”
A Place to Turn
Sexual assault survivors do have a place to turn in Iceland: the Druslugangan team extended an invitation to be in touch with them, and, within Reykjavík, Bjarkarhlíð and Stígamót offer safe spaces to survivors.
Bjarkarhlíð, which opened in February 2017, offers free counselling, support, and information services for survivors of violence, as well as police assistance, legal consultation, and a multitude of services for survivors of human trafficking. Stígamót offers free group and individual counselling. Services are also extended to the family members and loved ones of survivors.