This web page is part of the Guide to the Icelandic justice system for victims of sexual offences. It aims to clarify the process regarding offences against individuals 18 years and older.
- Abuse in close relationships
- A guide to the Icelandic justice system
- Should I press charges or not?
Should I press charges or not?
That is a big question that only you can answer. It’s important for the perpetrator to take responsibility for their offence but ensuring that justice is served takes time and requires work.
Your mental and physical health is the most important thing, as well as processing the trauma you’ve experienced. Whether you decide right away to press charges or want to make the decision later, it’s good to start the recovery process as soon as possible.
When victims press charges, it has served many of them well to mentally separate the processing of the case in the justice system from the recovery itself, as the justice system does not have the role of helping with recovery. The outcome of the case proceedings will not necessarily be what you expect.
Making the perpetrator take responsibility
Pressing charges for the offence and letting the case go through the justice system is the only way to make the perpetrator take responsibility. However, even if you press charges, it doesn’t guarantee that the case will go to court, and it is not possible to guarantee that the perpetrator will be found guilty. The investigation and court procedure take time and the process can be difficult.
The perpetrator may be convicted for a sexual offence and that conviction goes on their criminal record permanently. They usually have to pay compensation and litigation costs.
Being convicted is a punishment for perpetrators. The goal of sentencing, thereafter, is to prevent convicted criminals from committing a crime again.
Is it possible to press charges for an offence that happened a long time ago?
Yes, you can press charges later. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that the longer it’s been since the offence, the more difficult it can prove to access important data in the case.
Advice from the police
You can also contact the police to receive advice regarding an offence that you or someone you know has experienced. You don’t need to officially report a case or press charges in order to receive advice. 112 can connect you to police or you can contact a specific police district directly.
An impartial system
The role of the justice system, police, and courts of law is to gather data, assess them, and judge in an impartial manner on the basis of that data. The process can therefore feel impersonal - that is the word some survivors use to describe their experience of case procedure within the justice system.
Over two years pass between when you press charges for the offence and when the case is pleaded in court. During that time, it is important for you to think about your recovery.
- As you navigate the justice system you have the assistance of a legal rights protector (ice. réttargæslumaður). Their services are paid for by the state.
- You can expect it to take around two years from when you press charges until the case is tried in the district court, possibly longer. When the proceedings in the district court are over, the case could be appealed, so the processing of the case could be drawn out even further.
- You need to go to the police station for an interview, called “giving a statement” (ice. skýrslutaka), and recall the offence and events connected to it. Sometimes it is necessary to go in more than once for an interview.
- You need to testify before the district court and recount your experience again in front of other people, possibly even the perpetrator.
- The investigation could be ceased, or your case dropped. That does not mean that your experience is being trivialized or that you are not believed. It just means that there is not sufficient verifiable information to pursue the case.
- While the case is under investigation, both you and the perpetrator have the right to receive information about its status and access to the case data. This is, however, under the condition that it does not impede the investigation of the case.
Legal rights protector (ice. Réttargæslumaður)
A legal rights protector is a lawyer who has the role of safeguarding your interests and assisting you in the case. You don’t have to pay for the legal rights protector’s services, they are paid for by the state.
The legal rights protector should explain the case proceedings to you and can acquire information about the status and proceedings of your case from the police or District Prosecutor.
You receive support in choosing a legal rights protector early on in the process, through the police, victim help centres, or the Emergency Room for Victims of Sexual Abuse.
You have the full right to change legal rights protectors at any point in the process.
Survivor support centres
Survivor support centres provide counselling and information about both the recovery process and the justice system. Both counsellors and psychologists work at the centres:
Bjarmahlíð in Akureyri
Bjarmahlíð is a center for people who have experienced abuse. There you get all the support and counseling you need in one place. All assistance is on your terms.
Sigurhæðir in Selfoss
Sigurhæðir is a service for victims of gender-based violence in South Iceland. There you receive coordinated counsel, support and therapy on your terms.