Greenland Calls On Denmark to Help Fight Child Sexual Abuse

COPENHAGEN — In Greenland, a quarter of all police reports of child sexual abuse come from the remote district of Tasiilaq, a tiny community of 2,800 on the country’s east coast, according to the police.

Pay days are the worst time for the children of Tasiilaq, officials say. With their salaries or social benefits in hand, many adults tend to drink and parents become too inebriated to look after their children, officials say. That’s when an already high rate of sexual abuse rises, according to a police study published last week.

So on the last Friday of every month, officials open a sports hall in the district as a shelter to keep children away from sexual abuse.

“Children were abused by their stepfathers, cousins and by the neighbor looking after them as the parents were on a bender,” Naasunnguaq Ignatiussen Streymoy, the mother of a sexual abuse victim and an anti-abuse activist, told Weekendavisen, a newsweekly, in an article published on Friday about the crisis.

In an unusual step, the government of Greenland turned to Denmark, its former colonial ruler, for help. Greenland said it lacked sufficient funds and expertise to tackle the problem in Tasiilaq, where 5 percent of the national population of 56,000 live.

On Thursday, Denmark answered the call, with the minister of social affairs announcing $730,000 in emergency funds and a team of psychologists that would travel to Tasiilaq within days to help address the epidemic. Next year, the minister said in a statement, more funds will be made available.

The emergency aid is the first step in a much broader effort to deal with widespread sexual abuse of children across the Arctic territory. The true scale of the problem is unknown, the police said, as many cases most likely go unreported.

Asii Chemnitz Narup, then Tasiilaq’s mayor, said in a statement in May: “Across Greenland, children and youngsters are abused sexually and the scale is so big it calls for a national emergency. I believe we are in a human, social and cultural death spiral if we don’t manage to stop the sexual abuse.” She stepped down in June.

Greenland, a semiautonomous Danish territory, has its own government, but Copenhagen, the Danish capital, is responsible for its foreign and defense policies. Social affairs, however, are usually handled in Nuuk, Greenland’s main city, which is a two-hour plane ride from Tasiilaq. Millions have been spent on social work in a country that caught the eye of President Trump, who this year floated the idea of buying it but was rejected.

But Nuuk said it needed help to tackle Tasiilaq’s abuse crisis. The police report documented 191 reports of the sexual abuse of minors from 2014 to 2018. Eighty-nine percent dealt with accusations of rape or sexual abuse of children under 15. Based on interviews with victims, residents and officials, the report described “sexualized” social conventions in which inappropriate physical contact happens randomly and frequently.

“As a child, one can be subjected to violation of sexual boundaries on a daily basis,” the study found.









By The New York Times

Activists say that the authorities have not only failed to bring the level of sexual abuse down; they have also failed to treat and support the victims. The abuse has been widely known but ignored for many years by politicians, they say.

Experts point to a mix of unemployment — it’s 25 percent in Tasiilaq — alcoholism, a growing transition from a traditional to a modern culture and geographical isolation as factors fueling the abuse. But Tasiilaq’s sexual abuse rate also stands out for the high tendency among residents to report the abuse, officials say.

“The big difference is that in Tasiilaq, they’ve chosen to come forward and report things,” the chief superintendent, Svend Foldager, told Weekendavisen.

The police study identified victims as young as 1, and nearly half of victims reported experiencing repeated abuse. Many of the perpetrators were male between the ages 15 of 30 and knew their victims, the study found. Most of the violations happened in private homes during sleepovers or social gatherings, the report found.

Of the 191 cases reported, 152 have been prosecuted (some cases are still pending, and others have been dropped). Thirty-three percent of the prosecutions have led to convictions.

But perpetrators usually are not ostracized after convictions for molesting a child, the authors of the report were told. The report suggested that it was the result of a collective survival system that protects the community even at the expense of its children.

Greenland’s problems, and Tasiilaq’s in particular, echo those of other indigenous Arctic communities facing changing lifestyles. In a 2008 survey of Inuits in Canada, 52 percent of female respondents said they had experienced “severe sexual abuse” during their childhood.

In Alaska, rural communities have been struggling with high rates of rape for decades — by some accounts, rates 12 times higher than the national average.

Researchers said households in Tasiilaq that used to hunt and fish for food are now dependent on an unstable job market to survive. Without the connection to their native traditions, some lose identity and purpose and grasp for stimulants elsewhere, researchers say.

As one startling marker of social dislocation, one in five deaths in Tasiilaq is by suicide, said Henrik L. Hansen, Greenland’s chief medical officer. In Greenland over all, 8 percent of the population die by suicide — more than twice the rate of any independent nation, according to official figures.

About 80 percent of Greenland is covered with ice, and its vast, empty landscape tends to create isolated communities. Without many roads between towns and settlements, the island’s transportation is mostly done by air or sea, making it difficult to leave and still remain in close contact with relatives and friends. Unable to cut such social ties, experts say, some abuse victims tend to end up staying among their abusers.

“People will have to live right next to each other in spite of what has happened,” said Christian Friis, an anthropologist and an author of the report. “You don’t just move to another town.”