Bestiality was First Killed by Silence – Now It Should Not Drown at the Hands of Bureaucracy

Chair of the Project Management Committee, County Governor Tom Cato Karlsen says to NRK Nordland that “it was the use of language that made it hard to vouch for all the experiences Rønne had made.” (Photo: The Official Police report (left), Nordland County Governor's office).

Commentary: The Corona virus is an invisible enemy that creeps up on you, though it also conceals other important processes in society. In 2016, a story was revealed in Northern Norway that received attention far and wide, a story about sexual abuse, violence and negligence in a small community. The final report about what it will take to avoid future assaults has been shrouded in silence.

The revelation of transgressions in Tysfjord municipality in Northern Norway was shattering.

The final report from the project that aimed to bring the local community into the future afterwards also gives reason to an afterthought of despair.

NRK Nordland deserves honor for providing its readers and viewers with insight into a project that commenced in July 2017 and closed at the year’s end last year. Without their effort, the conflict emerging in the wake of the project may have been hidden away in some departmental drawer.

But first things first. What was the so-called ‘Tysfjord case’ about?

151 serious cases of abuse

The naked figures, according to the police, were about 151 serious cases of sexual abuse in the period 1952-2017 in a municipality of just under 2,000 inhabitants. It is about people who were systematically exposed to abuse, and about abusers who could continue abusing without risk of being caught because society turned its back on their victims.

Only when the victims came forward in national media, when someone began asking questions, when the press and the police started digging did it become impossible to hide the bestiality of a small community.

People who were systematically victims of abuse

However, the so-called Tysfjord case was about far more than just Tysfjord because it carries clear parallels to other small communities in the Arctic. High North News readers have through the years been presented with equally shaking stories from in particular Northern Canada and Greenland.

Why there were two reports

That is also why the work to save lives in Tysfjord was followed by many, including those outside the local community. Where other communities in the High North stand perplexed on the sideline watching the heart-wrecking consequences of an abuse culture, the police entered into a most complex investigation while society at large demonstrated responsibility through coming up with resources.

One of the counter measures was establishing the Project Jasska/Trygg [safe]. The task came from the Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation following an initiative from the Tysfjord Municipal Council, a municipality that has since ceased to exist and its former territory being split between the newly extended Narvik and Hamarøy municipalities.

The final report from this work is now available.

Or rather, two final reports are available.

One comes from the project’s managing committee. One from the leader of Project Jasska/Trygg, Tor Erik Rønne.

The first one is the official version.

The project manager’s report has been reduced to an appendix.

Chair of the Project Management Committee, County Governor Tom Cato Karlsen says to NRK Nordland that “it was the use of language that made it hard to vouch for all the experiences Rønne had made.”

Instead, the Management Committee used five months writing a completely different final report, and when it was finally submitted to the Ministry, this happened under a wide cloud of silence.

Completely silent

The case, which dominated media front pages when revealed, was not even mentioned in a press release when entering its final phase. According to the County Governor, that was due to the Corona situation – as if press releases were quarantined, too.

That is why the project leader’s stark criticism of in particular Narvik municipality, which currently “owns” half the Tysfjord case, has been reduced to an appendix.

Assisting Chief Administrative Officer Lars Norman Andersen of Narvik municipality does not “recognize parts of the criticism from the project leader”.

“I will not in any way refute his experiences, however, I do not recognize the claim that we are reluctant to take in the full extent of the Tysfjord case”, he says to NRK.

As if press releases were quarantined too

Where the Management Committee spends six pages on its summary and recommendations, pages in which a listing of meetings and also accounts receive much attention, the project leader spends 168 pages on a review of the project. Much of this is, in summary, about the vacuum that is currently emerging because the very same Narvik municipality refuses to acknowledge the responsibilities it holds for old and potentially new victims of this story of bestiality.

No one recognize it

As a journalist, I have worked a lot with cases involving child abuse. With cases that so meaninglessly are referred to as ‘sexual abuse’, as if the abuse had anything to do with sexuality.

And I still have not seen one single case in which the authorities in charge recognize this responsibility when the powerlessness of victims is put on display. Just like abusers usually deny their own brutality, those in charge usually dig their eyes deep down into their archives, looking for straws to which they can cling for rescue.

In Tysfjord, the abuse was taken one step further when it was lifted up to a national level.  Taken one step further referring to the fact that the measures taken were to point forward as a solution that was also intended to help other Arctic communities when facing such problems.

In April last year, I met with Mary Simon, who was awarded the title of High North Hero later in the year. In this meeting, the Inuit woman spoke a lot about these problems for her people in Northern Canada. We talked in particular about the lack of helping resources and of following up on exposed children.

Because just like in Narvik, nor have Canadian politicians recognized the description of reality presented to them when they are called into account.

Processes initiated appear to not be taken seriously

And to be fair; two municipalities have divided the former Tysfjord municipality between them. The other municipality is Hamarøy, a municipality rich in much, if not in money. The project leader’s final report says about Hamarøy “There is a partial wil to make changes and work on development, however, one does not quite know how to set this up in all areas and one struggles to find strength and economic resources to follow through.”

“Not taken seriously”

A rather different image is painted of Narvik: “The Project Leader of Jasska/Trygg has at the same time experienced an alarming condition with elusive behavior where representatives from political and administrative top levels do not wish to related to Jasska/Trygg and the ongoing work. A series of inquires have been ignored and the responsibility to actively contribute to securing the continuation of measures taken and processes initiated appears to not be taken seriously.”

In the official final report, written by the managing committee, there is not much mention of the challenges ahead. I believe Hamarøy municipality is slightly unduly credited when it states that “work has commenced”.

There is no mention of Narvik, other than saying that Narvik has applied for funding.

Now, that is an exercise any public bureaucrat can recognize.

Recognizing the reality stemming from the so-called Tysfjord case is hardly possible for any of us.


This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.