Went to Greenland to Fight Violence and Abuse

Violence on Greenland must be prevented through larger initiatives and improvement of living conditions, says professor and doctor Johanne Sundby of the University of Oslo. (Photo: Private/UiO)
Abuse and violence can, as in many indigenous populations, be seen in connection with poverty, exclusion and a hard everyday life. – People on Greenland are worried about violence, says Norwegian Professor of Medicine Johanne Sundby (66).


Abuse and violence can, as in many indigenous populations, be seen in connection with poverty, exclusion and a hard everyday life. – People on Greenland are worried about violence, says  Norwegian Professor of Medicine Johanne Sundby (66).

The researcher and professor at the Department of Community Medicine and Global Health at the University of Oslo, Norway recently visited Greenland together with a group of professionals in order to hold seminars about medical and legal aspects related to violence against women and children. The first seminar took place in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, and lasted for two days.

- In Nuuk, there were also talks from Greenlandic police and its health authorities. Following on from that, there was a half-day seminar in Ilulissat, in the northeastern Greenland, Sundby says.

It is estimated that children on Greenland are subject to violence and sexual assaults nine times more frequently than in Denmark and Norway. Violence against women is also widespread, as is rape. Violence against women also takes place during pregnancies, and assaults on children may sometimes start even during pregnancy.

The UN has recently stated that it will highlight the problem with violence on Greenland.

- violence can only be prevented through larger efforts and an improving of living conditions, however, information about the extent of violence and damages may also have an impact, Sundby says. She has worked many years with addiction, pregnancy and sexually transmittable diseases in Norway.

- There are high occurences of STD’s on Greenland, in particular chlamydia among young people, however, there is little HIV, Sundby says.

There is a high treshold for seeking help, and victims of violence on Greenland often remain in a triangle of violence, substance abuse and social deprivation. (Photo: Johanne Sundby)
There is a high treshold for seeking help, and victims of violence on Greenland often remain in a triangle of violence, substance abuse and social deprivation. (Photo: Johanne Sundby)

People are worried

Sundby says people on Greenland are particularly worried about the frequent violence.

- In particular those who see violence every day and who are close to incidents, such as personnel in hospitals and in the police. In Norway, we have fairly good and systematic offers of medical and legal assistance to victims of violence, including examinations of children who have been subject to abuse. As for the Greenlandic health system, it is more fragmented, the doctor says.

This is due both to sparse population distribution, lack of Greenlandic personnel in the health services and frequent replacements of Danish professionals.

- Some of the victims carry the problems resulting from abuse with them in life, and some do not know how to protect themselves against violence and assaults. Communities in Greenland are small and one cannot always get away easily, Sundby says.

Professor of community medicine Johanne Sundby of the University of Oslo spends her free time on Greenland meeting people – and Greenland dogs. (Photo: Private)
Professor of community medicine Johanne Sundby of the University of Oslo spends her free time on Greenland meeting people – and Greenland dogs. (Photo: Private)

Crucial follow-up

Professor in Community Medicine Berit Schei from the University in Trondheim (NTNU), Norway opened the seminar with providing information about the extent and an overview over violence against women.

- She spoke of how to receive and assist women who have been subject to violence or rape, about how to secure traces should the woman report this to the police. I spoke about STD’s, about following up the partner and about pregnant women who abuse substances, Sundby says.

The triangle of social poverty, violence and substance abuse are hard if not impossible to break out from – without help. Greenland is constantly looking for good foster families, and sometimes children who are subject to violence have to be placed in an institution.

- Pediatrist Arne Myhre from St. Olav’s Hospital and the Children’s House in Trondheim, Norway spoke about suspecting violence, care neglect and sexual assault against children, about how to investigate and which specific tests to take. It has to do with both the overall care situation, securing of further upbringing conditions and not to mention legal support, Sundby says.

According to professor and doctor Johanne Sundby of the University of Oslo, violence on Greenland must be prevented through improved living conditions and greater initiatives. She believes that information and raising awareness over time will improve the situation in a community ridden with violence. (Photo: Private/UiO)
According to professor and doctor Johanne Sundby of the University of Oslo, violence on Greenland must be prevented through improved living conditions and greater initiatives. She believes that information and raising awareness over time will improve the situation in a community ridden with violence. (Photo: Private/UiO)

Poverty, substance abuse and suicide

Sundby says that alcohol consumption on Greenland does not exceed that of Denmark, however, there is a strong prevalence of hash.

- When compared with other population groups, indigenous people have increased vulnerability when it comes to violence. It is due to poverty, marginalization and former colonialization, Sundby says.

She argues, however, that his is no reason for not addressing issues like violence, substance abuse and assaults as a serious community problem.

- School dropout, unemployment, mental suffering and in the worst case; suicide are the consequences of violence against children and youth, girls in particular, Sundby says in closing.





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