State Compensation and Gender Equality

Hildur Fjóla Antonsdóttir. Photo: Sigtryggur Ari Jóhannsson

By Hildur Fjóla Antonsdóttir

State compensation schemes for victims of crime are based on the idea that the state has a duty to protect its citizens from crime, and awards compensation as recognition of a sense of public sympathy and social solidarity with victims. While the law is gender neutral, its application reveals a gendered pattern. Preliminary findings of an on-going study of all case files from 2010 and 2019 at the Icelandic Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund (CICF) shows that men receive a substantially larger share of state compensation funding than women.

CICF regulations require applicants to submit applications within two years of when the crime took place. Due to this two-year rule, a substantial number of applications are incomplete when they are first submitted and then many are later completed when a final decision is reached within the criminal justice system. While the data does not include information on why applications are not completed it is usually because the case did not conclude with a guilty verdict and therefore no compensation was ordered by the court.

In 2010, around 61% of applications were completed but in 2019 only ca. 40% were completed. Applications by women are more often incomplete than by men. In 2010, 45% of women’s applications were incomplete and in 2019, a total of 70% of women’s applications were incomplete. Of applications submitted by women in 2010, 56% of them were due to sexual violence and/or intimate partner violence, and in 2019, the percentage was 73%. Men on the other hand submit applications due to physical violence, or 68% in 2019 and 71% in 2019.

These numbers are not surprising as they are well supported in criminological research on the type of crimes that are reported by men and women. A high number of incomplete applications by women is also not surprising given the low conviction rate in cases of gender-based violence, particularly cases of rape. What these preliminary findings, however, highlight is how, therefore, the CICF largely serves to support men as victims of crime rather than women. In both 2010 and in 2019, male victims received 63% of the CICF funds.

Given that so many cases of sexual violence and violence in close relationships never even go to court due to lack of evidence or insufficient evidence and the criminal standard of proof, the Icelandic parliament has passed legislation to enable victims to apply for legal aid in such cases to pursue private tort cases where the standard of proof is lower. The law will come into effect on 1 June 2023 (see Law no. 59/2022). However, if plaintiffs are awarded compensation in such tort cases, these are not covered by the CICF.

Given that women only receive 37% of the CICF funding, an argument can be made that it should be extended to cover the above-mentioned tort cases. Such a policy would further symbolise a sense of public recognition and social solidarity with those who suffer the often extensive pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages of gender-based violence.

Hildur Fjóla Antonsdóttir holds a Ph.D. in Sociology of Law from Lund University and is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the EDDA Research Center at the University of Iceland. Her current research projects include Mis/Recognising Sexual Violence in Civil Cases: Ideological Frameworks, Institutional Procedures and Civil Standards of Proof; and Deserving and Undeserving Victims of Crime According to the Icelandic State Compensation Scheme. Her recent publications include: Sexual Violence, Standard(s) of Proof, and Arbitrariness in Judicial Decision-Making (2023), and Beyond restorative justice: Call for innovative justice practices from sexual violence survivors in Iceland (2023). Her research interests are in the field of sexual violence and justice, including social and legal justice.