Research has uncovered a problem surrounding intimate partner violence (IPV) in Scandinavian countries, called the “Nordic Paradox.” With a deeper look, it appears that Scandinavian legal practices surrounding IPV may contribute to this paradoxical issue.

The Nordic Paradox

The Nordic countries have emerged as international leaders in gender equality. When calculated with several gender equality indicators, researchers consistently place Norway in the top 5 most equitable countries. However, international scholars and residents of Nordic countries have recently cited an incongruity. Coined as the “Nordic Paradox,” the phenomenon is that while the countries are presumably some of the most desirable places to live for women, residents of Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden experience disproportionately high rates of IPV compared to other European countries.

Why does this Paradox exist? The short answer is, we don’t know, which is why it is so paradoxical. Since this phenomenon gained recognition, there has been sparse research on this topic.

“Othering” Intimate Partner Violence

However, studying the research that does exist, some of the key researchers to address this phenomenon found several factors that may influence this phenomenon. One factor suggested is the tendency for Scandinavian individuals to “other” intimate partner violence. Meaning, residents of Nordic countries understand IPV, yet they describe the issue as not often perpetrated in their culture.

Scandinavian Laws Surrounding Intimate Partner Violence

The tendency to “other” IPV appears in Scandinavian legal practices, which may help explain the Nordic Paradox. Nordic countries have high gender equity levels when measured by participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment; However, Scandinavian laws are less progressive. For instance:

  • In December 2020, Denmark adopted new legislation to criminalize sex without consent. Previously, the Danish law required proof of violence or “proof that the sufferer was unable to fend off the assault.”
  • Norway has yet to outlaw marital rape
  • Icelandic courts still consistently use a theory known as parental alienation syndrome (PAS) “that actively seeks to break the bond between mother and child” by assuming that allegations of child abuse will most likely be false and “the more a mother insists that abuse has occurred the more evidence that this ‘syndrome’ is at work.” Additionally, this theory has been falsified and “dismissed by all authoritative psychiatric, psychological, and medical bodies throughout the West.”

Evidently, the social reluctance to accept and directly address IPV as a prominent issue is magnified in the slow progress of some Scandinavian legal practices.

Looking Forward

Looking forward, significantly more research is needed to understand and ultimately deconstruct the Nordic Paradox. However, Scandinavian legal policies surrounding IPV is one area that warrants further research.

Amnesty International is one of many organizations researching, following, and fighting the issue of IPV in Nordic countries. Societies can only make complete, systemic progress with legal policies to secure and protect progress. This analysis serves as a reminder of the importance of pushing for legal changes alongside social changes.

Read also:
Gaslighting 101: How It Affects Rape Victims
Sugar-Coated Indicators of Intimate Partner Violence
The Type of Sexual Assault We Don’t Talk About: Coercion