Reporting an Assault is Another Kind of Trauma

Karen Birna Þorvaldsdóttir is the scientist of the month
Reporting an Assault is Another Kind of Trauma

Karen Birna Þorvaldsdóttir is a doctoral student in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Akureyri. Her research focuses on the process of seeking help after a person has been subjected to gender-based violence. “One of my first studies looked at the experience of Icelandic women in reporting rape. It became clear that the participants experienced the reporting process as another kind of trauma in addition to the original trauma. The results indicated that we have a long way to go before the justice system in Iceland can claim to support a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach,” says Karen Birna.

Worked on Improvement Project for Victims of Sexual Assault

Following that study, Karen Birna took part in a project to benefit victims of sexual assault organized by the district police force of Northeast Iceland, Akureyri Hospital, the Health Care Institution of North Iceland, the district prosecutor’s office and the University of Iceland. The project focused on offering victims of sexual assault psychological support after reporting the incident to the police and changing the process under which victims are notified that a case has been dismissed.

Karen Birna’s doctoral dissertation examines what factors prevent and support the process of victims of intimate partner violence in Iceland seeking out help. However, currently Karen Birna is not looking at victims turning to the justice system but rather when they seek out help for the trauma they have sustained, to work through their experience and improve their wellbeing and health.

Grandfather was First Fulbright Recipient

Karen Birna is carrying out a portion of her doctoral studies at the University of Michigan in the US and has recently returned to Iceland after a six-month research stint there. To this end she received a Fulbright grant and worked at Michigan Mixed Methods, which is among the world’s foremost research institutes. “It’s a fun fact that my grandfather was the first Icelandic recipient of a Fulbright and now just over 60 years later I was one of three women to be the first Icelandic recipients of a Fulbright to fund a research stay as a doctoral student,” Karen Birna says.

Why did you choose the University of Akureyri for your doctoral program?

“I wanted to continue my focus on the area of psychological trauma and violence and there’s a lot of expertise in this area at the University of Akureyri. The doctoral program is project-based and set in an interdisciplinary environment, which I find exciting.”

Where is Karen Birna from?

Karen Birna was born in 1993 in Akureyri, spending her early years in Ólafsfjörður and later in the Brekkan neighborhood of Akureyri. She completed her upper-secondary schooling at Akureyri Junior College in 2013 before attending the University of Akureyri. Karen Birna graduated in 2017 with a BA in psychology and received her master’s degree in health sciences with a focus on psychological trauma from the University of Akureyri in 2019. The same year she began her doctoral program in health sciences at the University of Akureyri. She has taught at the university as a temporary lecturer since 2019, serves on the board of the University of Akureyri Research Center against Violence and is an alternate board member for the Bjarmahlíð center for survivors of violence.