OSLO: Norwegian police said Tuesday they had uncovered 151 alleged sexual assaults, many on children and dozens of rapes, in a small community in Lapland, sending shock waves across the country.
Ten people have been charged and others could follow, officers said.
An investigation was launched after the Verdens Gang newspaper (VG) last year published testimonies of 11 men and women claiming to have been assaulted in Tysfjord, a northern municipality located above the Arctic Circle with less than 2,000 inhabitants.
A new police report said the assault cases, which include 43 rapes, were dropped mainly due to the statute of limitations. Some of the cases date as far back as 1953.
The report identified 82 victims, aged between four and 75, and 92 suspects. Most were members of the indigenous Sami community, formerly known as the Lapps, and many were also followers of Laestadianism, a conservative Lutheran revival movement.
"The police have no reason to believe that ethnicity or religious beliefs are an explanation to the assaults that took place," police officer Tone Vangen told a news conference.
But she stressed that certain "mechanisms" in this community "have made it difficult for things to emerge". She said some suspects had turned to religion for repentance instead of the judicial authorities.
There's "a strong need to close the ranks in the family in a situation where the Norwegian society is looking down on you," Vangen said.
But she also apologised for police having failed to act after several complaints had been filed.
"The scope (of the facts) is huge," the mayor of Tysfjord Tor Asgeir Johansen told Norwegian news agency NTB.
"This is a small community and this of course affects it," he added.