Photo by Alexander Tillheden for We Are Sthlm
This Monday, news broke that Swedish police supposedly covered up a string of sexual assaults that took place at Stockholm's We Are Sthlm festival in 2014 and 2015. According to witness accounts, the majority of the suspects were unaccompanied male minors of immigrant backgrounds.
Obviously, the number of angry Swedish voices on both traditional and social media at the moment is hard to contain – since when is the police allowed to make political calls? A popular excuse so far has been that since the majority of the suspects were immigrants, the police were trying to avoid stoking racist sentiments within the public.
At the time of writing it is unclear whether the cover-up allegations are true, with Swedish police having just launched an internal investigation into the matter. Still, the amalgamation of racism, immigration and rape that has been brought forward with the worryingly similar recent events in both Sweden and Germany feels too complicated to discuss without a variety of voices. In an attempt to approach the matter objectively, we reached out to a panel that includes a feminist, a representative of the far-right Swedish Democrats as well as the police.
Anders Ygeman – Minister for Home Affairs
"We do not know if the allegations are true yet. But if that is the case – if the police failed to give the correct information – then that is unacceptable. I think an internal investigation is necessary to show how the police have acted and their reasons for it. The police have a responsibility to secure the safety of women, particularly in public spaces."
Zotan Inci – Chairwoman for ROKS, the National Organisation for Women's Shelter in Sweden
"I think one of the reasons behind the cover up is that people are afraid to discuss men's violence against women. There is something called 'misogyny' in our society and we need to realise that it is happening around us.
I also think that the fear of being labelled 'a racist' and other similar excuses have to do with why the police don't discuss events like the rapes at We Are Sthlm. But that's wrong because the police needs to be a support system for the victims of sexual harassment. In this case, the police haven't been good in signalling that support."
Sweden has the highest number of sexual assaults in the EU – 81 percent of Swedish women say that they have been harassed at some point.
Linnéa Bruno – Sociologist
"I don't think the police have covered this up more than any other harassment cases. Music festivals are well known as fertile grounds for sex crimes. Myself and almost all the women that I know, have been subjected to sexual abuse before. According to studies, Sweden has the highest number of sexual assaults in the EU – 81 percent of Swedish women say that they been subjected to harassments. We have a strong alcohol and rape culture in Sweden, while a very small percentage of the culprits end up getting convicted for their crimes."
Paula Bieler – Member of far-right party Swedish Democrats
"We cannot, of course, be sure of what happened. But we do know that some police sources claimed that they had taken into consideration whether we as a party, would benefit from the fact that asylum seekers assaulted young girls. If that is the case it is definitely a scandal.
The only acceptable reason to keep that kind of information from the public is that it needs to be classified due to investigative work. The police should not let politics affect their work."
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Linda Snecker – Judicial Spokesperson for the left-wing party Vänsterpartiet
"All authorities, the police included, can make mistakes. In this case, the mistake is extremely serious and my party thinks that is problematic. For several years, we have been suggesting that an independent authority is put in place – an authority that handles the reports against the police. They should not investigate themselves, as is the case today. Sweden needs a feminist legal system that takes violence towards women seriously."
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Varg Julander – Press Officer for the Stockholm Police Department
"We have never covered up an event and we never will. In this case, the policemen on duty at this particular event regarded that the evening was relatively calm. We had 700,000 people in central Stockholm that day, and only 100 reports on criminal offences. Retrospectively, it was a mistake not to report the high number of sexual harassments.
It is important to note that the Swedish police never exposes the ethnicity of the felons publicly – as long as it is not relevant to the case. In this matter, I have to say that it is not relevant and it would not have been reported had the crimes been reported."
Ellen Tiala – Political Scientist
"It is still too early to say anything about the cover up, as we don't know exactly what occurred yet. But we do know that a lot of people are using this story to further their racist agenda. They are saying that it is due to cultural differences between Swedes and immigrants that such incidents happen. But when incidents of sexual harassment have happened in the past, people with racist motives have not cared. I think that exposes a ludicrous double standard."
Gudrun Schyman – Leader of the feminist party, Feministiskt initiativ
"I don't think there really was a cover up by the police – or at least not in the way the media has framed it. Sexual harassment isn't anything new; It happens to women all the time and therefore in this case it could have pass unnoticed.
The way things are at the moment, a crime committed by immigrants can be used to serve the anti-immigrant agenda. Thus turning women into a tool in a debate that mainly concerns immigration."