We Are Sthlm Sexual Assaults

Swedish singer Zara Larsson. A majority of the assaults happened in this audience.
Swedish singer Zara Larsson. A majority of the assaults happened in this audience.

The We are Sthlm sexual assaults took place in 2014 and 2015 at We Are Sthlm, a youth festival in the Swedish capital Stockholm. Police recorded the crimes but did not make them public. Dagens Nyheter, the first mainstream source to cover the story, faced allegations spread on social media that they had been part of a “cover-up” to hide the story, something the newspaper’s editor strongly denied.

Background

We Are Sthlm established as a summer music festival for youth in 2000 under the name “Ung08” with free yearly public concerts and events in central Stockholm. The venture was successful and received support from Stockholm Municipality in 2003. In 2013, the festival was attended by 160,000 people and changed its name to “We Are Sthlm”.

Rapes were reported at Swedish music festivals at Arvika in 2006 and 2010, Emmaboda in 2014 and Bråvalla in 2015, At the Arvika festivals, the police publicized reports of rape but characterized both events as “calm”.

2014 and 2015 festivals

In connection to the 2015 festival, Sveriges Radio reported that sexual harassment had occurred that year and that festival had been plagued by the same problems for several years. According to Dagens Nyheter this had been a problem since the festival started in 2000, but that the information was withheld due to concern for the reputation of the event.

In 2014 and 2015, 38 incidents of sexual harassment at We Are Sthlm were reported to the police by female visitors at the festival, most of whom were under 15 years of age, but the Stockholm police did not publicize the harassment and assaults reported in 2014 and 2015 in their press releases. Police spokesperson Varg Gyllander later explained that the reason was that most of the suspects were young males of immigrant background or refugees and that the police was wary of inflaming the ongoing political debate about Swedish immigration policies and the prevalence of criminality among immigrants and refugees.

2016 media coverage

On 9 January, an article by Lasse Wierup, crime reporter at Dagens Nyheter, published an article as a reaction to the New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Germany, especially in Cologne. Wierup pointed to the similarity of the German assaults to reports of incidents in Kalmar and at the We Are Sthlm festival in August 2015. Wierup was critical of the absence of media attention and posed questions on the reasons for the lack of attention and what it meant for the safety of women in public spaces. The same day, the media outlet Nyheter Idag published an article that, based on information from a source that claimed to have tipped off DN during the summer, criticized Dagens Nyheter had chosen not to report on the We Are Stockholm assaults the previous summer. The following day, Dagens Nyheter published an article criticizing the Stockholm police for withholding the information in their media communication, and pointed to this as the reason for not reporting on the assaults.

The story received international attention, partly as it was broken shortly after sexual assaults in various German cities and the Swedish city of Malmö over the New Year. The Guardian reported that police and “the media” were alleged to have “deliberately under-reported” the assaults in order to not increase anti-immigrant sentiment.

According to one memo, police in 2015 were told to be vigilant of young men sexually assaulting women in the crowd, as the previous year such offences had been committed, mostly by migrants, including Afghans. David Brax, a scholar of hate crimes at the University of Gothenburg, hypothesised that police were concerned there would be revenge attacks against other migrants if the crimes were made public, but also predicted that a cover-up would vindicate the far-right’s belief that the media do not report on migrant crime.

National police commissioner Dan Eliasson ordered an internal review with the possibility of disciplinary action or criminal proceedings if police had committed any offences. The Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, said that the women assaulted were victims of a “double betrayal” and promised to respond quickly to address the events.

A 15-year-old boy was arrested on 11 January 2016 on charges of assault and sexual assault against two 14-year-old girls at the summer 2015 festival.

Claims of a media cover-up

The Sweden Democrats, a right-wing populist anti-immigration party, claimed that DN had been made aware of the crimes, but did not report them because it would benefit the Democrats’ agenda. DN editor Caspar Opitz denied the party’s claim, adding that it investigated the tip seriously but could not confirm it. Answering questions, Opitz wrote that his staff made multiple attempts to investigate and even found that some of the information in the tip (for example, that large numbers of people had been arrested) was not true. He further stated that the scarcity of leads meant that not even alternative media were covering the story. The Norwegian Union of Journalists, through interviews with a policeman and a psychologist, came to a conclusion that DN had buried the story.

Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported that coverage of the assaults was followed by a multitude of racist comments on Facebook, including death threats and calls for revenge.

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