• Sweden's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Opinion
'Sex attacks and fascism are not the new Swedish norm'
Pro-refugee campaigners welcoming new arrivals to Stockholm in September 2015. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

'Sex attacks and fascism are not the new Swedish norm'

Maddy Savage · 1 Feb 2016, 20:14

Published: 01 Feb 2016 14:55 GMT+01:00
Updated: 01 Feb 2016 20:14 GMT+01:00

At 6.40am I stepped off a night train at Stockholm's central station after a weekend break in Swedish Lapland.

If you've been reading some of the international media coverage about my adopted city in recent days, you'd be forgiven for thinking I was risking my life.

One British newspaper, The Express, described the station as a "no-go zone", overtaken by "all-male migrant mobs spreading terror" by groping and robbing passengers and staff.

Meanwhile a writer for US news and opinion site Breitbart declared there was a "rampant" lawlessness and a "now-constant state of violence, terror and fear".

On Friday night, newspapers, radio stations and television networks all over the world reported on a group of masked far-right demonstrators who appeared to be reacting to this presumed state of chaos. They beat up non-Swedes and vowed to give foreign teenagers living on the streets around Stockholm Central Station the “punishment they deserve”. 

So did I feel scared arriving back in the Swedish capital? Absolutely not.

As I headed to catch the blue subway line home, morning commuters were travelling calmly into work, a cleaner was polishing an already glistening white floor and two security guards were strolling slowly out of a newsagent, sipping on their takeaway coffees. The main square outside was empty, save for two Swedish teenagers sharing a cigarette. 

Sweden has spawned some alarming headlines lately.  A teenager at a centre for unaccompanied refugees near Gothenburg was arrested on suspicion of murdering a 22-year-old woman who worked there. Police admitted covering up reports of multiple sex assaults at a music festival. Dozens of homes for asylum seekers have been set on fire.

However, it is crucial that these news stories are viewed in context. Immigration and integration are becoming increasingly thorny issues in Sweden, and the country's reputation as a beacon for openness and tolerance has taken a battering. But neither sex attacks by migrants nor radical racism are the new norm.


The We are Sthlm festival where sex assaults were reported in 2014 and 2015 but not made public by police. Photo: Alexander Tillheden/We are Sthlm

In 2015, as Sweden took in a record 163,000 asylum seekers, the number of reported rapes in the Nordic nation actually dropped by 12 percent compared to the previous year, according to figures released by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) in January. Meanwhile petty thefts dipped by two percent.

As for personal safety around Stockholm's central station, police were unable to immediately provide The Local with the number of reported assaults over the past 12 months. But a press officer, Lars Byström, insisted that tourists and residents alike should not feel under threat.

"Normally Stockholm is not a dangerous place to visit or to take a walk outside in. I think it is rather safe," he said.

Asked why one anonymous officer recently told Swedish television that he would not let his own family go near the station, he described his colleague's comments as "a little bit strange".

A very unscientific strawpoll of my female friends in Stockholm on Monday revealed that no one had experienced or even heard of other women being groped by refugees in the station in recent months, other than in media reports. But plenty could talk about being felt up by drunk Swedes on a night out.

News stories that hone in on a rise in support for the far-right Sweden also deserve a number of caveats. 

Neo-Nazi inspired activity – such as that witnessed on Friday in Stockholm – does appear to be on the rise. Yet a report by Swedish anti-racist foundation Expo last year suggested that membership of fascist organisations in Sweden has fallen.

It is well documented that support for the anti-immigration Sweden Democrat party (SD) shot up in 2015, with 22 percent of people asked by pollsters Novus saying they would pick the party in December. But while for many international newspapers these statistics slot neatly into the theme of a "lurch to the right" across Europe, Sweden's unique political climate also needs to be taken into consideration.


A Sweden Democrat rally last summer. Photo: Rickard Nilsson/TT

Until recently all of Sweden's centre-right opposition parties strongly backed the country's open borders, alongside the Social Democrat-Green coalition government. Voters who were unsure about rising immigration had no one to turn to except for the Sweden Democrats.

Yet in the past few months many of the traditional parties, including the governing Social Democrats and the main opposition Moderates, have adopted stricter policies on asylum and immigration, and support for the country's nationalist party is appearing to stall: SD's following dropped by two percentage points in Novus' latest survey last month.

Story continues below…

On Sunday, thousands of Swedes turned to social media to voice their frustration that the party said it was protecting "Swedish women" from immigrant attacks when its members handed out flyers in Stockholm over the weekend, with the hashtag #inteerkvinna (#notyourwoman) trending on Twitter.

While surveys suggest the majority of Swedes back their country's decision to tighten asylum rules amid an acute strain on resources, that does not mean that support for helping refugees in principle is waning. Up until last autumn, when local authorities began warning that they could no longer cope with the record influx, surveys were showing very different results

Growing numbers of Swedish people may now be openly questioning their country's ability to offer accommodation to refugees amid a national housing crisis, or wondering whether politicians will manage to cut rising unemployment among foreign-born residents. However plenty of these voters are the very same people who've given record donations to asylum charities in recent months. 

Sweden is feeling the full force of its decision to welcome its highest number of immigants in history in 2015. Opinions are fragmenting. But the country is not broken.

For more news from Sweden, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Maddy Savage (maddy.savage@thelocal.com)

Today's headlines
This Swede is the world's best mosquito killer
Kristoffer Ekersund. Photo: Private & Johan Nilsson/TT

Yes, there is such a thing as the world championship in mosquito killing.

Date set for verdict in asylum home murder trial in Sweden
The accused in court with a member of his legal team. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

The trial of a man accused of killing a worker at a home for young refugees earlier this year has ended.

High security as Orlando top of mind at Stockholm Pride
This man might not actually be a police officer. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

Nothing is being left to chance, organizers insist.

Fired Ericsson boss to get millions in payouts
Hans Vestberg of Ericsson. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Swedish telecoms giant Ericsson has fired its long-standing CEO Hans Vestberg, but said he will receive a severance package amounting to millions of kronor.

Sweden halves migration forecast figures for 2016
Refugees and other travellers arriving in Gothenburg last year. Photo: Adam Ihse/TT

The Swedish Migration Agency has cut its predictions for how many asylum seekers they expect will come to Sweden this year.

Royal husband: 'Britain should not leave the EU'
Sweden's Princess Madeleine and her British-American husband Chris O'Neill. Photo: Mikael Fritzon/TT

What does this British-American husband of a Swedish princess think of Brexit and Hillary Clinton?

Private holiday rentals boom in Sweden
A youth hostel in Sundsvall, central Sweden. Photo: Helena Landstedt / TT

More tourists in Sweden are choosing to rent private homes from the likes of Airbnb – but the hotel industry is just fine.

My Swedish Career
'Fashion is this big industry that can really do better'
Social entrepreneur Stefanie Smith. Photo: Elinor Magnusson

The Local talks to US social entrepreneur Stefanie Smith about transparent fashion and why Sweden's startup scene is about more than just tech.

Sweden to sizzle in the sun for a few more days
The beach at Båstad on Saturday. Photo: TT

The heatwave that hit most of Sweden last week is set to continue until Wednesday at least, according to Swedish weather forecaster, SMHI.

Swedish ex-prime minister Thorbjörn Fälldin dead at 90
Fälldin in 1981. Photo: TT/FLT-PICA

Thorbjörn Fälldin, the former farmer who became prime minister in Sweden's first non-Social Democratic government since World War II, has died at the age of 90.

Sponsored Article
Gran Canaria: Where Swedes go to work (and play)
National
Sweden's Hollywood star Alicia Vikander puts her pen in the bottle
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Gallery
People-watching: July 22nd-24th
The Local Voices
The Jewish Syrian who dreams of rebuilding his country
Blog updates

22 July

After the horror, carry on regardless (Globally Local) »

"This time last week, we were just digesting the horror of the Nice killings, in which…" READ »

 

11 July

Swedish quizzes (The Swedish Teacher) »

"Hej! I have created some quizzes you can take online to test your Swedish skills. Here…" READ »

 
 
 
Sponsored Article
5 reasons you should try dating with The Inner Circle
National
Watch this Swedish weather host leave his fly open... on live TV
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
The Local Voices
'I fled war in Syria. I never expected to be beaten in Sweden'
National
WATCH: Asylum seeker brutally beaten by Swedish bus driver
Technology
Why everyone is talking about Sweden's GTA pride parade
Sponsored Article
What can newcomers learn about Sweden at Almedalen?
National
EU hits truck cartel with record price fixing fine
Sponsored Article
Five easy ways to travel more often
Society
OPINION: Why Sweden is the most extreme country in the world
The Local Voices
'There is equality in accommodation in Sweden: Everyone is suffering'
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Gallery
Property of the week: Gräsö, Östhammar
Sponsored Article
'Sweden's Lauryn Hill' touches the country's musical soul
Gallery
People-watching: July 15th-17th
National
How to make sure you're not caught out by Sweden's old bank notes
Business & Money
Why Sweden has been named the most innovative country in Europe
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
National
Terror attack: what should you do?
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
National
French expat on the moment he was assaulted by a Stockholm bouncer
Sponsored Article
Local guide: the best of Berlin
Technology
Gunman? Nah, smartphone Swede
Sponsored Article
Why you need a EuroBonus American Express Card
The Local Voices
'If the war in Syria ended today, would you go back?'
The Local Voices
‘I feel like I’m living in a grave!’
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Sweden's Princess Victoria celebrates 39th birthday
Gallery
People-watching: July 13th
National
Swedes discover surprise mountain
Politics
What Sweden's home secretary thinks of Britain's new PM
Gallery
Property of the week: Smedjebacken, Dalarna
The Local Voices
'Even xenophobic Swedes can be polite’
Politics
WATCH: A very Swedish take on Brexit...
National
Swede's fury at Daily Mail's Bråvalla 'lies'
Gallery
People-watching: July 8th-10th
National
Sweden and Denmark trolled each other on Twitter and it's hilarious
The Local Voices
'The best time to be smuggled to Europe is August 20th, 2015'
The Local Voices
Swedes: Stop obsessing over your material life and start talking to strangers
3,334
jobs available