Sweden’s education minister Jan Björklund is among those that have directed criticism at adults, the school and the church.
“We have to do everything we can to make sure that this sort of thing should not happen. It is a question of adult responsibility and moral courage,” he told SVT’s discussion programme Debatt.
Equality minister Nyamko Sabuni argued in her weekly newsletter that the school, the municipality and the church should be “ashamed of themselves”.
The SVT Uppdrag Granskning television programme broadcast on Wednesday told the story of a 14-year-old schoolgirl, named as ‘Linnea’, who was raped by an older pupil in the toilet of a school in Bjästa, a small town in Örnsköldsvik municipality in northern Sweden.
The girl reported the attack to Örnsköldsvik police in March 2009 and the 15-year-old boy, named as ‘Oskar’, initially denied to police that he had been in the toilet with Linnea and that he had raped her.
After news of the rape and the police report emerged, a campaign began which divided the community – with many of the girl’s and boy’s friends, school teachers, and parents questioning the validity of Linnea’s story.
In interviews with SVT, community members related their theory that Linnea had reported the rape as a form of revenge on Oskar, who she was alleged to have had an unrequited crush on.
The momentum of the campaign of rumours built up with a poster campaign in school and a Facebook group launched supporting Oskar as the community increasingly turned its back on the 14-year-old girl.
“She wanted it. I don’t think he seemed like the type of person that would have to (rape someone). He is good-looking, he is nice,” said one 51-year-old local resident.
The prosecutor was one of the few that doubted the growing body of public opinion which had come down against the girl, who became increasingly isolated in the town.
“Her testimony was also supported by other evidence. There was a medical forensic report and also witnesses,” prosecutor Stina Sjöqvist told SVT who explained that a teacher had confirmed that he had found Linnea in a shaken state shortly after the attack.
After his initial denials the boy eventually admitted the offence in police interviews, which were played during the SVT programme.
“I want to confess. I sat on her arms to prevent her from fleeing,” Oskar told police.
In his third interview he related the full, and almost identical, version of events that Linnea had previously submitted. He confirmed that Linnea had told him repeatedly to stop and confirmed that he understood that his actions were carried out against her expressed will.
But two weeks later Oskar changed his version and claimed that Linnea had consented. Despite the change in his position Oskar was convicted for the rape of a child in both the district and appeals court.
Despite the clear convictions passed down by the courts, the campaign against Linnea continued with pupils at the school even going out on strike in support of the popular boy.
SVT reported that Oskar’s brother began to maintain a blog on the case and almost 2,000 signed a petition to have the conviction overturned. Bjästa is home to 1,800 people.
Oskar’s mother launched a further Facebook group to argue for Linnea’s ‘guilt’, soon attracting 4,000 members, many of whom arguing that the 14-year-old should be ashamed of herself.
But despite the fact that Linnea’s story remained consistent throughout, was identical to Oskar’s confession, and despite the upheld conviction, the rumours persisted at the school and in the community.
The situation ultimately became unsustainable for Linnea and her family, and she was forced to move 500 kilometres to a new school, a long way from the Örnsköldsvik community that she had grown up in.
Furthermore when the end of the school term arrived, three months later, Oskar was allowed to attend an awards ceremony in the local church service with the consent of the pastor, despite no longer attending Bjälsta school, and despite having a restraining order against him to stay away from Linnea.
The service ended in a vocal public demonstration in support of the 15-year-old. Film footage from the service posted by Oskar’s mother on the internet, broadcast in the SVT programme, showed him passing out flowers to his former schoolmates and receiving applause and hugs in return.
The film was used as part of the campaign orchestrated by the boy’s family to “free Oskar”, SVT reports.
The Church of Sweden pastor, Lennart Kempe, explained his decision to allow the boy, now a convicted rapist, to participate.
“The church is open for all. There was an enormous demonstration. He had flowers with him… I thought it very courageous of him to have the strength to come here and do that,” Kempe told SVT’s reporter.
Linnea was herself not in attendance at the service as her family had suspected that something of this nature would occur, and that it would be too much for the young girl to handle.
After SVT broadcast the programme on national television on Wednesday evening, Lennart Kempe has expressed regret and asked Linnea for her forgiveness.
“I deeply regret it. I have let the girl down and should have never let the boy into the church,” he told SVT’s news programme Rapport.
Later that day, Oskar joined up with the his schoolmates to celebrate the end of term at a nearby beach. During the evening the boy raped a further 17-year-old girl, Jennifer.
Oskar was later convicted of the new rape. Jennifer’s testimony backed up by witness statements was sufficient for the district court to pass down a guilty verdict despite his protestations of innocence.
DNA evidence was later produced in the appeals court which lent further support to the victim’s version of events.
But support for Oskar remained strong in the Bjästa community despite the second rape conviction.
The campaign continued with Jennifer now taking Linnea’s place at the centre of the community’s ire and suspicions. Comments on the Facebook page, blog and other internet sites, which had collected 4,000 members, became more and more accusatory against the girls.
Many of the comments and threats directed at the girls were made openly by people unconcerned with hiding their identities, according to SVT.
The programme reported that not one single adult at Bjästa school took a stand against either Oskar or the campaign or rumours that spread around the small community – neither before nor after the court convictions.
“We should stay neutral. We can not take one side or another,” said Carina Fager, the teacher responsible for the school’s bullying group, to SVT.
The Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) has criticised Bjästa school for not providing Linnea with sufficient support. The discrimination ombudsman (DO) is currently investigating violations.
The school principal Inger Karlsson, as well as Carina Fager, were on Friday reported to the Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO) accused of failing in their responsibilities to support the girls and neglecting a specific policy that requires the school to act to tackle internet smear campaigns.
“It is quite clear that we need to work on our values, and the internet aspect,” Inger Karlsson conceded when challenged by SVT over why the school did not take a stand and act when one of its pupils had been convicted of raping a fellow pupil.
Education minister Jan Björkund has called on Örnsköldsvik to get to the bottom of the matter, while equality minister Nyamko Sabuni has stated that the burden of responsibility for what happened to Linnea and Jennifer is one broadly shared.
“All of the adults who in various roles and responsibilities within the school, the municipality and the church whom have a responsibility to act, have let themselves down – both professionally and from a human perspective,” she wrote in her newsletter published on the Liberal Party website.