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Threats rain down on Bjästa school

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Threats rain down on Bjästa school
13:16 CEST+02:00
Staff at Bjästa School in northern Sweden have received some 400 threats via email following television revelations about a 14-year-old girl who was bullied and left isolated after being raped at the school.

Many of the threats of violence have been directed at the school principal and the head of education for the Örnsköldsvik municipal area, 500 kilometres north of Stockholm.

In addition, seven of the 220 incendiary emails sent to Örnsköldsvik council have been reported to the police after members of staff received death threats.

"It has been difficult. I've received emails and letters to the effect that I should be killed and raped. It has been extremely difficult for me and my family," said Birgit Olsson Johansson (SocDem), chairperson for Örnsköldsvik council's educational committee.

A heated debated continues to rage on the internet following public broadcaster SVT's airing in late March of Uppdrag Granskning's investigative report into a village that turned its back on a 14-year-old girl raped by a 15-year-old boy.

A man who headed a youth centre in the village was transferred from his post earlier this week after commenting on the boy and his family on an online forum. The council employee, who cited his name and profession when commenting, has now been barred from working with children.

"The employee has a major responsibility for children and youths; it is not acceptable for this person to enter the debate by virtue of their occupation," said Siv Sandberg, head of Örnsköldsvik's culture and recreation division.

The 14-year-old schoolgirl at the centre of the case, named as 'Linnea', was raped by 'Oskar' in the school toilets.

The girl reported the attack to Örnsköldsvik police in March 2009. The boy 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 reported.

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.

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.

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