Instagram victims are violated forever: lawyer

With two Swedish girls convicted in the Gothenburg Instagram slut-shaming case, the plaintiffs' lawyer Arash Raoufi says the victims have been tarnished for life, and that the conviction only reflects the tip of the iceberg of a much wider problem.

Instagram victims are violated forever: lawyer

“One of the worst things for these victims is that their honour is still violated. Even though the account is from December, internet violation never stops,” lawyer Arash Raoufi told The Local.

Two girls, aged 15 and 16, were convicted on Tuesday for aggravated defamation after starting up an anonymous account on picture-sharing website Instagram to collect and publish information about local teenagers, mostly girls, and their alleged sexual behaviour.

“This is just so common, in junior high it was on Facebook but more jokey, now it’s moved on to Instagram and it’s become so coarse,” Irma, 16, one of the victims, told The Local in December in the wake of the ensuing unrest that shocked Sweden.

“And it’s always about sex.”

The account went viral. When the contributors – who had been promised anonymity by the account holders – were outed, the catcalling online spread to other social media sites. In anger, teens stalked the school of a girl who had been, it later turned out, incorrectly identified as the original account holder. The mob justice sentiment set off riots among students in Gothenburg.

IN PICTURES: Click here to see images from the Gothenburg riots

Six months later, after the police discarded the investigation against a teenage girl who had been wrongly accused of setting up the account, the trial ended.

The two teen girls have been sentenced and will have to pay a total of 570,000 kronor ($85,370) in damages to the victims.

“Some people have said the fines were harsh, but I argue that they aren’t,” the plaintiffs’ lawyer Raoufi said.

“What happened simply can’t be compared to a nasty comment at a party, this is much harsher, and it sticks,” he argued.

“What’s more, I think it’s much more cowardly that these people have done it anonymously from behind their computer screens.”

He explained that some of the victims’ names and pictures still appear in Google searches, and that some youngsters in Sweden’s second largest city have print-screened the Instagram pictures and shared them again.

“Some girls say they get recognized when they go out, strangers approach them laughing and ask if they’re the tramp or the whore they saw online. The violation never stops,” Raoufi added.

One of the girls, 15, was sentenced by the Gothenburg District Court to juvenile detention, while her 16-year-old accomplice was sentenced to 45 hours of community service.

The girls got off lightly, according to the lawyer, due to their young age.

“It’s rare with these kinds of crimes to have prison sentences, in Sweden you basically have to assault someone to get sent to prison, but the court made a point of saying that these two girls would have been sent to three months in prison if they weren’t under the age of 18,” he said.

While justice has prevailed for the 38 victims, there was a lot more to the case than met the eye, according to Raoufi.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg. It was only the two girls who started the account that got convicted. Think about all the people who actually sent in the pictures and the messages. They got away with it,” he said.

The account, which garnered 8,000 followers overnight, was filled with pictures of hundreds of girls, pictures that were sent in from dozens of others living in the area.

These “snitches” were never punished, as the police simply didn’t have the resources, Raoufi explained.

“I’ve talked to a lot of the victims throughout this case and they’re upset that the people who sent in the pictures will not see any justice. And I share their frustration. They’re equally liable, even more maybe,” he said.

However, the fact that police were able to track down the two masterminds behind the account was commendable work, he added. Swedish police nabbed the pair through technical evidence, tracing the IP address from one of the girls’ Facebook accounts, as Instagram is owned by the US giant.

Raoufi believes that there is a lesson in the case for other young social media users.

“A lot of young people don’t realize that even though they are anonymous, they are still bound by the law,” he told The Local.

“My advice to young people is that they should really think about what they put online. I can only hope that the news of the conviction reaches a lot of people, it’s the news they need to hear.”

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here

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Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s ‘Little London’?

With ties to Britain dating back more than 200 years, the city of Gothenburg has long been known as Sweden’s Little London.

Why is Gothenburg known as Sweden’s 'Little London'?

Grey skies, rainy days, a wide-mouthed river, and a love for English pubs. At first glance, it’s no wonder that Gothenburg has long held the nickname of Sweden’s own “Little London”, or Lilla London

But what are the origins of this British title?

“The nickname ‘Little London’ was first used in a newspaper in 1766,” explains Håkan Strömberg, educational officer at the Museum of Gothenburg.

“The Brits were the largest immigration group during the 1700s and early 1800s, mainly because Sweden was a country close by, it was economically underdeveloped compared to England and Scotland and had a lot of raw materials. To put it simply, could make some money here.”

The city’s reputation as a British enclave dates back to the 1700s when trade brought many foreign influences to the Västra Götaland region.

As merchants and shipbuilders like Charles Chapman, David Carnegie, and James Dickson moved to the area, local residents began to notice a growing list of similarities between the Swedish port city and the British capital.

Indeed, even one of Sweden’s most renowned scientists, Carl Von Linné, is said to have commented on the similarities between the two cities when he visited Gothenburg in the 1700s.

 “Being a group of upper-class immigrants, the British merchants made sure they had access to all the good things from their home country. But the feeling of Gothenburg as a Little London was most likely something the Swedish citizens had, rather than the Brits,” adds Strömberg. 

The historical roots that connect the UK and Gothenburg are still evident today, with many spots in the city still alluding to British names, like Chalmers University – founded by the son of a wealthy Scottish industrialist, or Chapmans Torgnamed after a family of sailors and shipbuilders once well-established in the area. 

Catriona Chaplin, a British expat turned Gothenburger, only began to see the similarities and know of the nickname after relocating to the region for work. Growing up in Leicestershire, central England, she’d never heard of London’s Swedish sibling city.

“We came to Gothenburg 17 years ago. We’d never heard about [the nickname] until we moved here, but there is a bar on Avenyn called Lilla London, so that’s when we started to know about it,” she says.

Today, as the membership secretary of the British Club of Gothenburg, she brings a taste of the British Isles to life in Gothenburg.

The Club, which organises social events like concerts, quiz nights, and theatre performances, has a membership base of nearly 200 families. And although less than 0.5 percent of Gothenburg’s population today was born in the UK, the club welcomes members from a range of nationalities.

In fact, the only membership requirement is having some kind of interest in the UK, be it from a cultural standpoint, a past tourist experience, or a love of the language. 

“People come to the British Club just to socialise in their native language. It’s also about the culture, like the banter, the jokes and playing on words,” she says. 

Although the city’s British roots run deep, questions remain about modern-day Gothenburg’s status as “Little London”.

To some, the west-coast maritime hub’s industrial legacy, strong working-class culture, and amiable nature are reminiscent of a different English city. “They ought to call it ‘Little Liverpool’!” says Chaplin, with a smile. 

Lasting Landmarks

Evidence of Gothenburg’s British connections can be found in many of its landmarks, shops, and of course, pubs. Some of the historical hotspots still apparent today include:

Haga – The British ‘hood 

The area of Haga, just outside the old city, was once considered a slum, but changed character thanks to British philanthropist Robert Dickson (1782-1858), who built public baths, a library, and other landmarks with the typical red bricks found in Britain at the time.

St Andrew’s Church 

A key part of the British community is the Anglican church of Saint Andrew’s, also in Haga. Dedicated to the patron saint of Scotland, it was built and to date funded by ‘The British Factory’, a British society founded in the 1700s to help expats in Gothenburg that remains active even today.

The Victorian gothic style of the church is in line with the architectural trend in Britain at the time. 

John Scott – a legend among Gothenburgers

One of Gothenburg’s most well-loved establishments is John Scott’s, a local pub chain named after Pastor John Henry Scott, an Englishman and prominent landowner in 18th century Gothenburg. 

The “English quarter”

The square of buildings delineated by Teatergatan, Storgatan, Kungsportsavenyn and Vasagatan was once known as the city’s English Quarter. The buildings in this neighbourhood are influenced by British design, and the original landowners were in fact English pastor John Henry Scott and his wife, Jacobina.

By Alexander Maxia, Lisa Ostrowski and Sanna Sailer