‘Male rape should be taken more seriously’

Senior research assistant Jens Lindberg and senior lecturer Stefan Sjöström from the University of Umeå's department of social work explain why male rape should be taken more seriously.

'Male rape should be taken more seriously'
A file photo of a man. Photo: Simon Paulin/SvD/TT

The media recently brought attention to a case where a female boss at a refugee centre was alleged to have sexually assaulted two boys in their upper teens. The investigation was subsequently closed.

The incident garnered attention, among other things, because it was perceived as being unusual due to having a female perpetrator.

But the fact of the matter is that even if it is much more common for women to be the victims of rape, male rape must also be seen as a serious problem in society.

In 2015, police in Sweden recorded 141 men aged 18 and over as having been raped, compared to 3333 recorded female rape victims.

But the real rape figures are larger. The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet) estimates that only 10-20 percent of all rapes are represented in police statistics.

There are therefore grounds to suppose that the real figures are also higher still for men.

Historically, male rape has been associated with homosexuality, paedophilia, or male-dominated institutional environments such as prisons and the military. Heterosexual adult men have rarely been considered potential rape victims.

In Sweden, this understanding of rape has had real significance for vulnerable men. Not until 1984 were men recognised as possible victims of rape in Swedish law.

But still today you come across the preconception that ‘men cannot be raped’. This means that social institutions, such as in welfare and justice, are not always sufficiently prepared to offer help to men at risk of being raped.

There are examples of Swedish hospitals which have no developed procedures for how male rape victims should be cared for, and that can in its own way greatly influence the police’s possibilities for investigating crime.

READ ALSO: Sweden opens first centre for male rape victims

Rape is a gendered crime. Because rape as a crime is coupled with notions of masculinity and femininity, it is important to not only see how male and female rape have significant similarities, but also how they take different forms and can each have specific consequences.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has rightly identified male sexual violence against women as a global health problem. With this in mind, it is often relevant – and necessary – to consider rape of women as an expression of male domination of women in society.

However, the existence of male rape shows that there needs to be more perspective in order to gain a more comprehensive picture of the rape phenomenon.

Through studying male rape, a deeper understanding of how rape against women is gendered can also be gained.

Research on male rape is very limited in Sweden, there have only been a few isolated studies published.

We are trying to contribute towards filling that knowledge gap through the newly-established research project ‘Three perspectives on the police’s work on rape against men – victims, legal assistants, and police investigators.’

Rape is a horrendous crime, and for many victims – women as well as men – an immense trauma.

Furthermore, research shows that the experience is similar for women and men. Despite this, it seems that society’s difficulty in seeing men as victims creates particular circumstances for male rape victims.

The real figures are high, men are simultaneously expected to be strong and able to protect themselves. When combined this makes men highly likely to be mistrusted, and feel ashamed of abuse which they have suffered.

The case of the female manager and the teenage boys can serve as an example here. At such times, notions that men cannot be raped contribute towards rape victims not being taken seriously.

Healthcare and the justice system have a considerable role to play here.

It is important that they take male rapes seriously and that they develop considered approaches as to how they should handle male rape victims.

There is no contradiction in working against male rape and working against female rape – on the contrary, there is much to be gained from seeing them in the same context. 

This article was written by Jens Lindberg and Stefan Sjötröm from the University of Umeå and was first published in Swedish by SVT. Translated by The Local's intern, Jack Schofield.

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Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Sweden’s second city is the site of Scandinavia’s largest urban development project. But there is rising concern that the costs outweigh the benefits, says David Crouch

Gothenburg: is the dream of a new city turning into a nightmare? 

Last week, residents in the area of Fågelsången (birdsong), a quiet street at the very heart of Sweden’s second city, woke up to read the following news: “Explosions at Fågelsången: On August 8, week 32, we start blasting around Fågelsången and are expected to be done by week 40. When blasting, for safety reasons, no one is allowed to go out, open their windows or be within the blasting area. We will work weekdays 7am to 5pm.” 

Blasting deep holes in the granite – along with sprawling roadworks – has been the reality for central Gothenburgers for the past four years, as a vast rail tunnel is being dug to link the current terminus with other parts of the city and enable smoother connections with other routes. The aim is to triple rail passenger numbers and eliminate traffic jams on the main road through the city, at a cost of 20 billion crowns (€1.9 billion).

This railway, known as Västlänken (the West Link), is not the only big construction project in the city centre. It is just the largest element in a gigantic scheme to revive the docks area along the river, which was destroyed by a global shipping crisis in the 1970s. The great rusting cranes opposite the opera house and the disused Eriksberg gantry are an important aspect of Gothenburg’s skyline and self-image. The areas on the north bank were also home to many recent immigrants and a byword for poverty. The city’s mayor famously, and shamefully, referred to it as “the Gaza strip”.

So in 2012 the city launched an ambitious plan. Christened Älvstaden, the RiverCity, municipal investment aimed to build an attractive, modern waterfront while creating tens of thousands of homes and jobs. It is by far the Nordic region’s biggest urban regeneration project. A YouTube video commissioned by the city authorities a few years later neatly sums up both the breathtaking scope of this vision and the exciting / brutal (choose your own adjective here) nature of the transformation it would bring: 

The RiverCity revolved around two flagship projects: a new bridge over the river, the Hisingsbron (Hisingen Bridge), combined with major new office developments right in the centre; and Karlatornet, Sweden’s tallest skyscraper, which would literally tower over Gothenburg like a beacon of modernity in a city that traditionally has had strict rules against high-rise buildings. 

Add to all this a proposed high-speed rail link with Stockholm, and you have a recipe for quite spectacular urban upheaval involving billions of tons of steel and concrete. Visit Gothenburg today and much of the city seems to have been turned into a building site. There is a forest of cranes, while smart new office blocks puncture the skyline – a genuine metamorphosis is under way.

But many Gothenburgers are either uneasy or downright unhappy. The RiverCity is a vanity project to gentrify the docklands, they say. Karlatornet’s 73 stories of luxury apartments will be a scar on the landscape and a symbol of Gothenburg’s new love affair with finance and real estate, a slap in the face for the city’s proud industrial values. Västlänken is a vit elefant, a costly project that will deliver questionable benefits, many believe.  

Opposition to Västlänken was such that a new political party, the Democrats, took 17 percent of the vote in 2018 with its headline demand to stop the project immediately. This caused a revolution in local politics, overturning decades of Social Democrat rule. 

And now the gloss on these big-ticket construction projects is starting to fade. Karlatornet was the first to run into trouble. For most of 2020 building work was at a standstill, raising the threat that this flagship of regeneration would be nothing more than an unfinished stump, after American financiers pulled out of the project. The new Hisingen Bridge is open to traffic, but its construction was fraught with setbacks and the final cost to the taxpayer is still unknown. “There has been an awareness from the start that this was a high-risk project,” one of the project’s bosses said ominously this spring.

RiverCity is more than two billion kronor over budget, and facing accusations of mismanagement that evoke Gothenburg’s old nickname of Muteborg, or Bribetown, after a proliferation of municipal companies in the 1970s led to conflicts of interest, with politicians sitting on company boards. Opponents of the scheme argue that in any case it is unlikely to solve any of the city’s fundamental problems, such as the ethnic segregation that has created immigrant ghettos in outlying suburbs.  

In May, Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter published leaked minutes from Västlänken management meetings in which one of the main contractors on the project said it would be delivered billions over budget and four years later than its official 2026 deadline – in other words, four more years of earth-shattering explosions, roadblocks and associated upheaval. With local elections only months away, the Democrats have taken out advertisements on billboards and in local media demanding that top politicians tell the truth about what is going on. For opponents of the scheme, this is exactly what they have warned of all along

Next June, Gothenburg will officially celebrate its 400th anniversary, postponed from 2021 because of the pandemic. Visitors will experience a city on the move, with pristine new motorways and sparkling office blocks. So for Gothenburg’s urban planners, there is light at the end of the development tunnel. In the case of Västlänken, however, they will be hoping that the light is indeed that of an oncoming train. 

David Crouch has lived in Gothenburg for nine years. He is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It, a freelance journalist and lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.