'We think we're an equal society, but harassment happens here too'

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
'We think we're an equal society, but harassment happens here too'
People walking in southern Stockholm. Photo: Jonas Ekströmer/TT

Sweden is regularly hailed as a bastion of gender equality, but that doesn't mean sexual harassment is non-existent.


As the global #MeToo campaign, launched to raise awareness of how widespread harassment and assault are, has proved this week, women across the world face many of the same problems.

Hundreds of Swedish women, including well-known figures from the worlds of acting, comedy, journalism, and tech, shared their stories under the hashtag and called for more to be done to tackle harassment.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström also hailed the campaign and said: "This type of call is not enough, it also has to lead to action."

The Local took to the streets of Stockholm and spoke to women on social media in Sweden to hear their experiences of harassment here, and found that plenty of women had a story to tell.

"I think everyone has at some point felt harassed, but it depends where it fits on the scale," said one Stockholmer.

"I've had men masturbate in front of me on the subway, in daylight. There were other people in the carriage but not so many. He sits next to you, you think there's something not right, and move, but then he moves too and starts touching himself."

"It happens all the time, I remember the first comment I got about my body when I was 15, but when you're young you learn to accept this as normal."

Her friend, also from Stockholm, added: "We think we are such an equal society, but it happens here all the time. Especially on the dance floor, when it's crowded, guys grab your ass or rub their thing against you, but in my experience, if you tell them to back off, they usually do."

"In the ninth grade I was the target of sexualized bullying by male classmates," said Leena-Maaretta, who went to a bilingual English-Swedish school in Stockholm.

"Due to the fact that I had a crush on an Afro-Swede boy (I am Caucasian), other boys in my class shouted horrific, racist things at me. There was one time, when we were waiting for a teacher to arrive, that a boy drew a picture of me and a big penis that was leaking on me. No one helped and I didn't want the teacher to see it, I was ashamed, so I had to erase it myself. It was constant and a very painful time."

Like other women, she had also experienced harassment on Sweden's public transport. "Once when I boarded a tunnelbana, two 12- or 13-year-old boys came up to me and kept talking to me and asking for hugs. They sat in the seats next to me and when I decided to leave, one of the boys grabbed my behind."


Another woman who has lived in Stockholm for one year said she had also been harassed on Stockholm's subway line. "It was 9pm on a Sunday night, one of the first warm days and I felt happy to wear a nice summer dress. A man with his friend moved to sit next to me and they kept staring at me and laughing between themselves. I kept my headphones in and avoided eye contact," she said.

"A Swedish man kept telling the men that this was his country and men like them (immigrants I assume) shouldn’t stare and be rude to 'their' women. As uncomfortable I was, I kept my head down to avoid confrontation. Finally the men in my booth left, only to be replaced by this Swedish man, who kept saying racist things (the irony being that I moved from abroad to study here myself)."

"Then the man called another man over, who was drunk. He starts making kissing noises at me and strokes my cheek repeatedly. The Swedish man laughs at this and asks me where I am going to get off, because he wants me to join him for hamburgers. I sat paralyzed and waited for them to leave, and stayed on a few extra stops. In the end I felt even worse about myself for thinking 'why did I have to wear this dress today'," she explained.

Stockholm's tunnelbana. Photo: Anders Ahlgren/SvD/TT

Another woman, originally from Canada, told The Local she had had a bad experience of reporting sexual assault to the police in Sweden. "In 2014 I was at a club in Uppsala, and met a student on holiday. He put something in my drink, and I woke up at home with scratches all over my body and missing clothing," she said.

When she realized she had been raped, she reported this to the police, who she says questioned her and her boyfriend before driving her to the scene of the attack. "I spent the entire time shaking and gagging and trying not to throw up. They made me look around for my missing underwear. Finally they took me to the hospital for tests."

"The guy admitted he had sex with me, but somehow they didn't have enough evidence that I had not given consent, I was told my options were to pay for a lawyer to pursue the case, or find a way of pursuing it within the Canadian legal system. The whole experience was surreal," the woman said.


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