trial For Members

Swedish #MeToo defamation trial: Here's what you need to know

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards - [email protected]
Swedish #MeToo defamation trial: Here's what you need to know
Defendant Cissi Wallin (right) at court on Thursday. Photo: Fredrik Persson / TT

A trial underway in Stockholm will judge whether one of the first prominent Swedish figures to post as part of the #MeToo movement is guilty of defamation for naming the man who allegedly raped her. Here's what you need to know about the landmark trial.


This article is available to Members of The Local. Read more Membership Exclusives here.



What are the charges?

Swedish journalist Cissi Wallin is accused of aggravated defamation against Fredrik Virtanen, also a journalist.

The accusation relates to posts she made on Instagram and Facebook, in which she said Virtanen had drugged and raped her. Wallin had previously spoken about being drugged and raped by a "man in the media", but in her social media posts in October 2017 during the global #MeToo movement, she named him as Fredrik Virtanen.

"I reported [the rape] in 2011, only then did I have the energy and courage. But I didn't have the energy or courage to out [him]. Until now," she wrote.

The court is looking into charges of aggravated defamation, which Wallin denies. 

Wallin reported the alleged rape to police in 2011, but charges were never brought against Virtanen and he has always denied the claims.

What is aggravated defamation?

Defamation (förtal in Swedish) is when someone spreads information about another person in such a way that it can harm their reputation and cause damage in their personal life. It often applies when the information spread suggests that the person engaged in criminal behaviour.

In this case, because of the severity of the crimes Virtanen was accused of, and because of the wide spread of Wallin's post and alleged severe impact on Virtanen's life, the charge is aggravated defamation rather than simply defamation.

Photo: Jessica Gow/SCANPIX/TT

Even spreading accurate information, such as court judgments, can be classified as defamation. So the court's first job is to assess whether the posts were "justifiable" and if they find they were, the next step will be to assess the veracity of the claims, or whether Wallin had good reason to believe they were true.

Who is Cissi Wallin?

Cissi Wallin has worked as an actress, columnist, and presenter on TV and radio. She also has a history of activism, particularly in relation to feminist issues. For example, she has co-organized protests against cuts to Swedish maternity care and against the ousting of Swedish Academy permanent secretary Sara Danius. 

In the wake of the #MeToo movement, Wallin launched a website, Min Upprättelse, to offer support to victims of sexual harassment and assault. She believes that this information is not made readily available in schools and workplaces and can be hard to find, and worked with experts including lawyers, criminologists and children's rights campaigners.

What was Wallin’s role in the #MeToo movement?

She was one of the first Swedes to take part in #MeToo, which was started in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke but became an international movement in autumn 2017 after actress Alyssa Milano encouraged women to share the hashtag if they had experienced sexual assault or harassment.

Wallin published posts on Facebook and Instagram, and experts believe her involvement helped get the ball rolling in the Nordic nation.

"What had an impact was that women with large platforms started to tell [their stories], which meant that many followed. Would women have told [their stories] anyway, without the naming? I think so," criminologist Nina Rung told the TT news agency.

What form did the #MeToo movement take in Sweden?

What set the Swedish #MeToo movement apart from many other countries where it took hold was the high level of structural organization from very early on.

After the first initial social media posts, different initiatives were organized within specific branches. The first was known as the #tystnadtagning letter, written by hundreds of women in the theatre industry, which inspired similar initiatives in industries as varied as teaching, politics, the care sector, and sports.

These initiatives introduced a no-naming policy early on, instead focusing on structural changes needed.

The letters included anonymized accounts of sexual harassment in that industry, and specific points demanded in order to change the structures that allow it, for example clear and safe ways to report harassment without repercussions, and a requirement for workplaces to have policies on sexual harassment. 

But some women, including Wallin, named their alleged abusers on social media. The Swedish Press Council has also criticized newspapers who published unconfirmed reports.



Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also