Last week, Swedish police faced allegations of a mass cover-up of sexual assaults on young women at the ‘We Are Slthm’ music festival in Stockholm, a festival which is aimed at 13 to 19 year olds, meaning many of the victims may also have been under the age of consent. Unfortunately, this kind of sexual harassment has become far too commonplace in music culture, an almost expected addition for women at music venues, at festivals, and in clubs. Whether it’s groping on the dance-floor or unwanted attention at the bar, we tend to ignore it or laugh it off. But if the scene was changed and a man touched us on the street, would we find it so funny? Would we brush if off and continue with our day? Sexual assault is sexual assault whatever form it takes – whether it is in a club or in town in broad daylight; whether the victim is wearing a short skirt or not; whether they have had a few drinks or none – and we need to challenge its normalisation in music culture. By sweeping the truth under the carpet, the Swedish police have allowed sexual harassment to continue unchecked, and signalled that experiences of the victims are unimportant. Considering the number of incidents that currently go unreported, estimated by RapeCrisis to be a shocking 85% in the UK, this act will have further cemented the fear and silence of victims of sexual assault.
Reports have emerged that the motivation for these cover-ups was that the abusers were young refugees, and the police wanted to avoid handing a propaganda tool to the right wing anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats. Similar fears about the impact of reports on the migrant community were expressed after the New Years attacks in Cologne, reportedly perpetrated by migrant men, which has seen support for refugees in Germany falling rapidly. However good the intentions of this cover-up may be, we cannot ignore the truth – however painful or inconvenient it may be. Of course it is vital to target Islamaphobia and hatred towards refugees, but we cannot play the oppression of various groups against each other. Sexual assault is still sexual assault, whoever it is perpetrated by.
It is truly sad that the Swedish Right have seized upon this opportunity to demonise refugees rather than recognise the deeper problem of rape culture and sexism that includes men and women of every race and religion. It is too easy to discount these events as politically motivated attacks, or the actions of a different community, and extend our sympathy while washing our hands of blame – but we in the UK live in a country where one in five women will be sexually abused in her lifetime, and every culture and community shares in this problem and has a responsibility to tackle it. We need to look only the the Mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, to see the implication of white Europeans in rape culture, as she advised women to keep strangers ‘at arms length’ to avoid attack, an act of victim blaming for which she was widely lambasted.
Whenever reports of sexual assault surface, there are always those quick to rush in and remind us that ‘not all men’ are rapists – so why can’t we do the same for the refugees, and recognise that the actions of these men do not reflect the refugee community as a whole. Sexism and racism continue to pervade society, but they need to be overcome together, or we simply continue the hierarchies of power we are seeking to overcome.
Image: Fredrick Rubensson