Sweden, where Perpetrators Become Victims

Ann Heberlein. Photo by Wilmarsgard.

My daughter’s best friend attends classes with a convicted rapist. My daughter’s friend Anna is in ninth grade at a junior high school in the outskirts of Lund. In the same class is Ajuub. He was convicted in Lund District Court on December 13, 2016 for “child rape.” Tindra is now in eighth grade. It was her that Ajuub and a younger friend raped at a local youth recreation center on May 30, 2016. In the court protocol, we read that Ajuub confesses to having committed the act – but argues that it should be considered “child sexual abuse.” The district court found, however, that the charge of “child rape” is reasonable. The court believes Tindra’s story, and finds it “unlikely that the plaintiff voluntarily had sex with two guys” in a restroom at the recreation center.

When my daughter – who’s in eighth grade at a school in central Lund – told me about Ajuub, I didn’t believe her. “Yes, it’s true. He raped a girl in the eighth grade. And he’s in Anna’s class.” Gossip, I thought. Rumors. Teens love to talk shit about each other. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that a convicted rapist was allowed in class at a regular school in Lund. I requested the records of the proceedings from the Lund District Court, and there it says, clear as day: Ajuub is convicted of child rape. When the act was committed, his friend was too young to be considered criminally responsible. At the time of the rape, he wasn’t yet fifteen – apparently old enough to rape a classmate, but not old enough to be held accountable for his actions.

The verdict is miserable reading. The image of a broken girl – Ajuub states in the interview that he had noticed that she had cut herself on the arms – frightened, bullied and alone. The girl, who was 14 years old when the crime took place, says in interviews with the police that she didn’t dare tell her mother about what had happened. Only several days after the rape, she called her contact person at the psychiatric clinic for children and adolescents in Lund and told about the rape. With the support of the contact person, the girl filed a police report. While awaiting the trial to take place in December, both boys accused of the rape and Tindra all attended the same school. But Tindra couldn’t stand it. She hasn’t been in school since she was raped in May. The school’s principal states in an interview with Swedish daily Sydsvenskan (www.sydsvenskan.se March 6, 2017) that he thinks that he couldn’t have done anything differently: “But sure, it’s hard to say what’s right and what’s wrong in this situation.”

Ajuub is convicted of raping Tindra vaginally and orally in a restroom. He’s sentenced to juvenile care and 100 hours of community service for young offenders. His care consists of Ajuub having to meet with a counselor at the social services office in Lund on 24 occasions. In the judgment, I read that Ajuub seems to suffer from “impaired ability to understand what is right and wrong.” The purpose of the 24 meetings with a counselor from social services in Lund is for Ajuub to learn to make better decisions. No other interventions are made into Ajuub’s life. Hence, he keeps going to class at school in Lund, lives at home with his parents, is free to hang out with his friends at the same youth recreation center where he raped Tindra. The younger guy who took part in the rape of Tindra escapes without punishment. For him, life goes on as usual.

But what about Tindra? The broken girl who was raped in a restroom a day in late May of last year. People are talking about her. She’s a whore, says the teenagers in Lund. The younger guy who raped her along with Ajuub claims in the police interview that she sells sex for money. He calls her “400.” According to him, that’s how much it costs to have sex with Tindra. Tindra, on her part, says that the younger guy has spread rumors about her for several months. She agreed to meet him and Ajuub at the recreation center because he threatened to spread even more rumors about her and beat her if she didn’t show up.

Who cares about Tindra?

Not the school’s principal. “All three are students here and all three are in a way victims of this.” It’s very unclear how Ajuub and his henchman are victims. The principal says something vague about “Ajuub having received a harsh penalty.” I don’t agree with the principal. Ajuub has received far too lenient of a penalty – and that his younger friend gets away scot-free is deeply problematic. The penalty serves a purpose for three parties – for the guilty perpetrator, for the victim and for the community. The punishment should be so strict that the perpetrator comes to realize the gravity of his act, repent and do better. The penalty should also side with the victim by showing that she suffered something that was wrong and reprehensible. Moreover, the punishment serves a morally educational purpose for the rest of society, because the punishment expresses society’s norms and values.

Ajuub’s penalty fails on all counts. Ajuub got off with a slap on the wrist. It cost him no more than 24 hours of conversation with a social worker and 100 hours of youth service (whatever that means) to rape a girl. Tindra hardly feels that society has sided with her and condemned Ajuub’s violation of her – she’s likely to encounter him every day, on the schoolyard, in the dining hall, in the break room. No wonder that Tindra refuses to go to school. And what signals does this toothless verdict send society in general and Lund’s teenagers in particular? Well, that it’s not such a big deal to force someone to have sex. That it’s not a big deal to rape a teenage girl in a restroom. Nothing particularly bad happened to Ajuub, right? He apparently raped that slut Tindra in eighth grade – but it’s all good, right?

The Swedish school system – which has gender and equality enshrined in its basic values, which emphasizes gender perspectives in its curricula, which invites feminists to teach girls self-defense, and which in sex education classes tells girls that they shouldn’t agree to do things they don’t want and admonishes boys to obtain consent of the person they want to have sex with – is completely lost. How can a country that aspires to be a “humanitarian superpower” and a government that prides itself on being “feminist” fail so miserably to live up to their own ambitions? 

The answer to that question lies in the principal’s response when a journalist from Sydsvenskan questions the appropriateness of the boys attending the same school as the raped girl: “All are victims.” It is a common and, indeed, dangerous idea that relativizes atrocities and abuse. There’s only one victim here: Tindra, who was raped and whose school days are now ruined. The idea that those who do wrong – the perpetrators – deserve the most pity is deeply destructive and leads in the completely wrong direction. It reflects a moral and a legal system that ignores the victim and instead obsesses over the welfare of the perpetrator. The sympathy and pity for the perpetrator, for people who violate and abuse others, who break our laws, must come to an end.

“It’s a delicate problem,” says the principal and states that “this is something I wrestle with and think about daily and hourly.” Still, the principal is quite pleased with his way of handling the “delicate problem” (note that the principal believes that child rape is a “delicate problem”): “I don’t think that we could’ve done it differently. But sure, it’s difficult to determine what’s right and what’s wrong in this situation.”

No, it’s not at all difficult. The perpetrators must be removed. Take them out of school. Give them homeschooling or place them with the appropriate institution. The girl should be given support and care so that she feels safe in school and is able to absorb the education she’s entitled to. The girl is a victim. She shouldn’t be punished. The school should be a safe place. It should go without saying that our children shouldn’t have to attend classes with a convicted criminal – and that a girl who’s been raped shouldn’t have to face her rapist in school is the least we can ask of a society that claims to be ruled by law.

 

Ann Heberlein

 

P.S.: My daughter, who attends a different junior high school in Lund, didn’t want me to write this text. She’s afraid of getting beat up by Ajuub and his friends. The names of victims and perpetrators are fictitious.  

The School board of the City of Lund has now decided to remove both of the perpetrators from the school.

Om författaren

Ann Heberlein
Ann Heberlein
Ann Heberlein är lektor i etik vid Lunds Universitet. Hon är också verksam som författare, föreläsare i etiska frågor och fri skribent.

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