Because there was no #MeToo in Sweden

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Tuesday It’s started a new trial of Swedish writer and actress Cecilia “Cissi” Wallin, who in 2019 was convicted of defamation for accusing journalist Fredrik Virtanen of raping her. This trial also has to do with Wallin’s complaints: Virtanen claims that Wallin also slandered him in her autobiography, although she did not mention it explicitly.

In a recent article from the New York Timesthe Swedish-American journalist Jenny Nordberg he defined that of Wallin «the case that killed #MeToo in Sweden». Despite being considered one of the most feminist countries in the world, in fact, in recent years in Sweden at least 12 women who had reported having been subjected to sexual abuse have been convicted of defamation, while the accused men have often not been tried. According to Nordberg, who has followed the allegations against Virtanen from the start, this has to do with some peculiarities of Swedish law and culture.

In October 2017, at the start of the #MeToo movement in the US and Europe, Wallin reported having been raped eleven years earlier, when she was 21. In a post shared on Instagram – with the image of her self-portrait of her reflected in a mirror – Wallin said that “the powerful media man who drugged and raped me is called Fredrik Virtanen,” who was a well-known columnist at the time. of the newspaper Aftonbladet, one of the leading newspapers in the country. In his post he said he reported the alleged rape to the police in 2011 but found the courage to talk about it publicly thanks to #MeToo. He described his own story as the “tip of the iceberg” and only one of many examples of the “patriarchal culture and silence that prevails” with “the men in power” in Sweden.

Preliminary investigations into Virtanen, who had denied any allegations, were dismissed due to lack of evidence. In January 2018 it was instead he who denounced Wallin for defamation, who in the first instance trial she was found guilty and is still awaiting the sentence on appeal, for which he faces up to two years in prison.

Now, more than four years after the first accusations, Virtanen has again sued Wallin for defamation, this time suing her in the Chancellery of Justice in one of the rare cases presented to the Swedish authority concerning freedom of the press. After obtaining an editorial contract which was then terminated precisely for fear of defamation accusations, in August 2020 Wallin published his autobiography Allt som var mitt (“All that was mine”), in which he tells of the abuses suffered. While not explicitly named, as required by the clause of the original contract with the book’s publisher, Virtanen believes that Wallin is liable for defamation of the contents of the memoir, as publisher.

In the trial that began today, Wallin faces a maximum of two years in prison, possibly added to the two years of sentence that could be assigned to her in the appeal process for the Instagram post. If she is found guilty, the Swedish state will also confiscate and destroy unsold copies of her book.

Wallin’s story has created some turmoil in Sweden, a country whose government itself it defines itself feminist.

Daughter of Polish parents, Wallin grew up in the south of the country and made her film debut in 2005, making herself known mostly through social networks with posts about her life. Virtanen, on the other hand, wrote mostly opinion articles, often adopting a feminist approach; as Nordberg noted, however, rumors were rife that she had inappropriate attitudes towards women. In mid-2018 she was her, however suspended from Aftonbladet after 12 other women interviewed for an article written by Nordberg also accused him of sexual harassment. All of them, however, had wanted to remain anonymous because he was “too well known and too powerful.”

Virtanen accused Wallin of being “a pathological liar” and argued that the other women who accused him had exaggerated her attitudes, or had made up their own stories. Wallin, who claims that her career was damaged by the affair, instead began writing pieces on topics such as gender identity and “cancel culture” and also tried to organize solidarity groups between women; however, many of her accused her of wanting to attract her attention, something that is practically considered in Sweden an insult.

– Read also: The most important case of #MeToo in China has been closed

As part of the #MeToo movement, tens of thousands of Swedish women signed appeals and petitions, and many participated in initiatives in support of those who had suffered sexual abuse. Few of those who had said they had suffered harassment and violence, however, decided to report, and above all most of them were reluctant to explicitly name the men they were accusing, simply saying that they were often famous and powerful people, including politicians , judges and professors.

As Nordberg explained, Swedish society attaches a lot of importance to the concept of collectivity and the idea that one should behave keeping in mind what is best for other people, and not just for oneself. Defamation cases are also discouraged by law precisely to protect citizens’ right to remain part of society and not make them feel excluded, Nordberg notes, and can be blocked by the courts for assessments that take into account the damage caused to the accused even before check if the allegations are actually true. That’s what it is happened in the case of Wallin: his accusations on Instagram were perceived by the Swedish media as “radical” and “extreme” actions and even the court of first instance ruled that despite his accusations were serious “it was not justifiable” to explicitly mention the alleged perpetrator.

The lawsuit did not serve to silence her, said one of Virtanen’s lawyers, who argued, however, that the woman should not have accused him and cited him explicitly in front of such a wide audience, that is, on the internet. Second Wallin, Sweden’s point of view “is that Virtanen is a victim and I the criminal (repeat offender)”.

– Read also: The woman who started #MeToo in France was acquitted

However, Wallin is not the only woman to have been sentenced in Sweden following allegations of abuse she said she suffered. In addition to her, at least 12 other women who had accused often famous or powerful people were convicted of defamation, explains Nordberg.

Julia Lindh, for example, was 18 when she began dating Swedish comedian Soran Ismail, ten years her senior. After some time, she Lindh told her on a Facebook group of the rape and sexual and psychological abuse she suffered in her relationship with Ismail, during which she said she too received death threats. She went to the police, who filed her complaint for lack of evidence, but Ismail used a screenshot of her post on the Facebook group to report her for defamation, claiming she wanted revenge. The court found her guilty and ordered her to pay compensation in the equivalent of approximately $ 4,500 to Ismail. Lindh also lost her appeal.

Some Swedish newspapers have compared the story of Wallin to the story of the Swedish teacher and writer Ing-Marie Eriksson, who she was convicted of libel for her novel of 1965 Märit. In her book Eriksson told her story set during the Second World War in Sikås, the small town in central Sweden where she grew up: certain descriptions sounded so familiar to some residents of the country that she was accused of libel and her book was confiscated for the crime of defamation in the press.

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