#Metoo echoes in the corridors of academia

- in Nyheter

Each story is unique, but together they piece together a puzzle where female students are consistently exposed to abuse in various environments and contexts. The #metoo-movement has reached the academics of Sweden, and students at Lund University testify about attempted rape, a culture of silence, and sexual harassment.

By Simon Appelqvist

Translation by Estrid Ericson Borggren

Illustrations by Tove Swartling-Eriksson

It is during the winter of 2014 that AnnaPi Danelius moves out of her parents’ home. Many of her friends already live at the Småland Nation, and as she has not yet begun her studies at Lund University (LU) there are few alternatives for housing among the nations.

“I thought it would be nice to live in a dorm, get to know people and form a social circle”, she says.

AnnaPi explains that she was doing fine, despite, as many 20-year olds do, feeling a bit lost. The dorm she moves to has a good reputation, and in the fall AnnaPi undertakes her first studies at university. She is involved both as a member of the Board at the nation, and as a club foreman. The first months of student life are good, but later the same fall, life is turned upside-down. Following a student party in one of the nation’s dorms, AnnaPi is the victim of attempted rape.

“After a dorm party, I went home with a guy. We had sex and then I fell asleep. In the middle of the night I woke up from him trying to penetrate me. I said no and pushed him away. I tried to fall back to sleep but woke up multiple times because of his attempts. When I got up and said I was leaving he blamed the assault on him having erectile dysfunction”, she says.

Following the event she contacts the then ombudsman of the nation, Alice Nordin, who has previous work experience from a young women’s empowerment centre and is thus used to talking about sexual abuse.

“I asked what could be done and she wondered if I wanted to file a police report. I’d already been questioned by so many at the nation and didn’t have the energy for the judicial system to question me as well. You already feel weak and vulnerable, offended and reduced, so I didn’t report it”, says AnnaPi.

After a while, the guy sent a text explaining he did not know what he had done wrong.

“He wrote that he thought I was asleep and that he had problems with his dick. There were many weird explanations and excuses for his behaviour”, says AnnaPi.


“Many feel disbelief about their own experiences”

AnnaPi is far from alone in having been exposed to sexual abuse during her time as a student. A survey sent out by Lundagård was answered by 3035 students at both basic and advanced levels at LU. Of these, over 44% of the female students state that they have been exposed to sexual harassment during their time as students at the university. 45% state that they have been exposed to sexual abuse. The most frequent locations are at the nations and at student activities such as balls or sittnings. 64% of the students state that they have experienced a teacher as the perpetrator, but no reports have been filed at the university by student against teacher since 2010.

The Disciplinary Committee at LU, which handles the reports of sexual harassment of students at the university, has only received eight reports during the past ten years.

Eva Schömer is senior lecturer in sociology of law at Lund University and guest professor in legal science at Linnaeus University. She believes there are many unreported cases and that the culture of silence is widespread within the university.

“The culture of silence is about the fear of being excluded from the group. It means, among other things, that the perpetrator is backed up at the workplace. People choose to be blind to the abuse and many are afraid to lose their positions and to not receive benefits”, says Eva Schömer.

Eva Schömer also believes that the surrounding people are closing their eyes despite everybody knowing that sexual harassment exists.

“In addition, many are afraid of being questioned. This has gone on for a long time, and that really provokes me. But through #metoo people have, to a higher degree than before, dared to talk about what’s been done to them, which in turn generates a better understanding of what’s going on. And the fear of not being believed has decreased”, says Eva Schömer.

According to her, the metoo-movement has put focus on what sexual harassment is and that it is not the victim, but the perpetrator who is responsible.

“Many start to doubt their own experiences, and women have been taught that it’s their fault and to put blame on themselves”, says Eva Schömer.

Illustration: Tove Swartling-Eriksson

“The authorities we have today are not enough”

In mid-November the University Management met and discussed what could be done better in the work against sexual harassment and abuse.

“The university carries a large responsibility and is in no way inviolable. It’s rather the contrary. The university is marked by old structures and established hierarchies, which probably contribute to the culture of silence”, says Martin Hansen, Chairperson for the Students’ Unions of Lund University (Lus).

Currently the management of the equal opportunities group at Lund University are working on a plan of action for how the university can work long-term against sexual harassment.

“It’s apparent that the authorities we have today are not enough. It’s of uttermost importance that the university admits that there is a culture of silence that is causing harm to many”, says Martin Hansen.

According to Eva Schömer these issues were brought to attention far earlier, and already in 1994 a study of sexual harassment at LU was made.

“Some years later the suggestion that there should be a central group at the university, freestanding of the departments, and to whom you could turn if you’d been exposed to sexual harassment, was discussed. Not only for what happens at the university, but in student life in general. I still believe that would’ve been good”, says Eva Schömer.


“Nagging about getting a blowjob and a handjob”

A few weeks after the attempted rape of AnnaPi, the perpetrator moves from the nation of his own accord. A representative of the Equality Committee had tried to make him understand what he had done wrong and wanted to get him away from the nation.

“If you want to have him excluded, a decision needs to be made at a nation meeting. Then the perpetrator can convince his friends to attend and to vote against the exclusion. He’ll give a defence speech, and the members are to argue for or against the exclusion. It’d be horrible to open up to 100 members and then be questioned and interrogated”, says AnnaPi.

That same winter she moves from the nation to a place of her own. She starts studying at LU to be a nurse, but drops out after a few weeks.

“I was depressed and experienced abuse on many different occasions. It feels as if my body isn’t my own any longer. You’re just a bag of flesh and blood and bones. There’s nothing more”, she says.

Soon after her moving out she is the victim of abuse again.

“We’d matched on Tinder, and ran into each other at the nation. One weekend he came to my place and I said I didn’t want to have sex. He replied, “we’ll see about that”. He started asking questions about what I feel about dominance sex and I said I wasn’t very experienced. Then he held me in a dominant way, tried to kiss me, and nagged me about a blowjob and a handjob. I pushed him away and tried to leave but he still held me, despite that I tried to break free from him with all my power”, she says.

After the abuse she did not want to visit the Småland Nation any longer, out of fear that he would be there.

“I sent him a text and explained what he’d done wrong, but he was puzzled and didn’t seem to understand. But he apologised and said he’d keep his distance”, she says.


“Make a false accusation and you’re marked for life”

Alice Nordin was the nation representative and the political representative at the time. She and the representative of the Equality Committee began a process to change the nation’s statutes to make possible the exclusion of a member who commits sexual abuse. But that was not because of the abuse AnnaPi was exposed to.

“We had a case where a person admitted to abuse but refused to leave the nation. We voted for a change of statues that would allow exclusion based on sexualised violence. Our experience is that many don’t dare be open about what they’ve experienced if it has to be brought up at a nation meeting”, says Alice Nordin, former representative for the Småland Nation.

She believes that more nations need to make similar changes in their statutes in order to increase safety for those exposed.

“Because most people at the nations know each other you don’t talk much about sexual abuse. If we can’t get this into the statutes, many will feel powerless”, says Alice Nordin.

She cannot see that there would be a risk of establishing a parallel judicial system.

“This isn’t about a court case. If you are the victim of sexualised violence and have that questioned, it’s a harder blow than not being allowed to attend our clubs. There’s this idea that you can’t trust women and that they want revenge. But that’s extremely uncommon”, she says.

Eva Schömer, senior lecturer in sociology of law, also believes that it is extremely uncommon for women to bear false witness.

“Especially when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse, because the fear of not being believed and the risk of being exposed is so big. If you make a false accusation you’re marked for life”, says Eva Schömer.

Boman Lyngfelt is chairperson of the Curator College, the joint committee of the nations at Lund University. According to him sexual harassment and abuse is nothing new at the nations.

“We’ve worked with these questions for a long time. The problems regarding equality and safety in social situations are nothing that’s triggered by the metoo-campaign”, he says.

According to Boman Lyngfelt, the nations are working with various policy documents that are determined by the board of each nation, and they are to permeate the entire operation.

“The nations are working to have tangible equality policies. At the Curator College we’re working a lot with educating those responsible at the nations. For example, at the beginning of each term we have a meeting between nations, the Student Health Centre, and Lund Municipality”, he says.

Courses in how to operate a bar and attitudes towards guests, co-workers, and security guards, are included in the meeting.

“It’s something we want to develop and improve continuously. In the future we’ll be focusing more on inviting speakers who talk about sexual harassment”, says Boman Lyngfelt.

How the nations are tangible working with these questions differ from nation to nation. Boman Lyngfelt points at the initiative Göteborgs Änglar that Göteborgs Nation is working with.

“People who are involved in the night club walk the guests home so that they get home safely on each occasion”, he says.

He believes that student life in Lund is unique in its opportunities to work against sexual harassment and abuse.

“We have organisations that specialise on being a social agency. By doing so they collect everything that’s usually scattered about under a single roof. Because of that we’ve a better opportunity to affect the internal cultures”, says Boman Lyngfelt.


“They believe all women go out just to dance with men”

Two years ago, Maria was a student marshal at a nation ball. She wishes to remain anonymous and her real name is something else. At the after-party Maria meets a man in his 70s who asks her to dance.

“He was an old member of the nation, and because he wanted to dance I thought it could be nice for him. But when we started dancing his hands moved lower and lower and he started touching my butt. I didn’t want to shout at him as I still had the marshal sash on and I didn’t want to seem rude”, she says.

In order to escape the man’s unpleasant touches, Maria leaves to get a glass of water for the man, who was clearly intoxicated. Today the memory of the event is engraved in her memory. Still Maria believes that the man had forgotten about it the next day.

After the incident at the ball, Maria avoids older people at similar events.

“There’s probably a whole bunch of great people I can talk to about their experiences. But this person ruined it for me and now I’m extra careful”, she says.

In the beginning of the fall term of 2017 Maria and her friends go out to a nation club. They are dancing together when a guy attempts to push himself between her and her friends.

“We left and made it very clear for him that we didn’t want to dance with him. But he followed us and it made us uncomfortable. I then asked a male friend to dance with us, and only then the guy left”, she says.

She and her friends go to the bar and start dancing on another part of the dance floor. Then the guy comes up again. This time Maria grabs her male friend right away and dances with him alongside the wall.

“It’s annoying that one should have to dance alongside a wall and with a male friend in order not to have someone sneak up behind you. I really had a good time that night, but he ruined it for me”, she says.

“Maybe they believe that all women go out just to dance with men, I don’t know. People think they’ve access to someone’s body and don’t respect someone’s individuality. You’re always taking a risk when you go out to party”, she says.


“You need to behave decently”

Lina is involved in student life and has attended several balls during her time at Lund University. She wants to remain anonymous, and her real name is something else.

At one ball she is sitting next to a close friend who is getting more and more intoxicated as the evening passes.

“He starts flirting with me and puts his arm around me. I removed it and ignored him. Then I felt a hand on my thigh, and I nonchalantly removed it too”, says Lina.

The evening goes on and she thinks that he will soon stop his flirting.

“But then I feel a hand on me again, and feel him moving it towards my crotch. I then throw his hand away, and he looks up at me. Then he walks up to another girl and starts making out with her. It turns out that the girl is his girlfriend”, she says.

“People pay a lot to attend balls, and I didn’t want to make a scene amidst all my friends. It’s not the first time it happens, and it often happens at balls because people are drunk”, she continues.

Lina talked with the guy about what he had done, which she feels was a way for her to regain control.

“Everyone isn’t aware of what they’re doing, but just because you’re drunk you can’t just do whatever you want. You need to behave decently”, she says.

Illustration: Tove Swartling-Eriksson

“If others can open up, so can I”

AnnaPi puts her black handbag in her lap and scavenges for a black spray can with a red warning symbol on the outside.

“I bought the defence spray after a night out here in Lund. A stranger walked up to me and took hold of me, I pushed him away and ran. He ran after me but stopped after a while. Even though I feel safer with the spray I know that it’s not usually out on the town that abuse happens. It’s not as if it’s standing on the bedside table in case things would turn sour there”, she says.

At first, she dismissed the metoo-movement as being only a hashtag among other hashtags.

“But then there came more and more. To open up about this is really tough, but if so many others have opened up, then so can I. This can’t be allowed to be reduced to only being a hashtag, we need to do something with the force, anger, and despair so many harbour. Something must change. We must get everybody to stand up for each other in real life”, AnnaPi says.


Sexual harassment and abuse

Lundagård sent out a survey to all students registered at basic and advanced level during the fall term 2017.

3035 students responded to the survey, which was based on the Youth Guidance Centre’s definition of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

45% of the female students stated that they have been exposed to sexual abuse during their time as students at Lund University. 44% stated that they have been exposed to sexual harassment.