Lisbeth Salander, Assange and rape.
The Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study (SASS) held its annual conference in Chicago April 28-30, 2011, hosted by North Park University. The planning committee consisted of members from North Park University, Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Among the programs was a luncheon held by the Women’s Caucus. The invited speaker was Thomas Bodström, former Minister of Justice in Sweden, lawyer, former professional soccer player and author. His speech covered the topics of “Salander from the Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson, Julian Assange and the New Rape Law in Sweden.”
Bodström started to discuss how much is true with regard to the legal system in the Millennium trilogy.
“All authors, even if they know the legal system, cannot write about how it is because it is all too boring,” was his first remark about the difference between fiction and fact. Mr. Blomqvist, the journalist in the books, got six months because he made a mistake writing about another person. That does not happen in real life. “If it did, we would need to build more prisons in Sweden,” said Bodström.
The murders in the book also differ from reality in terms of the investigations. There are two kinds of murders in Sweden and in all countries. The first kind is when you know who the suspect is from the beginning. The most common murder in Sweden is when a man kills his wife or ex-wife. The police work starts immediately then. They want to interrogate while he is shocked.
“The police start this process before—something I do not like as a lawyer—the suspect gets a lawyer,” said Bodström.
The other kind of murder is when you find a body like they did in the Millennium books. You find a dead body in an apartment or in a park and you do not know who the suspect is.
Then there are two different work situations, one indoor investigation and one outdoors. “For the outdoor investigation, it is really boring to read about fifty policemen walking around, knocking on doors, asking neighbors, bus drivers, taxi drivers if they have seen anything,” said Bodström.
The indoor investigation starts with finding out who the victim is, who he or she is connected to. There are different kinds of databases where you can search for people with criminal background but there are also the so-called “gossip databases.” You can never use the latter in court as evidence because there is no rule of law, but it can nevertheless be useful for the police. This is not what happened in the Millennium books because Stieg Larsson was a storyteller.
Later in the trilogy, Lisbeth Salander is accused of attempted murder, and it is a criminal case. The trial was about attempted murder but it changed to a question if Salander was mentally ill. That is not how it works in reality. In real life you start with finding out if the person is guilty or not. If the person is guilty and there is evidence beyond any doubt, then you investigate possible mental illness.
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks...
Bodström moved on to talk about another big issue concerning Sweden, Julian Assange. “We have no idea if he is guilty or not, that is not what we will discuss,” explained Bodström.
There are two totally different cases when you talk about Assange and there is no connection between the two. First, it is whether or not he has committed a crime here in the Unites States with WikiLeaks, and the second question is if he is guilty of sexual abuse or rape in Sweden.
Bodström was Minister of Justice in Sweden when a new sexual rape legislation took effect in Sweden 2005. They changed the law because there were so many young girls blaming themselves when they had been taken advantage of sexually. “We wanted to let them understand that they had actually been raped,” said Bodström. Before the law changed it needed to be considered a violent act or threat of violence for it to be called rape. If a woman is sleeping, too drunk or too mentally ill to give her consent, it is now called rape rather than sexual abuse. It was a crime before, but now it is a more serious crime.
Assange left Sweden, but if he had stayed there might have been a chance to interrogate him further. The prosecutor got very upset and now we do not know what will happen until July when the trial continues. The court’s job is not to find out the truth, its job is to see if the prosecutor has enough evidence for the person to be found guilty beyond any doubt. If Assange is not found guilty in court, he is seen as innocent.
There are discussions about whether Sweden will hand Assange over to the U.S. “I will be very surprised if that happens,” stated Bodström. There are a lot of people saying they are sure Assange is innocent. Only Assange and the girls know.
At the end of the luncheon, two main topics were discussed between Bodström and the audience. He said many people have strong opinions about the sexual legislation in Sweden. Since 1999 it is illegal to buy sex in Sweden and there are only about four or five other countries in the world that have that same law. Not all think this is a good change. Earlier it was the woman who committed a crime, and now with the changed law it is the man. The police like the change in law because the fight against trafficking gets easier that way. Secondly, since the new tougher rape law of 2005, the number of people who are found guilty of rape has increased a lot.
“Of course it does not look good if the rape numbers go up, but it is the convictions that have increased. And that is what we wanted, otherwise there would have been no use in changing the law,” Bodström said at the end of an interesting and engaging speech.
The following organizations made the whole conference possible for their financial contributions to support the annual conference: The Embassy of Finland, The Embassy of Sweden, The Swedish Council of America, Akvavit Theatre/Nordic Spaces and the North Park University.
By Kristina Hall
For more information on the organization and organizer: www.scandinavianstudy.org, www.northpark.edu
And for Bodström’s blogg and law firm: www.bodstromsamhallet.se, www.advbyra.se
Swedish–American Historical Society: http://www.swedishamericanhist.org