➤ OPINION Only a few days following the breaking news of the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal, Alyssa Milano started the #metoo hashtag campaign, encouraging women who have been victims of sexual harassment and rape to tell their personal stories. This initiative immediately spread to Sweden where it turns out that mainstream Swedish media is steeped in a culture of sexual harassment and cover-up.
While the Unites States has its Harvey Weinstein sex scandal involving the entertainment industry and shaking up the country while exposing sexual predators, Sweden now has its very own as well but in the media industry, shaking up the country while exposing sexual predators and media cover-up – the Fredrik Virtanen sex scandal, or #virtanengate.
It all began to unravel only a few days ago. A Swedish woman and known feminist, inspired by the #metoo campaign, accused star-columnist for the major newspaper Aftonbladet Fredrik Virtanen, a self-proclaimed feminist and defender of women, of having drugged and raped her in 2006.
As she gained strength and courage over the next few years, she wrote about it in 2010 and even reported it to the police in 2012. However, her story largely went ignored, primarily by mainstream Swedish media, including Virtanen’s own employer Aftonbladet. Meanwhile, the police dropped the rape case.
To make things worse, Virtanen allegedly had his spokesperson call the victim’s employer to accuse her of being an “insane mythomaniac.” The victim of potential rape was now also accused by her perpetrator of being mentally disturbed through a third party who seemingly ignored the drug rape allegation itself but instead enabled the perpetrator.
In the days to follow, inspired by this Swedish woman’s #metoo Instagram post, several other Swedish women have accused Virtanen of sexual harassment, including two women who, at the time of the alleged unwelcome sexual advancements, were minors.
One of the women, who was 14 years old at the time of the alleged incident, posted a screenshot of Virtanen’s unwelcome sexual advancements along with her story as evidence of the authenticity of her allegations. It took her nearly ten years to “come out,” having saved the screenshot all these years for this particular occasion.
The scandal only grows. A well known Swedish author now claims to have known about the drug rape Virtanen allegedly committed in 2006. The author also acknowledges that she knew that the newspaper Aftonbladet, Virtanen’s employer, was well aware of this drug rape incident. In addition, the author claims that her circle of acquaintances also knew about this drug rape but kept it quiet, just like Aftonbladet.
As it turns out, Virtanen is not the only well known Swedish media personality who is now accused of abusing his position of power and popularity in order to sexually prey on women. A second well known Swedish columnist for the same Aftonbladet is now being accused of sexual harassment. Accusations against another Swedish media personality for another media outlet have also surfaced following the Weinstein scandal and Milano’s recent #metoo campaign initiative.
However, these two specific cases are only the beginning. Swedish media is apparently steeped in a culture of sexual harassment and its systematic cover-up. Allegations are now surfacing that a well known personality for the publically funded Swedish media SVT Gothenburg sexually harassed an intern in 2012. The intern claims to have brought this up to one of the media executives, which resulted in her being forced to quit while the alleged perpetrator TV show host was left unscathed. In addition, the same intern adds that her friend who works for the same publicly funded media outlet SVT also systematically has been sexually harassed by her boss.
Wait, it gets worse. Another well known Swedish columnist now acknowledges that he has known for many years that several journalists are sexual predators who prey on aspiring journalists at the bottom of the media hierarchy.
What’s horrific about this is not only that the problem of sexual harassment within Swedish media appears widespread, but that this particular journalist did not bring his knowledge of this sexual predator culture within media to the attention of the public but, instead, decided to cover it up for several years – until now when the cat already is out of the bag.
Not only does sexual harassment seem to run amok among Swedish media employees but cover-ups by the media outlets themselves and their employees appear equally rampant.
It gets even worse. Aftonbladet, Virtanen’s media employer, is now (indirectly) threatening to report to police those who make any sexual harassment and rape accusations against the newspaper’s employees, in essence attempting to silence other potential victims.
Clearly, journalists and media are part of the problem, not the solution, when it comes to sexual harassment and rape. When media companies and their employees protect sexual predators due to colleagueship, something is rotten and corrupt in the world of media, which is the current state of affairs in Sweden.
Swedish media used to have an obligation to expose those who abuse their power. What’s now unraveling in Sweden is that media is systematically covering up when its own journalists – who are considered to be people in power – use their power to engage in different types of sexual misconduct.
The culture of sexual harassment and cover-up in Swedish media is nothing but a major slap in the face to all women but in particular those women who now courageously post their own #metoo stories of being victims of rape and sexual harassment.
I need to emphasize that, at the time of this publication, none of abovementioned allegations I refer and link to has been proven factually true, including the several allegations against Virtanen. They are simply allegations officially made by various women in various media platforms.
None of the accused referenced in this column has yet been found guilty in court of any sexual or other misconduct. Thus, this column is not a statement of facts but merely an opinion based on the many allegations now surfacing about various Swedish media personalities around sexual misconduct and cover-up in Swedish media.