A new report by the World Childhood Foundation and Barnrättsbyrån shows serious problems with sexual abuse and violations against children in state-run institutional care (SiS) in Sweden. The review “Who will believe me? (Vem ska tro på mig?)” shows, among other things, that this is a structural problem and that the children’s own information about sexual abuse remains within SiS, despite the fact that by law it must be reported to the prosecutor and IVO.
“We have known for decades that sexual abuse takes place in Swedish institutions. It is completely unacceptable that this continues and that in 2023 Sweden is unable to give society’s most vulnerable children the protection they are entitled to in places that are meant to be safe” – says Paula Guillet de Monthoux, Secretary General of the World Childhood Foundation.
“Many children in SiS have been exposed to violence, abuse and betrayal by the adult world even before they are locked up. That they then continue to be subjected to abuse under the care of the state is a bottomless betrayal of society” says Elin Wernquist, Secretary General of Barnrättsbyrån.
Who will believe me?
The report shows widespread sexual abuse and violations against children in Swedish state-run institutional care – places that are meant to be safe for young people with extensive psychosocial problems. It has long been known that children are subjected to sexual abuse at SiS. Just last year, reviews by the Swedish Health and Social Care Inspectorate (IVO), the Parliamentary Ombudsman (JO) and the Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) all revealed major shortcomings, including violence and sexual abuse. Through the report “Who will believe in me?” a systematic mapping of sexual abuse of children in state compulsory care is carried out for the first time.
Documentation from SiS and IVO between 2019 and 2022 reveals five reports per month of sexual violations or abuse by staff. There is documentation of sexual abuse at all state-run institutional care facilities except one, which is almost exclusively about male staff abusing girls in care. The report also compiles legal cases from the last five years. On average, one SiS employee per year has been convicted of rape of a child in care. The report also describes a clear pattern in which the children’s own information about sexual abuse remains within SiS, despite the fact that by law it must be reported to the prosecutor and IVO.
The institutional environment is harmful to children
Previous research shows that long-term institutionalization can have negative consequences that affect children’s mental and physical health and can increase the risk of criminality and exploitation. It also highlights that institutional environments can also both enable and render invisible systematic violence, violations and sexual abuse. Given what we know about unreported cases and that children rarely tell adults about abuse, we can assume that the figures presented in the report are underestimated. Our experience of working with children in institutions also shows that they have limited opportunities to raise the alarm about abuse and are often not listened to when they try. This, together with a lack of transparency and a culture where children’s testimonies are not taken seriously, has enabled widespread abuse of children in Sweden and internationally.
The report is produced by Childhood and Barnrättsbyrån, based on Childhood’s overall goal of preventing sexual abuse of children and Barnrättsbyrån’s direct work for individual children’s rights. We hope that this report contributes new and important knowledge that can ultimately be used to improve the situation for a very vulnerable group of children and young people.
The launch took place in Stockholm on 22/3 and included discussions with the experts who contributed comments, readings of testimonies, reflections from within social care and panel discussions with responsible authorities and politicians.
For more information please contact:
Charles Mingo Bennström, Press & PR Manager World Childhood Foundation
+46(0)734 22 04 42, email@example.com