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LGBT+ organisation apologises after counsellor accused of raping young asylum seekers: ‘It’s on us’

Maggie Baska February 2, 2021
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Logo for Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights (RSFL)

Logo for Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Rights (RFSL) seen at their office on 15 January 2020 in Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images)

A counsellor from the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (RFSL) is suspected of having abused and raped at least four young asylum seekers, according to a Swedish newspaper. 

Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) reported the man in question is in custody on suspicion of several sex crimes in RFSL Stockholm’s premises. The RFSL is a non-profit organisation that works across Sweden and internationally to further LGBT+ rights in society. RFSL Stockholm is one of 34 branches within the wider RFSL network. 

The suspect’s lawyer Isac Mekonen told SvD that his client denied committing any crimes. 

However, prosecutor Paulina Pilati will soon bring charges against the man, saying there are four victims involved in the investigation.

“There are four cases of rape and two cases of sexual harassment,” Pilati said. “Personally, I have not encountered a similar case. The police have done a great job of getting people to come for questioning.”

‘Subjects of horrific abuse’

In a statement to PinkNews, Jacob Tardell, chairman of RFSL Stockholm, said he wanted to make an official apology from RFSL Stockholm to the victims, who he said were the “subjects of horrific abuse”. 

Tardell said the organisation conducted an internal investigation in the autumn of 2019, but “it is clear that it was not good enough”. He said: “Already then could we conclude that it was difficult to follow up on the matter and that there were no witnesses.”

He said they did not report the abuse to the police because they wanted to protect the victims, who were then living in Sweden without documents. It was only until a second internal investigation occurred in the spring of 2020, that RFSL Stockholm began to understand the scope of the abuse. 

 “With the results in hand, we can state that we lost six months. That is on us,” Tardell said. “We look forward to the trial. All of this needs to be sorted out and the victims need justice. It has already been too long.”

SvD said the man, who is referred to as Alex throughout the article, worked in the RFSL Stockholm office since the 1990s. He would come into contact with RFSL’s “Newcomers” programme, which “offers activities, information and counselling in a safe space” for LGBT+ asylum seekers. 

Alex worked as an advisor and worked with STI and HIV prevention, and new members would be referred to him. 

‘They weren’t protected in this house’

Several victims said they were afraid that Alex would ruin their chances of getting asylum if they refused him. During police interrogations, the victims said they had contacted him because they had been told that they would have faster handling of their asylum cases if they worked with Alex.

Calle Brunell, a psychologist who was hired by RFSL, said he learned of reports of abuse in RFSL’s premises and told management about the incidents. He told SvD that he learned “there was a serious crime going on in RFSL’s premises by an employee”, and those who were involved were “vulnerable”.

“What’s the name of that emoji where the brain explodes?” Brunel said. “That’s how it felt. It was inconceivable that they were not even protected in this house.”

On 24 February 2020, Brunel told RFSL Stockholm’s management that he suspected there had been abuse and rape within the premises, and this should be reported to the police. He told SvD it “appeared that the management had known about these crimes for quite some time, but had not acted”.

He said RFSL Stockholm’s management did not go to the police with the allegations. Instead, he said they hired a private security company to investigate Alex and the claims.

According to SvD, Alex was fired from his role in “spring” 2020. But by the autumn, he sent messages, which were obtained by SvD, where he said that he planned to start a new counselling service for migrants.

 

Related topics: asylum seekers, LGBT asylum seekers, rape, Sweden

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