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The ‘hideous’ sexual assault problem at music festivals is causing major tensions in Europe

An officer attaches a bracelet with the text #tafsainte, meaning "don’t grope," to a visitor's wrist July 1 at the Bravalla Festival in Norrkoping, Sweden. (Izabelle Nordfjell/TT News Agency via AP)

Police handed out bracelets to attendees at Sweden's Bravalla Festival during the weekend. They were emblazoned with this reminder: "Don't Grope."

The wristbands were part of a larger police campaign to raise awareness about sexual assault, particularly amid music festival season.

“We’re hoping mainly that this will get boys to think twice," national police chief Dan Eliasson told TT News Agency. "A lot of them don’t seem to realize that this is a crime."

But by the end of the music festival, police said they were investigating five alleged rapes and more than a dozen suspected sexual assaults, the Associated Press reported.

And about 140 miles away at another Swedish music festival in Karlstad, police were investigating 32 reports of sexual assault, with allegations that boys or young men had groped attendees, Police Inspector Leif Nystrom said, according to the AP. Investigators had identified seven young men they want to question, but none have yet been detained.

“We want to catch the suspects because we need to talk to them,” Nystrom told the AP. “The number of such cases has increased slightly since last year."

News of the more than 40 alleged assaults at two weekend festivals prompted outrage among officials and musicians. In a statement posted to Facebook, British folk rock band Mumford & Sons wrote that its members were "appalled to hear what happened at the Bravalla Festival last weekend." The band played the festival Thursday.

"Festivals are a celebration of music and people, a place to let go and feel safe doing so," the band wrote. "We're gutted by these hideous reports. We won't play at this festival again until we've had assurances from the police and organisers that they're doing something to combat what appears to be a disgustingly high rate of reported sexual violence."

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in a statement that more must be done for women to feel safe, and in a speech at a political seminar, he said the situation was "totally unacceptable" while calling for tightening sexual assault laws, according to the AP.

“We are in the process of reviewing them,” Lofven said. “It’s also important that we continue to ensure that police, prosecutors and other officials are better equipped to investigate such crimes and actually catch the perpetrators.”

Rape, street harassment and trolls. This punk band has songs for all that.

Most of the girls who reported being assaulted at Karlstad were younger than 18 and three were younger than 15, Nystrom told the New York Times. The youngest reported victim was 12, police told the AP.

Many of the alleged assaults in Karlstad included reports of groping and not attempted rape or rape, the AP reported.

“These were reports of women being touched in unwanted places, such as on their breasts and on their bottoms and inside their underwear,” Nystrom told the Times.

From the AP:

Norrkoping police spokesman Thomas Agnevik said that there were “very, very many people and they were standing close together” when a woman in her 20s said she’d been raped by someone who came up behind her at the Bravalla Festival.
The woman managed to get away but she was shocked and hasn’t been able to describe the suspect and there are no witness accounts.
Agnevik did not give details of any suspected perpetrators except to say that the general impression is that they were “younger men.”

2014, 2015 sexual assaults

News of reported assaults come after Swedish Police faced accusations that they had covered up sexual assault reports at a music festival at Stockholm in 2014 and 2015. Authorities launched an investigation into claims that they had not informed the public about the assaults out of political considerations of fueling anti-migrant sentiment.

Police had received reports of 38 alleged sexual assaults, including two rapes, connected to the "We Are Sthlm" festival in 2014 and 2015. In January, Swedish daily newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported on the incidents, publishing internal police reports that about 50 suspects were thought to have been behind the attacks.

According to Reuters, the Swedish newspaper quoted police reports that described many of the previous assaults committed by young Afghans, and some officials expressed concern that the news of the reports contributed to an anti-migrant fervor.

Police documents seen by Reuters did not mention the ethnicity of the suspects at the 2014 and 2015 festivals.

"It's a double betrayal of these young women," Lofven told the Expressen newspaper earlier this year. "It has not been prosecuted and handled in the way we would wish. The second is that police did not inform or tell about these problems."

Earlier this year, a 15-year-old boy from West Stockholm was arrested and charged with the alleged assault of two 14-year-old girls.

When regional police first publicized assault reports from this weekend's Putte i Parken festival in Karlstad, they initially identified the suspects as asylum seekers younger than 18, a claim they later walked back, the Local reported.

"There is no doubt about who's taking these liberties," read the official police statement that police later retracted because only two of the suspects may be unaccompanied refugees.

"The wording was unfortunate and we will take that to heart. We have changed it now," head of Värmland police, Lars Wirén, told Göteborgs-posten, according to the Local. "It's important that the information we hand out is factual. We should not generalize and point at a group like this. We should handle it on a case-to-case basis."

Police inspector Nystrom didn't provide details about the suspects involved in the Karlstad cases to the AP, and also declined to comment on reports that foreigners or migrants were involved, citing the ongoing investigation.

Beyond Sweden

The uproar over the 2015 music festival in Sweden came after reports of sexual assaults on New Year's Eve in Cologne, Germany, according to the Guardian. More than a hundred complaints of assaults were filed from that single evening, and some Germans blamed the attacks on the growing number of refugees that entered the country. Still, the details remain murky.

Following the attacks, The Washington Post's Rick Noack wrote:

There is no evidence that refugees were involved in the attacks. Nevertheless, even the possibility of their involvement was enough to inflame parts of German society. Some alleged that the police as well as German media outlets that have been largely welcoming to refugees over the past year had deliberately ignored the crimes for days, and others demanded a tougher response to offenses committed by refugees.

The attacks in Cologne ushered in a darker rhetoric against refugees, especially coming from a country with a leader known for her openness toward migrants — German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

In Denmark this past weekend, there were at least five cases of alleged sexual assault or rape at the annual Roskilde rock festival, which was attended by more than 100,000 people, according to AP.

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