Abuse in Sweden – Formal recognition but severe failures in compensations

In 2011, a reconciliation ceremony was held in Sweden to officially recognize the widespread maltreatment and abuse of children that has taken place in state-run foster care and homes between 1920 and 1980. The ceremony followed an extensive investigation into the abuses which demonstrated that the responsibility for these circumstances belongs to the entire Swedish society.

“The Swedish society apologizes to you women and men who have been victims. This is an apology without reservation or mitigation. The abuse which you have been subjected to is a shame for Sweden” said Per Westerberg, the (now former) Speaker of the Swedish parliament during the event.

Following the investigations into the widespread abuse and the official recognition in the form of the reconciliation ceremony, the state committed to compensating the victims. However, in the summer of 2016 when the process for compensations concluded, it was discovered that out of the 5 300 applicants, only 46% had their applications accepted and received compensations.

The main criticism concerning the compensation system lies in the fact that only those victims who had been subjected to the most “grave” and serious forms of abuse were able to receive compensation. This distinction is not only extremely problematic, but also significantly difficult to qualify. Many survivors have had to go through the excruciatingly difficult process of reliving their past abuse through detailed interviews, only to be refused compensation as their abuse has been assessed as not “serious” enough.

Systematic failures in protecting children from abuse and helping victims continue to take place in Sweden, with new forms of abuse becoming increasingly prevalent. According to a recent study commissioned by Child10, around 22 000 children and adolescents have become victims of trafficking and exploitation in Sweden. Many of the survivors say that they have not been taken seriously when attempting to speak up about their experiences, for example within the health care system or to law enforcement agencies. In some cases, survivors say that they have even been made to feel guilty about the abuse they were subjected to. Such responses from the Swedish authorities lead to even stronger feelings of shame and a reduced possibility of receiving support, care or justice.