Men and women, in a Swedish tradition, have swum together in public pools for over 100 years. Many people are now wondering if we will be forced to give up this practice -- because young male asylum seekers have turned public swimming pools into ordeals of rape and sexual assault.
Mixed bathing in Sweden started in the small southern fishing village of Mölle. Around 1890, the "Sin of Mölle" gained notoriety. Men and women were swimming together! Out in the open and shamelessly flaunting their striped bathing attire. It was a sensation that echoed all over Europe, and people came from everywhere to partake in the exciting new activity. Danes poured in, and even the German Emperor Wilhelm II made his way to Mölle in July 1907.
It should come as surprise to no one that men from the Middle East and North Africa have quite a different view of women than Swedish men do. The only mystery is why Swedish politicians have got it in their heads that everyone who sets foot on Swedish soil will immediately embrace our values, our view of women and our traditions.
Now that it is finally beginning to dawn on them that many Afghan, Somali, Iraqi and Syrian men (the largest immigrant groups coming to Sweden now) think that women who run around scantily clad are fair game, the politicians are dumbfounded. Of course, they cannot admit that this -- to Swedes -- completely alien view of women has anything to do with Islam, because then they would become victims of their own claim that everyone who criticizes Islam is an "Islamophobe."
For many years, it was possible to cover up the abuse, not least because the mainstream media chose to call the perpetrators "youth gangs," and never mention that they were almost always immigrants from Muslim countries. In Malmö, one of the most immigrant-heavy cities in Sweden, and where Swedes have actually been a minority since 2013, the problems at public pools started at least 15 years ago.
In 2003, "youth gangs" were so disruptive to other guests at the indoor water park Aq-va-kul that on several occasions, the establishment was forced to close. Despite investing 750,000 kronor ($88,000) in taller entrance gates, a glass-enclosed reception desk, surveillance cameras, and an Arabic-speaking "pool host" to tackle the security problems, things just kept getting worse. In 2005, senior staff member Bertil Lindberg told the local daily newspaper, Sydsvenskan: "Things have escalated this year. Large gangs of 10-20 young people threaten and provoke other guests as well as the staff. They did not come here to swim; they are just looking for trouble."
One of the problems is that young Muslim men refuse to take a shower before bathing, and keep their underwear on under their swim trunks. For obvious reasons, this is not allowed, and when the staff call out the violators on this, trouble and threats ensue. On several occasions, gangs have ambushed staff members on their way home from work, and the company was forced to hire guards to make sure employees get home in one piece. Events reached a climax in 2013, when youth gangs smashed the interior, threw objects in the water and threatened other patrons. Aq-va-kul was closed, and the pool was drained and cleaned of shattered glass. A few days later the pool was reopened, but it closed permanently to the public in 2015. Now the facility has been renovated, but is only open to competitive swimmers and swim clubs.
In Stockholm, the Husbybadet pool in the heavily-immigrant suburb of Husby was the first public pool hit by trouble. In 2007, it was reported that the municipality was forced to build a separate sewage treatment facility, costing millions of kronor. The reason was unusually high levels of nitrogen in the water, because many young people insisted on bathing with their dirty underwear on. The municipality property director told daily newspaper, Dagens Nyheter:
"Nitrogen is food for bacteria and a high nitrogen level produces malodorous air and filthy water. The nitrogen comes from urine and sweat. Quite simply, we have a problem with people keeping their dirty underwear on under their swim trunks. And then they get in the 38-degree [100-degree Fahrenheit] water in the hot tub. It is like sitting in your washing machine's delicates cycle, and we use that water all the time. People should have swimwear on, not bathe in their regular clothes."
The attitude towards nudity in Scandinavia is very different from that in the Middle East. Sweden has many nude beaches, where men and women swim together without a stitch of clothing, without the slightest hint of sexual harassment. In the gender-separated changing rooms at public pools, there is no sign of shyness. Swedish men and women see it as a matter of course to shower and wash properly before getting in the pool, and a couple of decades ago stern overseers even patrolled the changing rooms to check the patrons' shower habits.
In Muslim countries, nudity is an extremely private thing, and one does not willingly take showers with others, not even with members of the same sex. All the public pool personnel with whom Gatestone has spoken confirm that Muslim men and women shower with their underwear on, and then keep them on under their swimwear. Many Muslim women bathe in a so-called burkini, a garment that covers the entire body, so when Muslim men see Swedish women in a bikini, many of them conclude that they must be "easy" women whom one is "allowed" to grope.
In 2015, when roughly 163,000 asylum seekers came to Sweden, the problems at public pools increased exponentially. More than 35,000 young people, so-called "unaccompanied refugee children," arrived -- 93% of whom are male and claim to be 16-17 years old. To prevent complete idleness, many municipalities give them free entrance to the public pools.
During the past few months, the number of reports of sexual assaults and harassment against women at public pools has been overwhelming. Most of the "children" are from Afghanistan, widely considered among the most dangerous places in the world for women. When the daily Aftonbladet visited the country in 2013, 61-year-old Fatima told the paper what it is like to be a woman in Afghanistan: "What happens if we do not obey? Well, our husbands or sons beat us of course. We are their slaves."
To expect men from a culture that views women as men's slaves to behave like Swedish men is not just stupid -- it is dangerous. Mr. Azizi, the manager of a large hotel in Kabul, told Gatestone how an average Afghan man sees sexual attacks on women:
"What the Afghans are doing is not wrong in Afghanistan, so your rules are completely alien to them. Women stay at home in Afghanistan, and if they need to go out they are always accompanied by a man. If you want to stop Afghans from molesting Swedish girls, you need to be tough on them. Making them take classes on equality and how to treat women is pointless. The first time they behave badly, they should be given a warning, and the second time you should deport them from Sweden."
One of the first reported incidents occurred in 2005, when a 17-year-old girl was raped at Husbybadet, in Stockholm. The 16-year-old perpetrator started groping her in the hot tub, and when the girl moved to a cave with streaming water, he and his friend followed her. They forced the girl into a corner, and while the friend held her down, the 16-year-old pulled off the girl's bikini and raped her. During the trial, it emerged that some 30 people had witnessed the attack, but the teenagers continued the rape anyway.
The 16-year-old rapist was sentenced to three months in juvenile detention and his friend was acquitted. The victim was badly traumatized and had to be treated in a psychiatric care facility, after several failed suicide attempts.
Since then, virtually all public pools in Sweden have become dangerous places, especially to women. During the first two months of this year, reports of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment came in rapid succession. A few examples:
In Stockholm, during the first week of January, Sweden's national swimming arena, Eriksdalsbadet, decided to separate men and women in the hot tubs. A controversial decision in Sweden, it came after several incidents in the pools had been reported to the police, mainly in November and December 2015. Conservative Anna König Jerlmyr (moderaterna), Stockholm city Commissioner in Opposition, did not believe that separating men and women was the right way to address the problems: "It is totally unacceptable for a public swimming pool to act this way. This is tantamount to giving in to the sexual harassment and sending signals in favor of a view of women that is utterly reprehensible. More staff, and banning offenders from the premises, would have been preferable," she told the daily, Dagens Nyheter.
Olof Öhman, head of the Sports Administration in Stockholm, told the paper: "There are similar problems at all the public pools in Stockholm, even if most complaints regard Eriksdalsbadet."
On January 14, officials at the Rosenlundsbadet water park in Jönköping reported that they would increase security. According to Operations Manager Gunnel Eriksson, the decision was mainly due to the behavior of a new group of bathers -- unaccompanied refugee boys: "You can tell from their behavior that they come from a different culture; there is a cultural clash. We can see that they react to the undressed bit." The heightened security is also necessary because many of the young migrant men cannot swim, overestimate their abilities, and end up in dangerous situations.
On January 15, a local paper, Kungälvsposten, wrote that two girls had been sexually assaulted in an elevator at the Oasen public pool, in Kungälv. The two suspected perpetrators are "unaccompanied refugee children." Jonas Arngården, Municipal Director of Social Affairs, told the paper: "This shows that we need to step up the work concerning issues of equality and interaction among our new arrivals, in schools as well as at the asylum houses."
The attack caused members of the Nordic Resistance Movement (Nordiska motståndsrörelsen), a supposed neo-Nazi organization, to show up at Oasen on February 13. They put on green shirts with the word "Security Host" (Trygghetsvärd) printed on the back, and "patrolled" the facility.
The municipality had not reacted strongly to the sexual assault, but the visit by vigilantes scared the municipal management, and it immediately called the Oasen management to a meeting. Mayor Miguel Odhner told the daily, Expressen/GT: "It is completely unacceptable to have some kind of disguised vigilantes at municipal pools. It is very, very serious that we have violent extremism vying for greater foothold in our municipality."
The Eriksdalsbadet national swimming arena in Stockholm (left) has become infamous for the many incidents of migrants sexually assaulting women and children at the facility. At the Oasen pool in Kungälv (right), two girls were recently sexually assaulted by "unaccompanied refugee children." In response, members of the "Nordic Resistance Movement" showed up, wearing shirts bearing the label "Security Host" (Trygghetsvärd), and "patrolled" the facility.
On January 18, the management of the Fyrishov public pool, in Uppsala, revealed that in 2015, there were seven reported cases of child molestation at the facility. According to Fyrishov, the suspected offenders are all newly-arrived migrants -- teenage boys who do not speak Swedish. The facility increased security in August, hiring guards and giving the staff stricter monitoring instructions.
On January 21, there were reports that the number of sexual assaults had increased dramatically at the Aquanova adventure pool in Borlänge. In 2014, one case was reported; in 2015, about 20 cases were reported. The incidents involved women having their bikinis ripped off, being groped in the water slide and sexually assaulted in the restrooms. Ulla-Karin Solum, the CEO of Aquanova, told the public broadcaster Sveriges Television that many incidents "are due to cultural clashes."
Aquanova Staff member Anette Nohrén confirmed that all the suspects were born abroad, and complained that "it is a huge problem. It steals the focus from our primary task, which is safety concerns, when we are constantly forced to intervene to try and prevent assaults, and afterwards, to try and figure out what happened."
Aquanova now implemented new rules; among them, that young men from asylum houses need to have a responsible adult accompanying them -- one adult for every three underage asylum seekers. The adult needs to stay with them in the changing room as well as in the pool area.
On January 25, the daily newspaper Expressen revealed that a girl was raped at the now infamous Eriksdalsbadet swimming arena at the beginning of the month. The police will now increase their presence at the facility, and will patrol inside regularly.
On January 26, there were reports that a woman and two girls had recently been sexually assaulted by a group of young men who spoke neither Swedish nor English, at the Storsjöbadet pool in Östersund. Despite the incident, the young men were not removed from the premises -- a lapse the staff later admitted was a mistake.
On January 27, Växjö municipality announced that it plans to hire a security guard to patrol the local public pool, after two 11-year-old girls were sexually assaulted by a group of boys. The boys attacked the girls in an area hidden from the view of lifeguards. Mikael Linnander, father of one of the girls, told the daily, Kvällsposten: "Seven or eight guys attacked the girls. Two of them touched them between their legs and groped their breasts." The abuse did not stop until a woman swimming with her children reprimanded the boys. After the incident, the two boys were barred from the adventure pool area, but were allowed to stay at the facility.
On February 1, local media reported that at least five girls and women had been sexually assaulted at a public pool in Vänersborg during the previous few weeks. The victims were girls under 15, as well as women in their thirties. The police said they had no suspects, but stated that the case had high priority.
On February 25, another sexual assault was reported at the Eriksdalsbadet swimming arena in Stockholm. Police spokesman Johan Renberg told Expressen that a group of girls had found themselves surrounded by some 10 young men who tried to grope them. A staff member saw what was happening and called the police. The girls were able to identify the young men, whose ethnicity the paper did not report. The men were not arrested, but will be questioned at a later time.
Given the recent wave of sexual assaults at public pools, it is something of a mystery why the recently-opened Hylliebadet family adventure pool in multicultural Malmö has not reported any sexual assaults at all. Hylliebadet, which cost 349 million kronor (about $41 million) to build, had a chaotic opening week in August 2015. After only a few days, 27 "incidents" had been reported, but none involved sexual assaults.
"No, I have never heard of anything like that happening here," a Hylliebadet employee told Gatestone. However, when we spoke to other staff members off the record, they told us they had been given strict instructions not to report certain things, and above all, never to mention the ethnicity or religion of those who cause problems at the pool. Another employee told Gatestone:
"Of course we have had incidents here, particularly involving Afghan men groping girls. Not long ago, a man of Arab descent was caught masturbating in the hot tub. But we are not allowed to report things like that. These men understand that it is forbidden when we tell them, but they keep doing it anyway. They just smile and keep on doing it."
It seems unlikely that Swedish politicians will start deporting sex offenders. The politicians seem convinced that some education on "equality" will change the ways of men, who, since childhood, have been taught that it is the responsibility of women not to arouse them -- and therefore the woman's fault if the man feels like raping her. Such a shift in attitude seems as likely as if a Swede visiting Saudi Arabia would suddenly renounce alcohol just because it is forbidden there. The Swede would follow the rules as long as somebody was watching, and then take every opportunity to drink his schnapps, because it is a thousand-year-old Swedish tradition, and something most Swedes feel is agreeable as well as just.
Another public pool employee told Gatestone that the refugee boys frighten away ordinary patrons and that more and more Swedes are now avoiding public pools altogether.
"Even Swedes who have bought expensive season tickets stay away now, because they think the mood is unsettling. Considering that they young asylum seekers get their entrance fee paid by the municipalities, one could rightfully say that tax money is being used to drive away those who would pay."
Ingrid Carlqvist is a journalist and author based in Sweden, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow of Gatestone Institute.