Swedish police were criticized on Monday after admitting they failed to release information about alleged sexual assaults against women by young immigrants at a Stockholm summer music festival over the past two years.
There were 38 reports of rape and sexual assault filed after the We Are Sthlm festival, which uses the postal abbreviation for Stockholm, in 2014 and 2015, according to police.
The allegations were first made public in a report by the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, citing internal police memos, and the events appear to mirror similar incidents on New Year’s Eve in the German city of Cologne.
“We certainly should have publicly released this information, no doubt. Why it did not happen we simply do not know,” police spokesman Varg Gyllander told AFP Monday.
Police would not say how many men were suspected in the alleged assaults, but DN reported that as many as 50 Afghan refugees who had come to Sweden without their parents were suspected to be involved.
Roger Ticoalu, who heads the city government’s events department, told the AP that a “large part” of those detained were from Afghanistan, many carrying temporary ID cards issued to asylum-seekers.
He said about 20 teenage girls filed complaints of sexual assault and that about 200 suspects were detained and ejected from the festival for sexual assault and other offenses. It wasn’t immediately clear whether any of them were arrested and charged.
Ticoalu said organizers received reports already in 2014 of groups of young men and boys groping girls in a systematic manner. Efforts were put in place, including more security guards, to prevent a repeat in 2015 but instead the problem got worse, he said.
“We’ve always had individual cases” of sexual assault, he said. “But here we have a larger group doing it almost in an organized way. It’s a completely new level of obscenity.”
“You have a large group of boys surrounding the girls,” he said. “They pretend to dance. They come closer and closer. Then they start touching their breasts and genitals. In some cases in combination with theft.”
Ticoalu said organizers had discussed the problem on Swedish Radio before last year’s festival but didn’t alert the public to the incidents taking place once the festival got underway.
“Of course you can say we should have,” he said. “But during this period we had 170,000 visitors in five days. So the situation wasn’t judged as something where the public needed to be informed.”
Documents sent by police to AFP show allegations of 17 sexual assaults and one rape during the 2014 music festival, and 19 sexual assaults and one rape last year.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on Monday was critical of the police and their handling of the incident.
“I feel a very strong anger that young women are not able to go to a music festival without being offended, sexually harassed and attacked,” Lofven told reporters.
“It is a major democratic problem for the whole of our country,” he said of the police failure to release timely information of the incidents to the public.
Authorities have promised a full investigation.
The news emerged after reports of New Year’s Eve attacks in Cologne, where more than 500 women were allegedly sexually assaulted or robbed by men of foreign origin including recently arrived refugees, according to German authorities.