Cecilia Bödker Pedersen, Secretary-General at Storasyster
Equality Change Makers

Cecilia Bödker Pedersen: the Secretary-General at Storasyster

Cecilia Bödker Pedersen is the Secretary-General at Storasyster. Storasyster is an organization based in Stockholm, Sweden that supports survivors of domestic and sexual violence. They have been working actively to prevent sexual violence and supporting the survivors in Sweden. 


Cecilia joined Storasyster in 2014 as a part-time employee of a newly founded volunteer-based non-profit. Over the next seven years, her dedication, determination and commitment have transformed Storasyster into Sweden’s largest support organization for survivors of sexual violence, which support more than 2,500 survivors a year who otherwise would not have had anyone to turn to.


What we found most incredible in Cecilia’s story was her commitment and her grit. She could have easily moved to a bigger or better organization for her career advancement. But, she chose to stand by Storasyster through thick and thin to ensure her vision becomes a reality. Over the last seven years, she has helped in expanding and deepening the work of Storasyster to evolve it as a national support system for victims/survivors of sexual violence.



Can you please share about your journey at Storasyster?

 Storasyster was founded in 2012 and was run as a volunteer organization for two years. In 2014, the organization got its first grant, which enabled them to hire the first employee who was the founder of Storasyster. When she went on maternity leave in 2014, I came in and took over the organization. I was then employed part-time and we had around 90 volunteers. The first thing I did was to get to know the organization and identify its strengths and weaknesses. I also put up a vision for Storasyster. I wanted it to be a professional support and advocacy organization for victims of sexual abuse – without losing the soul of the organization, which was the volunteer engagement. Storasyster means Big Sister in Swedish. The role of our organization is to be someone you can trust and confide in, someone who believes in you and will stand up for you when you are not able to stand up for yourself.

It has been a challenging, empowering and exciting journey. The hardest part has been to secure funding for the organization, which I think is a problem for small organizations all over the world. We are now nine years into Storasyster’s journey, but still without any reliable funding. That weight gets heavier to carry for each year, as we are now nine employees that I have to find funding for each year. But as the organization is growing and the public knowledge of the organization with it, it’s getting somewhat easier to find different types of funding.


I am just so happy and proud that I dared to take a chance on Storasyster back in 2014, and I have more or less loved every day of the work I have been doing here. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to select some of the smartest people I have met and build the Storasyster team. It’s been a great ride, and I am so proud of the work that we do every day.



What are the primary areas of work of Storasyster? 

 Storasyster is primarily a support organization for people who are or who have been victims of sexual abuse. We take on around 2.500 persons each year in our support functions. Our support functions are open to everyone from 13 years old, regardless of gender identity. We also offer support to relatives of victims of sexual abuse.


We offer support and help online through chat and e-mail services. We also have a Counseling Center in Stockholm where we offer individual counselling, trauma therapy and support groups. In addition to this, we offer accompanying services and legal advice. 


But helping the victims alone will not fix the widespread problem of sexual violence. That is why we use our expertise and experience to advocate gender equality issues and spread knowledge about sexual violence. We deliver talks, publish reports, conduct surveys and advocacy work with the vision of an equal society free from sexual violence to improve the situation for survivors of sexual abuse.



What made you choose to stay with Storasyster for so long?

 As I said earlier, I’ve loved every day of working for Storasyster. It’s a privilege to work for an organization and a cause that I care so deeply about. And to have been able to be a part of the journey that Storasyster has made is just amazing. It’s also been really stimulating to grow with the organization. I’ve done all parts of the job, and my role in Storasyster changes and evolves all the time as well. I have always nurtured a dream of working internationally, but for as long as I’m still in Sweden I can’t think of any other job that I would rather have than being the Secretary-General of Storasyster.



Given that Sweden ranks very high in gender parity in the world, it’s surprising that women in Sweden experience so much gender-based violence and abuse. What is your experience based on working with the survivors for so many years? 


Compared to the situation in many other parts of the world, women living in Sweden might have a more equal standing in society. But I would not say that Sweden is an equal society. We still do not receive the same pay for the same work as men, the business sector is still male-dominated, and we have a huge problem with men’s physical, emotional and sexual violence against women.


Sweden has a population of around 10 million. Last year, over 25,000 sex offences were reported to the police. Almost 9,600 of these were classified as rape. In the annual Swedish Crime Survey, which is an anonymous survey, 5.6% per cent of the respondents stated that they were victims of one or more sexual offences in the last year. If that statistic is accurate, it would mean that more than half a million Swedes were victims of sexual offences in the last year. So the vast majority of sexual offences are never reported to the police.


Over the years, I have gotten some comments and questions about Sweden being the rape capital of the world. I don’t think that is true. I believe that all the equality work and the focus on sexual offences in the last decades have made women more aware of their rights to report these offences and receive support. I also think that our new consent-based legislation and the #metoo movement have made women more prone to recognize the acts of sexual crimes and the importance of reporting them to the police.


So I don’t think that women in Sweden are subjected to more violence than women anywhere else. We might just have a society that is better at recognizing sexual offences for what they are. But of course – one would wish that the violence and abuse would decline given the more equal a society it is. But I don’t think that’s going to happen easily or automatically.



Are you satisfied with the legal system of Sweden against domestic and sexual assaults against women? 

 I am satisfied with the consent-based legislation that we have had for three years now. But I am not happy with the way the legal system works. Only 5 per cent of the reported rape cases lead to a conviction. As I said earlier, most sexual offences are never even reported. We can also see that many investigations concerning rape and other sexual offences don’t receive the resources they need to be solved. Rape cases are often not prioritized and competes for resources with other severe crimes. This leads to longer investigation times and deficient treatment of the victims.


At the moment, we are conducting a large survey and writing a report on how the Swedish legal system is working about sexual offences. We will be presenting our findings in September, and hopefully, our report will help improve the situation for rape victims in Sweden.



What are the primary challenges you face in your work? 

 I would say that funding is the primary challenge. It might be the only challenge at the moment. Storasyster has found its ways of working and the organization is growing and developing. I think, with a feminist government and a strong focus on men’s violence against women, Swedish society is on a road to equality. But to continue to grow and help more victims of sexual abuse, Storasyster does need to find more funding.



What has been the biggest accomplishment of Storasyster so far? 

 It is hard to pinpoint one specific accomplishment. I am very proud of Storasyster and all the work that we do. I am proud of our 140 volunteers who every day support survivors of sexual violence, and I am so proud of our amazing staff who constantly find new ways to fight sexual violence and offer support to the victims.


 Also Read: Gender Inequality in Sweden, A Personal Narrative


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