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?
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?
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?
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?
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?
What has been the biggest accomplishment of Storasyster so far?