Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Me too five: Swedish Track-and-Field

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During the “me too” campaign, Swedish Track-and-Field hit the spotlight after Moa Hjelmer*, former European Champion, claimed** to have been raped. An investigation into sexual and physical abuse in the area of Track-and-Field was launched, and a report published.

*I have no idea whether she is included among the survey respondents (see below).

**To preempt outbursts from an irrational reader: I have no deeper knowledge of the matter, and neither deny nor confirm the event. However, experience shows that it is very important to approach matters relating to rape, sexual abuse, child abuse, …, agnostically and to use agnostic formulations until considerable proof is present.

At the time, I downloaded the report, fully intending to give it a thorough read and, if needed, comment upon it—but put this off again and again, expecting it to contain dozens upon dozens of pages. It does not…

It has a whopping four (4!) pages and a cover, most of the contents amounting to “look how seriously we take this”.

Looking into what is said about the investigation, I find:

  1. A survey had been sent to 404 Swedish athletes, of which 192 had actually answered.* The survey included both men and women, but neither their absolute numbers nor their proportions are mentioned.**

    *Note, below, that the low answer rate could imply that the percentages claimed in the report could be exaggerated by as much as a factor two for the overall survey addressees, seeing that those who have been victims tend to be disproportionately likely to answer.

    **Some speculation might be possible based on answer rates (or other numbers); however, the claim that 48 % of everyone, 53 % of women, and 48 % of men had answered makes this tricky: Either the rates are misreported or the proportion of male addressees must have been considerably higher than for female addressees. That 192 / 404 is roughly 47.5 % (48 % only with maximal rounding) makes the combination even less plausible.

    The athletes have been pre-filtered with the constraint that they were active in the Track-and-Field national team at some point in the range 2011–2017. While this ensures some degree of currency (and is generally not unreasonable), it could skew the overall results by including many events too far back to describe the current situation—e.g. that someone did a last tour in 2011, at age 35, and describes an event that took place when 15, i.e. around 1991. Here it might have been helpful to include some younger athletes without previous national-team experience and/or to restrict the survey to e.g. events during the last ten years. (Note that at least the “physical abuse” part below appears to be dominated by experiences pre-adulthood.) With regard to an athlete’s younger years, it should also be noted that Swedish Track-and-Field has seen a number of “imports” and that their prior experiences could skew the situation further.

  2. The survey uses the following definitions:

    Sexual abuse (“sexuella övergrepp”): Exposure* to some of the following against own will** (“Utsatthet för något av följande mot egen vilja”):

    *The Swedish original uses a very awkward wording, which is actually only partially reflected in the awkward translation. “Utsatthet” usually refers to a more persistent state and often has further going connotations of e.g. lack of protection than would be expected in this context. (In contrast, a formulation like “att bli utsatt för”/“to be exposed to” would have been more reasonable.)

    **It is not clear from context whether this is restricted to non-consensual activities or whether voluntary-but-reluctant activities are included—be it with regard to the intention of the survey makers or the reading by the survey takers. In another context, I might have given the former interpretation a nod, but in light of the common malpractice of including exactly voluntary-but-reluctant activities into abuse, or even rape, I urge caution. (Also note the absence of references to force and threats.) Similarly, it is not clear how e.g. welcome actions that took place without prior or implied consent are to be handled. No word is said about reasonable expectations of the other party (e.g. when two sexual partners are in bed together and the one makes a grab for the others genitals; cf. the first sub-item).

    • someone has touched your genitals* (“någon har berört dina könsdelar”)

      *It is not clear whether the genitals had to be naked, whether accidental touching is included, and whether non-sexual contacts are included (for instance, should it be considered sexual or physical abuse when someone is kicked in the groin?). An additional danger is that some might misinterpret this to include e.g. breasts or buttocks—a more explicit formulation would have been beneficial.

    • you have masturbated for* someone (“du har onanerat åt någon”)

      *The use of “for” preserves an ambiguity in whether the sense goes in the direction of “giving a hand-job” or “giving a show”. Unlike “to masturbate”, “att onanera” would imply a self-pleasing act (i.e. “giving a show”); however, “åt” points in the other direction (as does the general context).

    • you have had vaginal intercourse (“du har haft vaginalt samlag”)
    • you have had oral sex (“du har haft oralsex”)
    • you have had anal sex (“du har haft analsex”)

    (In the three last items, there is no specification of whether as “top” and/or “bottom”. Both could be intended or the survey could be skewed to exclude many abuses of men, which would not be unprecedented.)

    Physical abuse (“Fysiska övergrepp”): Exposure* to some of the following against own will** (“Utsatthet för något av följande mot egen vilja”):

    *The same remarks as for sexual abuse apply.

    **Somewhat similar remarks as for sexual abuse apply. Consider e.g. someone who gets into a fight with the intent of hurting someone else and is willing to pay the price of some reciprocal damage—but would prefer not to. The practice of hazing poses another problem: While some hazing is entirely involuntary, even physical abuse can occur on a voluntary-but-reluctant basis in other cases.

    • hit her/him* with the hands (“slog till henne/honom med händerna”)

      *Why the perspective has been changed from the first to the third person is unclear. The order of the pronouns is interesting, however, seeing that men are more likely to be victims (both a priori and in light of the actual survey results).

    • kicked, bit, or beat her/him with fists* (“sparkade, bet eller slog henne/honom med knytnävarna”)

      *Attacks like kneeing appear to be excluded. Why this and the above item is divided is unclear; one possibility is that the above item is intended for slapping and poorly formulated.

    • hit her/him with an object* (“slog henne/honom med tillhygge”)

      *“Tillhygge” has no obvious English translation, but would, at least in this context, likely imply any “wielded” object.

    • burned or scalded her/him (“brände eller skållade henne/honom”)
    • tried to suffocate her/him (strangulated*) (“försökte kväva henne/honom (tog struptag)”)

      *It is not clear whether this is an illustration, a clarification, or a restriction. My translation is simultaneously wider and narrower than the original: The original is restricted to using hands, but need not include actual or prolonged strangulation or choking. In both languages some ambiguity as to eventual intent could be present—are we talking e.g. pain, unconsciousness, or death.

    • Attacked her/him physically in another manner* (“angrep henne/honom fysiskt på annat sätt”)

      *This claim is so vague that it invalidates the earlier attempt to restrict, enumerate, whatnot. Either this should have been the whole or it should not have been present at all. I note that e.g. that the common Swedish practice of throwing a team captain into the water-grave for the steeple-chase upon victory could be construed to be included…

    The definitions suffer from a vagueness and completeness problem, and there is no discrimination concerning e.g. severity or who started what. (For instance, if a man jokingly and lightly beats a woman with a rolled up news paper and she retaliates by beating him senseless with a discus, it counts the same.) There is also no information on context (including age of the involved, previous provocation, whether the intent was to protect someone else or to apply discipline, whatnot). A deeper analysis might show further problems*. The definitions are certainly not the conscientious work of a competent scientist.

    *Indeed, I found myself adding new objections every time I read through the lists…

    (I make the reservation that the actual survey might have contained additional clarification. However, it is the responsibility of the report makers to include sufficient context for a reasonable interpretation.)

    Not including a section on emotional violence (and similar types of behavior) seems like a missed opportunity, but is not strictly speaking an error. (And emotional violence has a far greater subjectivity.) I would have let it go unmentioned, except for speculation about mobbing (cf. below) as a motivation for the physical violence, with mobbing usually being more non-physical than physical.

  3. Almost 12 % claimed to have been sexually abused, by the above definitions, independent of a Track-and-Field context. Considering the great vagueness of the overall formulation and the first sub-item of the definition, this number is nothing remarkable and could possibly largely arise even from a significant portion of the survey takers going with a wide interpretation. For instance, more-or-less everyone has at some point had voluntary-but-reluctant sex—and if only 12 % chose a “feminist” interpretation, the entire number is explained in one go.*

    *Note that I am not saying that this was the case—I merely point to the resulting low informative power of the reported number, as well as a fairly wide range of numbers around it, had they occurred instead.

  4. A whopping five (5!) survey takers (or 2.6 %) claim to have been sexually abused in a Track-and-Field context. Of these, two were drunk* and none claims to have talked to the authorities**.*** No statement was made as to which item of the definitions applied—are we talking groping or all-out rape? No statement was made as to the sex of the individuals.

    *Which (a) shows that “Track-and-Field context” (“friidrottssammanhang”) is given a very wide meaning, (b) implies that there is a fair chance that the other party was drunk too, (c) opens the door to the perpetrator being someone from “outside” (e.g. in that a group of team-members went to a party open to non-athletes/non-trainers/non-whatnots, one of which performed the abuse).

    **Which is at least an indication (but not proof) that the events were of a less severe nature. However, possibly indicating severity in two (!) cases: “Shy of half of the exposed claim that the abuse had consequences for their athletic activities; less energy to train, avoided some training elements and worse results during competition”. (“Knappt hälften av de utsatta uppger att övergreppet inneburit följder för friidrottandet; mindre energi att träna, undvikit vissa moment i träningen och sämre resultat på tävling.”) Then again, looking at the original storm, I suspect that much of it was directed at the fear of exactly such cases—and of 404 survey takers and 192 respondents, there were … two.

    ***The report makes several other subdivisions, which, however, are entirely pointless with so small numbers—40 % this, 60 % that, … Also see the “half” in the preceding footnote: Slightly less than half of five persons, implies two persons—why then not just say “two”?!?! The reason is likely that “half” sounds much better… (Or, depending on who is behind the survey, it opens the possibility for a Woozle after dropping context—“in a survey given to 404 athletes, half said that sexual abuse had negatively impacted their training or competing”, which would imply exactly the type of problem scale that the report thoroughly refutes…)

  5. The reporting on physical abuse is confused, but it appears that 8 % of the women and 13 % of the men have been “abused”* by an adult, most usually the father or a teacher, which in the overall context** gives me the impression of disciplinary or order-restoring action, e.g. that someone acted out as a child and received a slap or was forcefully brought to his room.***

    *As will be seen, I have great doubts that the majority of these cases refer to true abuse (but some of them might).

    **Including the above discussion of the definition and the considerably higher rate among male survey takers.

    ***In all fairness, even some such actions could be illegal by Swedish law—but that does not automatically make them abuse or “wrong” in a sense that matters (e.g. by causing lasting physical or emotional pain). We would have to look at the individual cases in detail to determine that.

    44 % of the men and 18 % of the women claim to have been “abused” by a minor, which “could also be interpreted as an indication of mobbing” (“kan även tolkas som indikation för mobbing.”). Yes, it could: It could also be a sign that some kids occasionally got into a fight… (Note the far higher number for the men.)

    Unfortunately, only the age categorization of the “abuser” is mentioned—not of the “victim”. To boot, the “minor” category would need a better subdivision, e.g. to differ between those who might have been in a fight (or mobbing incident, or whatnot) at ages 5, 10, and 17.

    Unlike with sexual abuse, there is no mention of whether a Track-and-Field context was involved in any given case.

All in all: In as far as a problem exists, it is basically unrelated to Track-and-Field, and the Track-and-Field related part of the “me too” storm has obviously taken place in a tea-cup.

Excursion on whom to blame for the report:
In situations like these, it is often hard to tell whether the authors of the report, the survey makers, or other parties yet, are to blame for any specific short-coming. I make no such assignment of individual blame—but I do note that the end result is a complete fiasco not worthy to be considered science.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 12, 2018 at 6:55 am

One Response

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