Nobel Panel Admits Inquiry Found Sexual Misconduct, but Nothing Illegal
Posted April 20, 2018 4:12 p.m. EDT
STOCKHOLM — The panel that awards the Nobel Prize in literature acknowledged on Friday the “unacceptable behavior in the form of unwanted intimacy” by a major cultural figure with close ties to the group, but said its members were not aware of any illegal conduct.
Engulfed in a scandal over allegations of sexual assault against Jean-Claude Arnault, the panel, the Swedish Academy, said that it was turning some of the results of an investigation over to law enforcement. It was the first collective statement made by the academy, whose ability to function has been badly shaken after five of its members resigned over the handling of the investigation.
Last November, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported that 18 women had accused Arnault of sexual assault and harassment over more than two decades.
Arnault, a noted photographer, is married to a member of the academy, Katarina Frostenson — together, they own Forum, a club in Stockholm that is a cultural hub for Sweden — and is close to other members. He was accused of using his proximity to the academy, and his status as an influential cultural arbiter, to abuse women artists in properties owned by the academy in Stockholm and Paris.
The police are still investigating some of the accusations made in the Dagens Nyheter article. Bjorn Hurtig, Arnault’s lawyer, has said that his client “denies all charges directed at him.”
The Nobel Foundation and even the king of Sweden have said that the scandal threatened to sully the reputation of the Nobel Prizes as a whole.
After the allegations became public, the academy ended the group’s work with Arnault and hired a law firm to conduct an investigation. The academy did not make the firm’s report public, but described some of its findings Friday.
Perhaps most damaging, the investigation showed that a woman wrote to the academy in 1996 to complain of Arnault’s conduct, but the matter was not pursued.
“The Swedish Academy is deeply sorry that the contents of the letter was put aside,” the statement said.
The author of the letter, Anna-Karin Bylund, has said that Arnault had raped her in his apartment in the early 1990s, when she was preparing for an exhibit of her artwork at Forum. But in her 1996 letter, she did not describe the incident as rape.
In addition, the investigation found that the academy had violated its own rules by providing financial support to Forum, co-owned by one of its members, and it confirmed that Arnault had repeatedly leaked the names of literature prize winners, usually a closely held secret. It said he did not have any influence on Nobel Prize decisions.
The investigation sought to discover what members of the academy knew about the accusations of misconduct by Arnault. The group said that Arnault’s activities were “not generally known in the academy,” and that members were not aware of anything that could be considered criminal.
This month, three members of the academy resigned when the panel refused to oust Frostenson.
Instead, last week, the academy removed Sara Danius — who had commissioned the law firm’s investigation and tried to bring more transparency to the panel’s work — from her position as permanent secretary. Danius, 56, the first woman to serve as the academy’s chief officer since it was created in 1786, remained a member of the academy. But she decided to end her association with the academy altogether. Frostenson also agreed to end her work with the academy.
Elise Karlsson, a writer and one of the 18 women who spoke out in the Dagens Nyheter exposé, said Friday that the academy was not doing nearly enough to repair the situation.
“On the one hand, this press statement says that they take sexual harassment very seriously, and on the other hand they don’t seem to want to take any measures to discourage the things that have come to light,” Karlsson said.
The ouster of Danius prompted a deluge of protest and support for her. Last Friday, many Swedish women — and some men — around Sweden wore pussy-bow blouses, Danius’ signature garb, or scarves and posted selfies on social media platforms.
On Thursday, hundreds of people in such blouses demonstrated outside the building where the academy holds its weekly sessions.
“Resign, all of you!” demonstrators yelled. They waved signs that read “The sisterhood sees you!” and “Crush the patriarchy. Together we make a difference.” Cecilia Ohman, 50, said the dismissal of Danius amounted to a woman taking the fall for a man’s bad behavior. “The question isn’t any bigger than that,” she said. “We have had enough, quite simply.”
James Wood, a famous literary critic, also expressed his support for Danius, telling Dagens Nyheter that her removal was “a backlash from the trenches of male privilege.”
“Who wants to accept this year’s prize from a reduced, badly wounded and ill-famed group?” he asked.
One problem faced by the academy that is now being addressed by Sweden’s king is that its appointments are for life, and it has no mechanism for allowing people to leave or replacing them.
It has 18 seats in all, but after the recent resignations, it has only 11 active members, eight men and three women. That is one short of the 12-member quorum needed to elect new members.
King Carl XVI Gustaf has said that he would amend the Swedish Academy’s rules to make it possible for members to leave voluntarily.