World News

Rape Charges Filed in Scandal Tied to Nobel Literature Prize

Posted June 12, 2018 2:43 p.m. EDT

STOCKHOLM — A Swedish prosecutor brought rape charges Tuesday against Jean-Claude Arnault, the man at the center of a scandal that shook international cultural circles and led to the cancellation of this year’s Nobel Prize in literature.

The charges are the first to emerge from a furor that has badly damaged the reputation of the Swedish Academy, the august, 232-year-old body that awards the literature prize, and has prompted power struggles, recriminations and resignations there.

Arnault, 71, has long been a cultural gatekeeper in Sweden and beyond — a French photographer who ran Forum, a prominent cultural center in Stockholm that received financial support from the Swedish Academy. He is married to one academy member, and is close to others.

A number of women have accused him of using his sway in the arts world, including his connections to the academy, to pressure young women in the arts into sex, and have said that some offenses took place at academy-owned apartments in Stockholm and Paris. Many of the accusations concerned incidents too long ago for prosecution under Swedish law.

On Tuesday, the senior public prosecutor Christina Voigt charged Arnault with two counts of rape, both involving the same woman, in relation to incidents in 2011.

“I think my evidence is so good that I have to indict him,” Voigt said.

Arnault’s lawyer, Bjorn Hurtig, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but he has previously denied the allegations against his client and described them as a public “witch hunt.”

Prosecutors charged Arnault with assaulting a woman in October 2011, forcing her to perform oral sex and have intercourse.

“He forced her by grabbing her and holding her very firm on her neck so she couldn’t get away,” Voigt said.

In December 2011, prosecutors said, he raped the same woman while she slept.

“When you’re asleep you are in a helpless state,” Voigt said. “You don’t have the ability to defend yourself.”

The scandal erupted in November, when the newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported on accusations of sexual misconduct against Arnault by 18 women, over three decades, putting him and the Swedish Academy at the heart of Sweden’s most prominent #MeToo episode yet.

One woman, Anna-Karin Bylund, a textile artist, said she had written to the academy in 1996, warning of misconduct by Arnault, but her complaint was ignored.

As a result of the revelations, the academy cut its ties with Forum, Arnault’s cultural club, and police opened a criminal investigation. The academy refused to expel Arnault’s wife, Katarina Frostenson, a well-known poet; instead, members who wanted to play down the scandal ousted Sara Danius, the first woman to lead the academy, from her post.

Several academy members resigned in protest. The panel announced last month that as it tried to get its house in order, it would not award a literature prize in 2018 — the first time in 69 years that a year had been skipped.

“Perhaps justice will finally be served,” Per Wastberg, a member of the academy, said Tuesday, in response to the indictment. “I have believed these 18 women, and have since then heard many more scary witness testimonies.”

Bjorn Wiman, culture editor at Dagens Nyheter, called the indictment a vindication for the women who came forward in November.

“Very few of them have found it worthwhile to file police reports — out of shame, out of fear that he will destroy their careers,” he said.

“It is about a society’s disability to handle these kinds of allegations historically, and this is what this new #MeToo movement was about. It empowered women to come forward to deal with these kinds of harassments that they have been subjected to through the years.”

The Swedish Academy’s decision to delay the Nobel Prize marked an extraordinary reckoning for an institution that has long been admired as one of the world’s most prestigious scholarly bodies, but also criticized as secretive and patriarchal.

The academy could decide in 2019 to award two prizes, one for this year and one for next year — the approach it took in 1950, after skipping 1949. But last month, Lars Heikensten, director of the Nobel Foundation, said in a radio interview there might not be a literature prize next year, either.

Heikensten told the public service broadcaster Sveriges Radio that the prize would “be awarded when the Swedish Academy has won back the public’s trust.”