A Swedish man has been found guilty of raping young girls, including one Canadian victim, strictly on the basis of his threatening and coercive online interactions with them.
Thursday’s verdict against Bjorn Samstrom, 41, marks the sixth time he has been convicted of offences involving forcing minors to perform sexual acts.
The latest case involved allegations of sexual coercion against 27 victims in Canada, the United States and Scotland, according to prosecutor Annika Wennerstrom.
She said court heard that Samstrom would threaten to post photos of the victims on pornography sites or to kill their relatives unless they performed sex acts as he watched from Sweden.
Wennerstrom said Samstrom was found guilty of 59 of the nearly 100 charges he faced, including four counts of aggravated rape of a child. One of those convictions, she said, pertained to a Canadian girl who was 13 at the time.
Samstrom has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for the convictions.
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Wennerstrom said the verdict sets a new precedent for sex crimes perpetrated over the internet.
Despite what she described as a positive outcome, however, Wennerstrom said she plans to appeal the verdict on the grounds that the new precedent may be too stringent.
She said the rape convictions were obtained for situations when the victim was totally alone in a room and being forced to perform particularly explicit sex acts on camera.
She argued the bar needs to be set lower.
“We have penetrations with long durations, and pain, and agony, and the children are afraid, and they cry, and it’s still not enough,” Wennerstrom said of the cases that did not lead to convictions. “So we are not completely content with this outcome because we think that it should be enough.”
Both sides have three weeks to file an appeal, an avenue Samstrom’s defence lawyer suggested he too may choose to pursue.
“He has been convicted of crimes which he does not consider he is guilty of. So it is very possible that he appeals,” Kronje Samuelsson told Swedish news agency TT.
Samstrom admitted coercing the teens – all under age 15 at the time – but denied his actions constituted rape.
Wennerstrom said the ruling is the first of its kind in Sweden, adding she knows of no other countries with a similar conviction on record.
She said Sweden’s highest court had previously ruled that the lesser charge of sexual assault could be committed through the internet, but said no court had convicted someone of rape in the same way until Thursday.
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Under Swedish law, rape doesn’t have to include intercourse, but can be an act considered equally violating.
Wennerstrom said Samstrom had a long history of similar offences dating back to his teens.
She said the latest case marked the sixth time he came before the court, adding his preferred modes of communication have evolved over the years from the telephone to the internet.
“He’s been keeping up with time,” she said of his reliance on technology. “He’s ahead of us, but I’m very pleased that they found him because we need to get him out of the internet for awhile.”
Samstrom lived alone near Uppsala, some 70 kilometres north of Stockholm, at the time of his most recent arrest. The international case came to light when Samstrom was being investigated for another coercion case involving Swedish victims, Wennerstrom said.
During that investigation, she said police found videos at his home of girls speaking English.
Swedish investigators contacted counterparts in Canada, Britain and the United States, who located 18 of the 26 girls and interviewed them. None were present at the trial, but their videotaped testimonies were played in court.
The other nine victims were never identified.