Sometimes, the Internet has a funny way of acting like a giant game of telephone. That's what happened last week when a few popular sites took and ran a story on the country of Sweden being supposedly okay with people pleasuring themselves in public. It seems a few things were lost in translation.
The story began with a 65-year-old man in Sweden who was acquitted of touching himself on a beach and then turned into an orgy of sites falling over themselves to report the Sweden's purported lax masturbation laws. "Public Masturbation Declared Legal in Sweden After Landmark Trial," blares the headline from Gawker, which got some 400,000-plus views. The Daily Mail found the story too, announcing "Swedish court rules it IS legal to masturbate in public."
That isn't exactly true. What both those sites did was run with a mistranslation of the verdict and statement from prosecutor Olof Vrethammar. Vice's Caisa Ederyd, a self-described actual "Swedish person," highlights the differences:
The English translation of Olof's quote, according to the Local: "The district court has made a judgement on this case. With that we can conclude that it is OK to masturbate on the beach. The act may be considered to be disorderly conduct."
The English translation of Olof's quote, according to me, a Swedish person: "The district court has made a judgement on this particular case. Consequently, you CANNOT imply or draw a conclusion that it's OK to masturbate on a beach. This deed could possibly be considered as offensive behavior."
Though those two statements are similar, there's a big difference in what they're trying to say. And the Ederyd's take makes more sense—the first one jumps from the court being fine with a practice into a warning about disorderly conduct. Further, Ederyd asked Chief Judge Lena Egelin at Stockholm's High Court about the case. Egelin's response matches up closer to Ederyd's translation, thus revealing that this case was more an exception than the rule:
Right. So does this case with the 65-year-old masturbating on the beach change anything in Swedish law?
No, definitely not! It's always a matter of evaluation in each case. What has been discussed a lot in Sweden lately are situations where people have masturbated at home and someone has walked by their window and seen them. But in each case it's a matter of evaluation in court.
Thankfully, there are no reports of a spike in Swedish public masturbation (yet).
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.