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HOME > Classical Novels > The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo > CHAPTER 12
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Wednesday, February 19

If Salander had been an ordinary citizen, she would most likely have called the police and reported the rape as soon as she left Advokat Bjurman’s office. The bruises on her neck, as well as the DNA signature of his semen staining her body and clothing, would have nailed him. Even if the lawyer had claimed that she wanted to do it or she seduced me or any other excuse that rapists routinely used, he would have been guilty of so many breaches of the guardianship regulations that he would instantly have been stripped of his control over her. A report would have presumably resulted in Salander being given a proper lawyer, someone well-versed in assaults on women, which in turn might have led to a discussion of the very heart of the problem—meaning the reason she had been declared legally incompetent.
Since 1989, the term “legally incompetent” has no longer been applied to adults.
There are two levels of social welfare protection—trusteeship and guardianship.
A trustee steps in to offer voluntary help for individuals who, for various reasons, have problems managing their daily lives, paying their bills, or taking proper care of their hygiene. The person who is appointed as a trustee is often a relative or close friend. If there is no-one close to the person in question, the welfare authorities can appoint a trustee. Trusteeship is a mild form of guardianship, in which the client—the person declared incompetent—still has control over his or her assets and decisions are made in consultation with the trustee.
Guardianship is a stricter form of control, in which the client is relieved of the authority to handle his or her own money or to make decisions regarding various matters. The exact wording states that the guardian shall take over all of the client’s legal powers. In Sweden approximately 4,000 people are under guardianship. The most common reason for a guardianship is mental illness or mental illness in conjunction with heavy abuse of alcohol or drugs. A smaller group includes those suffering from dementia. Many of the individuals under guardianship are relatively young—thirty-five or less. One of them was Lisbeth Salander.
Taking away a person’s control of her own life—meaning her bank account—is one of the greatest infringements a democracy can impose, especially when it applies to young people. It is an infringement even if the intent may be perceived as benign and socially valid. Questions of guardianship are therefore potentially sensitive political issues, and are protected by rigorous regulations and controlled by the Guardianship Agency. This agency comes under the county administrative board and is controlled, in turn, by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.
For the most part the Guardianship Agency carries out its activities under difficult conditions. But considering the sensitive issues handled by the authorities, remarkably few complaints or scandals are ever reported in the media.
Occasionally there are reports that charges have been brought against some trustee or guardian who has misappropriated funds or sold his client’s co-op apartment and stuffed the proceeds into his own pockets. That those cases are relatively rare may be the result of two things: the authorities are carrying out their jobs in a satisfactory manner, or the clients have no opportunity to complain and in a credible way make themselves heard by the media or by the authorities.
The Guardianship Agency is bound to conduct an annual review to see whether any cause exists for revoking a guardianship. Since Salander persisted in her refusal to submit to psychiatric examination—she would not even exchange a polite “good morning” with her teachers—the authorities had never found any reason to alter their decision. Consequently, a situation of status quo had resulted, and so year after year she was retained under guardianship.
The wording of the law states, however, that the conditions of a guardianship “shall be adapted to each individual case.” Palmgren had interpreted this to mean that Salander could take charge of her own money and her own life. He had meticulously fulfilled the requirements of the authorities and submitted a monthly report as well as an annual review. In all other respects he had treated Salander like any other normal being, and he had not interfered with her choice of lifestyle or friends. He did not think it was either his business or that of society to decide whether the young lady should have a ring in her nose or a tattoo on her neck. This rather stubborn attitude vis-à-vis the district court was one of the reasons why they had got along so well.
As long as Palmgren was her guardian, Salander had not paid much attention to her legal status.
Salander was not like any normal person. She had a rudimentary knowledge of the law—it was a subject she had never had occasion to explore—and her faith in the police was generally exiguous. For her the police were a hostile force who over the years had put her under arrest or humiliated her. The last dealing she had had with the police was in May of the previous year when she was walking past G?tgatan on her way to Milton Security. She suddenly found herself facing a visor-clad riot police officer. Without the slightest provocation on her part, he had struck her on the shoulders with his baton. Her spontaneous reaction was to launch a fierce counterattack, using a Coca-Cola bottle that she had in her hand. The officer turned on his heel and ran off before she could injure him. Only later did she find out that “Reclaim the Streets” was holding a demonstration farther down the road.
Visiting the offices of those visor-clad brutes to file a report against Nils Bjurman for sexual assault did not even cross her mind. And besides—what was she supposed to report? Bjurman had touched her breasts. Any officer would take one look at her and conclude that with her miniature boobs, that was highly unlikely. And if it had actually happened, she should be proud that someone had even bothered. And the part about sucking his dick—it was, as he had warned her, her word against his, and generally in her experience the words of other people weighed more heavily than hers. The police were not an option.
She left Bjurman’s office and went home, took a shower, ate two sandwiches with cheese and pickles, and then sat on the worn-out sofa in the living room to think.
An ordinary person might have felt that her lack of reaction had shifted the blame to her—it might have been another sign that she was so abnormal that even rape could evoke no adequate emotional response.
Her circle of acquaintances was not large, nor did it contain any members of the sheltered middle class from the suburbs. By the time she was eighteen, Salander did not know a single girl who at some point had not been forced to perform some sort of sexual act against her will. Most of these assaults involved slightly older boyfriends who, using a certain amount of force, made sure that they had their way. As far as Salander knew, these incidents had led to crying and angry outbursts, but never to a police report.
In her world, this was the natural order of things. As a girl she was legal prey, especially if she was dressed in a worn black leather jacket and had pierced eyebrows, tattoos, and zero social status.
There was no point whimpering about it.
On the other hand, there was no question of Advokat Bjurman going unpunished. Salander never forgot an injustice, and by nature she was anything but forgiving.
But her legal status was difficult. For as long as she could remember, she was regarded as cunning and unjustifiably violent. The first reports in her casebook came from the files of the school nurse from elementary school. Salander had been sent home because she hit a classmate and shoved him against a coat peg and drew blood. She still remembered her victim with annoyance—an overweight boy by the name of David Gustavsson who used to tease her and throw things at her; he would grow up to be an arch bully. In those days she did not know what the word “harassment” meant, but when she came to school the next day, the boy had threatened revenge. So she had decked him with a right jab fortified with a golf ball—which led to more bloodshed and a new entry in her casebook.
The rules for social interaction in school had always baffled her. She minded her own business and did not interfere with what anyone around her did. Yet there was always someone who absolutely would not leave her in peace.
In middle school she had several times been sent home after getting into violent fights with classmates. Much stronger boys in her class soon learned that it could be quite unpleasant to fight with that skinny girl. Unlike the other girls in the class, she never backed down, and she would not for a second hesitate to use her fists or any weapon at hand to protect herself. She went around with the attitude that she would rather be beaten to death than take any shit.
And she always got revenge.
Salander once found herself in a fight with a much bigger and stronger boy. She was no match for him physically. At first he amused himself shoving her to the ground several times, then he slapped her when she tried to fight back. But nothing did any good; no matter how much stronger he was, the stupid girl kept attacking him, and after a while even his classmates began to realise that things had gone too far. She was so obviously defenceless it was painful to watch. Finally the boy punched her in the face; it split open her lip and made her see stars. They left her on the ground behind the gym. She stayed at home for two days. On the morning of the third day she waited for her tormentor with a baseball bat, and she whacked him over the ear with it. For that prank she was sent to see the head teacher, who decided to report her to the police for assault, which resulted in a special welfare investigation.
Her classmates thought she was crazy and treated her accordingly. She also aroused very little sympathy among the teachers. She had never been particularly talkative, and she became known as the pupil who never raised her hand and often did not answer when a teacher asked her a direct question. No-one was sure whether this was because she did not know the answer or if there was some other reason, which was reflected in her grades. No doubt that she had problems, but no-one wanted to take responsibility for the difficult girl, even though she was frequently discussed at various teachers’ meetings. That was why she ended up in the situation where the teachers ignored her and allowed her to sit in sullen silence.
She left middle school and moved to another, without having a single friend to say goodbye to. An unloved girl with odd behaviour.
Then, as she was on the threshold of her teenage years, All The Evil happened, which she did not want to think about. The last outburst set the pattern and prompted a review of the casebook entries from elementary school. After that she was considered to be legally…well, crazy. A freak. Salander had never needed any documents to know that she was different. But it was not something that bothered her for as long as her guardian was Holger Palmgren; if the need arose, she could wrap him around her little finger.
With the appearance of Nils Bjurman, the declaration of incompetence threatened to become a troublesome burden in her life. No matter who she turned to, pitfalls would open up; and what would happen if she lost the battle? Would she be institutionalised? Locked up? There was really no option.
Later that night, when Cecilia Vanger and Blomkvist were lying peacefully with their legs intertwined and Cecilia’s breasts resting against his side, she looked up at him.
“Thank you. It’s been a long time. And you’re not bad.”
He smiled. That sort of flattery was always childishly satisfying.
“It was unexpected, but I had fun.”
“I’d be happy to do it again,” Cecilia said. “If you feel like it.”
He looked at her.
“You don’t mean that you’d like to have a lover, do you?”
“An occasional lover,” Cecilia said. “But I’d like you to go home before you fall asleep. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning and find you here before I manage to do my exercises and fix my face. And it would be good if you didn’t tell the whole village what we’ve been up to.”
“Wouldn’t think of it,” Blomkvist said.
“Most of all I don’t want Isabella to know. She’s such a bitch.”
“And your closest neighbour…I&r............
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