• Tuesday, September 2, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Rape, As Sweden Redefines It

    By Andreas Lönnqvist
    STOCKHOLM, Feb 7 (IPS) The number of reported rapes in this Nordic country
    has increased dramatically
    in recent years, especially after the Swedish Sexual Crimes Act was
    reformed in
    2005. This does not, however, necessarily mean that the actual number of
    rapes
    has increased, according to analysts.

    In some international media reports about the accusations against
    Wikileaks
    founder Julian Assange, who is wanted for questioning by the Swedish
    police,
    the Sex Crimes Act has been described as very strict and tough – a
    stand
    supposedly taken by the Swedish government to deal with sexual crimes
    committed by its citizens.

    But according to Mårten Schultz, associate professor at the faculty
    of law at
    Uppsala University, that description is not true.

    "I think it is a bit of a myth that the Sexual Crimes Act is so much
    tougher
    than in most other countries. The truth is that it is not that
    different," Mårten
    Schultz tells IPS.

    In 2005, the definition of rape in the Swedish Sexual Crimes Act was
    broadened to include, for instance, having sex with someone who is asleep,
    or someone who could be considered to be in a "helpless state".
    This applies
    to situations when someone for some reason would not be capable of saying
    "no". A typical situation where the law can be applied is if
    someone very
    drunk at an after-party falls asleep at a couch, and then wakes up and
    realizes that someone is having sex with them.

    That would constitute rape according to the 2005 law, and not "sexual
    abuse",
    which was the case before the law was amended. In this respect the new law
    did not criminalize behaviour that previously had been legal, but rather
    broadened the definition of what constitutes rape to include a larger
    number
    of sexual crimes.

    The fact that the definition had been broadened could soon be seen in the
    rape statistics – the number of reported rapes more than doubled
    between
    2004 and 2009, a year when almost 6,000 cases were reported. According to
    a Crime Survey made by BRÅ, the Swedish National Council for Crime
    Prevention, there were, however, no indications of an increase in the
    actual
    number of people who fell victims to sexual crimes between 2005-2008.

    The increased number of reported rapes has not lead to a similar raise in
    the
    number of convicted rapists. According to Klara Hradilova-Selin, research
    analyst at BRÅ, this can partly be explained by the fact that more
    Swedish
    women now dare to go to the police to report the abuses they have
    suffered.
    This results in a higher number of reports from victims who might not have
    suffered any violence and have no visible injuries, and where there are no
    witnesses – and it’s their word against that of the accused.

    "These crimes are always difficult to investigate, but it is even
    harder if there
    are no injuries or other technical evidence – the kind of cases that
    maybe
    were not reported at all earlier," says Klara Hradilova-Selin.

    The number of unrecorded cases is probably still very high, but she says
    the
    attitudes towards sexual abuse and rape have changed in Swedish society
    during the last ten to 15 years. Rape victims might still blame themselves
    thinking that ‘I should not have become drunk’, or ‘why
    did I wear that short
    skirt’, but it is not as common as before.

    "This has been so widely debated and the attitudes have changed a bit

    which leads to more reports. People have lowered the bar for what they are
    willing to report," says Klara Hradilova-Selin.

    But one relevant question to ask is what really has been achieved if more
    reports are being recorded – while at same time the likelihood that it
    will end
    with a conviction is even less today?

    Last November a governmental commission recommended several changes to
    the legislation, in order to better protect victims of sexual abuses.
    Among the
    proposals is one that aims to broaden the definition of the condition
    "a
    helpless state" for rape victims, to make the application of the law
    more
    efficient. The proposals are now under consideration with several bodies,
    and
    a bill may be ready by 2012.

    Klara Hradilova-Selin says the intention with the Sexual Crimes Act is not
    just
    "to nail people". She says the law also has a normative
    function.

    "It is very important to try to prevent actions, especially when it
    comes to
    these kinds of crimes that are so intertwined with attitudes and values.
    Laws
    have a very symbolic value," she says.

    The debate about the case against Julian Assange has in Sweden led to a
    more
    general discussion about what kind of sexual behaviour is ok, and what is
    not.
    And this is something Klara Hradilova-Selin welcomes.

    "Yes, I have myself been in a debate that was supposed to focus on
    the
    accusations against Assange, but instead it transformed into a larger
    discussion about where the line should be drawn," she says.

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