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Rape in Sweden

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Rape in Sweden

The legal definition of rape in Sweden is described in chapter 6 in the Swedish Penal Code.[1] Historically, rape has been defined as forced sexual intercourse initiated against a woman by one or several men, without her consent.[2] In recent years, several revisions to the definition of rape have been made in Swedish law,[3] to now not only include intercourse, but comparable sexual acts initiated against someone passive—incapable of giving consent—because they are in a vulnerable situation, such as a state of fear or unconsciousness.[4]

In 2015 Sweden opened its first emergency center designed specifically to help male victims of rape and molestation. It has been estimated that almost 1 in 4 Swedish men have experienced forms of sexual violence in their lifetimes, including unwanted contact. And 7 percent of men reported that they had been "made to penetrate" another person. That could mean vaginal intercourse or receiving oral sex against their will.[5]

In 2014, there were 6,700 rapes reported to the Swedish police—or 69 cases per 100,000 population—according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), which is an 11 percent increase from the previous year.[6] The number of convictions has remained relatively unchanged since 2005, with approximately 190 convictions on average each year.[7][8]

There have been several international comparisons made, placing Sweden at the top end of the number of reported rapes. However, police procedures and legal definitions vary widely across countries, which makes it difficult to compare rape statistics.[9][10][11][12] For example, Sweden reformed its sex crime legislation and made the legal definition of rape much wider in 2005,[3][4][9][13] which largely explains a significant increase in the number of reported rapes in the ten-year period of 2004-2013.[14][15] The Swedish police also record each instance of sexual violence in every case separately, leading to an inflated number of cases compared to other countries.[9][12][16] Additionally, the Swedish police have improved the handling of rape cases, in an effort to increase the number of crimes reported.[9][15][17][18]

Raised awareness and a shifting attitude of sexual crimes in Sweden,[note 1][19] which has been ranked as the number one country in gender equality,[20] may also explain the relatively high rates of reported rape.[9][12][21]


The first statutory law against rape in Sweden dates back to 13th century. It was considered a serious crime, punishable by death until 1779.[2] The current Swedish Penal Code was adopted in 1962 and entered into force on 1 January 1965.[22] A long-standing tradition of gender equality policy and legislation, as well as an established feminist movement, have led to several legislative changes and amendments, greatly expanding the definition of rape.[3][23] For example, in 1965 Sweden was one of the first countries in the world to criminalise marital rape.[23] Homosexual acts and gender neutrality was first introduced in 1984,[24] and sex with someone by improperly exploiting them while they are unconscious (e.g. due to intoxication or sleep) was included in the definition of rape in 2005.[4]

This excerpt is an unofficial translation, provided by the Ministry of Justice, of the 2014 legal definition of rape:

In Sweden, case law also plays an important role in setting precedent on the application of the legislation. For example, a 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court decided that digital penetration of the vagina, on a woman who is intoxicated or sleeping, shall be regarded as an sexual act comparable to sexual intercourse, and is therefore an act of rape.[26][27]

Swedish rape statistics

Ever since the collation of crime statistics was initiated by the Council of Europe, Sweden have had the highest number of registered rape offences in Europe by a considerable extent. In 1996, Sweden registered almost three times the average number of rape offences registered in 35 European countries. However, this does not necessarily mean rape is three times as likely to occur as in the rest of Europe, since cross-national comparisons of crime levels based on official crime statistics are problematic, due to a number of factors described below.[12][28][29][30]

There are three types of factors that determine the outcome of crime statistics: statistical factors, legal factors, and substantive factors.[12][28][29] The combined effect of these "make it safe to contend that the Swedish rape statistics constitute an 'over-reporting' relative to the European average", according to a study by Hanns von Hofer, Professor of Criminology at Stockholm University, published by The European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research.[12]

Statistical factors

Unlike the majority of countries in Europe, crime data in Sweden are collected when the offence in question is first reported, at which point the classification may be unclear. In Sweden, once an act has been registered as rape, it retains this classification in the published crime statistics, even if later investigations indicate that no crime can be proven or if the offence must be given an alternative judicial classification.[12][28][29]

Sweden also applies a system of expansive offence counts. Other countries may employ more restrictive methods of counting. The Swedish police registers one offence for each person raped, and if one and the same person has been raped on a number of occasions, one offence is counted for each occasion that can be specified. For example, if a woman says she has been raped by her husband every day during a year, the Swedish police may record more than 300 cases of rape. In many other countries only a single offence would be counted in such a situation.[9][12][16][29][30]

In Sweden, crime statistics refer to the year when the offence was reported; the actual offence may have been committed long before. Swedish rape statistics can thus contain significant time-lag, which makes interpretations of annual changes difficult.[12][29]

Legal factors

The way the crime itself is defined and various related aspects of the judicial process affect the registration of offences in the official statistics.[12][28] The concept of rape can be defined narrowly or in a more expansive manner. In Sweden, the definition of rape has been successively widened over the years, leading to an ever larger number of sexual assaults being classified as rape.[3][14][13][31] For example, in 1992 a legislative change came into force which shifted the dividing line between sexual assault and rape. This legislative change resulted in about a 25% increase in the level of registered rape offences.[12]

Changes in the legal process has also affected the number of reports. Until 1984, rape was only prosecuted in cases where the victim was prepared to press charges, with an additional restriction of a six months time limit. This resulted in numerous cases of rape and sexual assault going unreported.[12]

The Swedish prosecution system is governed by the principle of legality and the "equality principle", which means that as a rule, the police and the prosecution service are required to register and prosecute all offences of which they become aware. This can be assumed to lead to a more frequent registration of offences than in systems with the inverse "expediency principle", where the classification of offences is negotiable on the basis of plea bargaining, and the prosecutor has the right not to prosecute, even when a prosecution would be technically possible.[12][29] English speaking common law countries operate an adversarial system.[32]

Substantive factors

Willingness to report crime also affects the statistics.[28] In countries where rape remains associated with a strong taboo and a high level of shame, the propensity to report such offences probably tends to be lower than in countries characterized by a higher level of sexual equality. A police force and judicial system enjoining a high level of confidence and a good reputation with the public will produce a higher propensity to report crime than a police force which is discredited, inspires fear or distrust.[12]

The findings of the 2000 International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS) indicate that the respondents' satisfaction with the police is above average in Sweden, with almost no experience of corruption.[33] Sweden has also been ranked number one in sexual equality.[20]

International comparison

Widely differing legal systems, offence definitions, terminological variations, recording practices and statistical conventions makes any cross-national comparison on rape statistics difficult. Large-scale victimisation surveys have been presented as a more reliable indicator.[11]

UNODC report

A frequently cited source when comparing Swedish rape statistics internationally is the regularly published report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). In 2012, according to the report by UNODC, Sweden was quoted as having 66.5 cases of reported rapes per 100,000 population,[34] based on official statistics by Brå.[35] This is the highest number of reported rape of any nation in the report. The high number of reported rapes in Sweden can partly be explained by the comparatively broad definition of rape, the method of which the Swedish police record rapes, a high confidence in the criminal justice system, and an effort by the Government to decrease the number of unreported rapes.[note 1][9][10][16][36]

Unreliable data for cross-national comparison

The UNODC itself discourages any cross-national comparisons based on their reports, because of the differences that exist between legal definitions, methods of offense counting and crime reporting.[34] In 2013, of the 129 countries listed in the UNODC report, a total of 67 countries had no reported data on rape.[34][30] Some Islamic countries missing data—for example Egypt—classifies rape as assault.[37][38] A crime survey funded by the UN and published in The Lancet Global Health concluded that almost a quarter of all men admit to rape in parts of Asia.[39][40] Some of the countries with the highest percentage of men admitting rape in that study, China and Bangladesh for instance, are also not listed or have relatively low numbers of reported rape in the UNODC report.[34]

8 out of 10 of the countries with the highest number of reported rape in the 2011 UNODC report were members of Human Development Index. 6 out of 10 countries with the highest number of reported rapes were also in the top of the Global Gender Gap Index rankings.[37]

Victim surveys

Rate of exposure to sexual offences have remained relatively unchanged, while the number of sex crime reports have increased.
  Total number of sex crimes reported*
  Number of reported rape cases*
  Respondents exposed to sexual offences (incl. rape) in annual victim survey, %
*Includes incidents that might have been proven legal after criminal investigation

In Sweden there is a comparatively broad definition of what constitutes rape. This means that more sexual crimes are registered as rape than in most other countries. For this reason, criminologists tend to recommend crime comparisons between countries based on large surveys of the general public, so-called victim surveys.[9][10][11]

The Swedish Crime Survey

The Swedish Crime Survey (SCS) is a recurrent survey by Brå of the attitudes and experiences of the general population regarding victimization, fear of crime and public confidence in the justice system, with an annual sample size of around 15,000 respondents.[41]

The rate of exposure to sexual offences has remained relatively unchanged, according to the SCS, since the first survey was conducted in 2006, despite an increase in the number of reported sex crimes.[42] This discrepancy can largely be explained by reforms in sex crime legislation, widening of the definition of rape,[43] and an effort by the Government to decrease the number of unreported cases.[36]

In SCS 2013, 0.8 per cent of respondents state that they were the victims of sexual offences, including rape; or an estimated 62,000 people of the general population (aged 16–79). Of these, 16 per cent described the sexual offence as "rape"—which would mean approximately 36,000 incidents of rape in 2012. It should be noted that it may be difficult for a layperson to determine whether an incident should be assessed as rape or sexual coercion, which is a similar but lesser offence in the Swedish Penal Code, meaning this number may be exaggerated. On the other hand, relationship rape may also be under-represented, because of how sensitive the issue is. Most of the sexual offences are committed in a public place (50%), and the perpetrator(s) are most often unknown to the victim (63%).[42]

Cases involving male victims and female perpetrators

Despite half of the 1 in 4 Swedish men reporting unwanted sexual contact stated a woman as being the perpetrator, as of 2015 there has never been a single female convicted of a sex crime against a man in the country.[44]

Conviction rate

In 2009, Amnesty International published a report on rape in the Nordic countries, criticizing the low conviction rates in Sweden, citing previously published estimates from Brå of around 30,000 incidents of rape, with less than 13 percent of the 3,535 rape crimes reported resulting in a decision to start legal proceedings and 216 persons convicted in 2007.[45][46]

According to a London Metropolitan University study in 2009, funded by the European Commission Daphne Programme—primarily focused on attrition, the process by which rape cases fail to proceed through the justice system—Sweden had the highest number of reported rapes in Europe (almost twice that of England and Wales, based on 2002-2007 UNODC figures), one of the widest legal definitions, but not the lowest conviction rate. Insufficient evidence was the most frequent reason why cases were discontinued before court (53%).[23][47]

The authors of the study questioned the accuracy of the data provided by the countries reporting low instances of rape. They also noted that a widening of the definition of rape in law; procedural rules which require police to record all reports, a confidence in the criminal justice system and a greater willingness among Swedish women to report rape in relationships could account for the relative high number of reported rapes in Sweden.[23][31][47][48]

The low conviction rate could be explained by the reduced legal distinction between rape and permitted intercourse, leading to greater challenges for the prosecution to prove its case, according Petter Asp, Professor of Criminal Law at Stockholm University.[3]

Unreported cases

According to Brå, it is likely that only around 20 per cent of all rapes are being reported, which was confirmed in a 2001 study of the extent of violence against women, funded by the Government of Sweden and the Crime Victim Compensation and Support Authority.[45][49] This can be compared to a 2007 British Government report, estimating that between 75 and 95 percent of rapes are not reported in the United Kingdom.[50]

False accusation of rape

Sweden has faced a number of cases related to sexual violence that were false accusations of rape. Some of them includes:

  • In 2007, a father was sentenced to five years in prison for raping his daughter, who alleged the sexual abuse began when she was 4–5 years old and continued up until she was 16 years old. The man spent a total of 50 days in custody and he was also ordered to pay his daughter 330,000 kronor in compensation. The charges were later proved unfounded and the woman was charged with making false allegations.[51]
  • In 2008, a woman was sentenced to probation and psychiatric care for a false rape accusation as well as falsely accusing a man for threatening her. The Court ordered her to pay 52,000 kronor to the man whom she accused.[52]
  • In 2015, a woman falsely reported being group-raped in Karlstad; a case that garnered nationwide attention and spurred significant discussions regarding gender-lib, equality, and sociocultural issues in Swedish media outlets. Although rape charges were proven false, no charges were made against the woman.[53]

See also


1.1 2 See National Centre for Knowledge on Men's Violence against Women


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