Sweden now classifies sex without consent as rape

On July 1, Sweden's new law on sexual consent came into force, meaning that having sex with someone who has not given clear consent is now illegal.

Catherine Edwards
Catherine Edwards NewsMavens, Sweden
Sweden now classifies sex without consent as rape - NewsMavens
Hands holding one another. Pixabay

Why this story matters:

Sweden's new law on sexual consent came into effect on July 1. The new law will require those engaging in sexual activity to verbally or cleary otherwise consent to the act. Passive acquiescence is no longer considered a sign of consent.

This means the burden of proof is no longer on the victim and prosecution to prove a rapist's intent: someone could be convicted of rape even without the use of force, threats or intimidation.

The global #MeToo campaign pushed the issue to the fore, but the new law has been in the works for a while. One catalyst was the widely reported 2013 case when three men were acquitted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old as the court ruled it could not prove that they had acted against the victim's will (they were later convicted by an appeals court).

It is hoped that the new law will help to improve the rate of conviction for crimes of sexual assault, with more victims feeling able to come forward, and it has been welcomed by Amnesty International and women's rights groups.

Sweden is now the tenth Western European country to classify sex without consent as rape.

Details from the story:

  • Before the changes to the law, there were cases of people acquitted of rape even when they admitted their victim had said no to sex.
  • Campaigners have also called to change the Swedish term for rape, 'våldtäkt', because 'våld' means 'violence' which is not always a component of rape.
  • Sweden has a relatively high rate of rape compared to its European neighbours, although one big reason for this is differences in how offences are counted.
  • The number of rapes reported to Swedish authorities rose by 10% in 2017
  • The law has its critics, with some arguing that it would be easy for those who do consent to sex to deny it after the fact, and these concerns even prompted a Swedish lawyer to create a smartphone app for people to make a 'contract' with sexual partners to show they were willing participants. 
  • The chairperson of Fatta, an organisation that campaigned for the new law, remarked on the app and said: "[...] With the consent law, everyone is required to take responsibility. It requires us to learn to read situations and ask questions. It's not something an app can solve. This is something that must happen all the time for us to ever reach a culture of consent -- a society free from sexual violence."
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