In 2009, 552 women sought help from women’s emergency shelters in Sweden due to domestic violence, nearly a 10 percent increase from the 515 women who sought help the year before.
The statistics come from a report released on Wednesday by the National Association of Women’s and Young Women’s Shelters (Riksorganisationen för kvinnojourer och tjejjourer – ROKS).
According to ROKS, current regulations make it too easy for men to start relationships with foreign women and bring them to Sweden for the sole purpose of taking advantage of them.
“Today legislation is shaped in a way that makes it entirely possible for men to take woman after woman here despite that he subjects her to serious abuses,” writes ROKS chair Angela Beausang in an article on the opinion website Newsmill.se.
“This must be changed.”
Women caught it in what the group refers to as “wife importing” often lack knowledge about their rights in Sweden and risk being deported if the relationship ends.
According to ROKS, most women who sought help in shelters in 2009 came from Thailand, Iraq or Russia.
They were often lured to Sweden with promises of a better life by a man who talks about having a well paying job, shows pictures of a large house and promises to care for the women once they arrive.
The women often only hold temporary residence permits that are contingent on them maintaining a relationship with the Swedish men who bring them into the country. As a result, the women risk deportation if the relationship ends before the two-year provisional period is over.
However, returning to their home countries is impossible for many women as they have often left everything they have and risk being shunned by relatives in some cases.
According, some women chose to remain in abusive relationships with Swedish men, hoping they can endure the violence long enough to be granted permanent residency in Sweden.
Women who ultimately leave abusive men can apply for an extended residence permit or asylum. The problem, however, is that the level of proof required to apply for a residence permit extension is too high, according to ROKS.
For example, the abuse must take place on repeated occasions, be severe and the relationship needs to have ended in close connection with the violence.
At the same time, the women must also have cohabitated with the abusive men for a sufficiently long time in order for the relationship to have been considered a serious one.
“Women who stay in a relationship in order to meet to cohabitation requirement can, however, be meet with the assessment that the violence must not have been especially severe because she clearly was able to withstand it,” the association wrote in its report.
According to 2010 statistics from the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) on how many people were granted were granted residence permit extensions due to violence, 17 of 18 cases reviewed as of August 2010 resulted in the granting of an extension.
In five cases, the extensions were granted due to the abuse suffered by the women. One women had her claim rejected because the violence wasn’t considered sufficiently severe or recurring.
ROKS compares these 18 cases to the 13,696 women who were granted temporary residence permits in 2009 on the basis of new relationships with Swedish men as well as with the 552 women who sought help from a women’s shelter.
In order to reduce the likelihood of foreign women “being held prisoner” in abusive relationships in Sweden, Beausang wants to see Sweden’s current two-year provisional residency period scrapped.
She also wants to see a review of the requirements for proving that a woman has suffered sufficient abuse in order to be granted a residence permit after an abusive relationship has ended.
ROKS argues that women who move to Sweden should receive better information about their rights in the country.
The group also views as “totally unacceptable” the rise in “serial wife importers” who bring foreign women to Sweden to abuse them before kicking them out and replacing them with a new woman.
Beausang cites an EU directive on family reunifications which was integrated into Swedish law in 2006, arguing that the Migration Board has since stopped taking a close look at relationships in which the couple is already married or living together
While the directive had “good intentions,” according to Beausang, it can’t be changed, but that doesn’t mean that Swedish migration authorities can’t be more thorough in their investigations.