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Sweden wrestles with legality of underage sex

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17:25 CEST+02:00
Young Swedish teens who engage in consensual sex may find themselves dragged into court due to lingering uncertainties about how to interpret Sweden's child sex laws.

Six years ago, Sweden tightened its child sex laws, criminalising sex involving anyone under the age of 15.

According to Swedish law, the age of consent is 15 and anyone who has sex with someone younger than 15-years-old can be charged with sexual exploitation of a child, or, in more serious cases, child rape.

As a result, even consensual sex between two young teenagers can result in one of the youngsters facing criminal charges

In late July, a 15-year-old boy was convicted for having sex with his 13-year-old girlfriend.

While the boy was acquitted by the district court, an appeals court convicted him of sexually exploiting a child.

While the court expressed little doubt that the young couple had engaged in consensual sex, it ruled that someone under the age of 15 isn't “mature enough to take a more qualified view toward sexual acts”.

Nor did the court believe that the 18-month age difference between the two was insignificant, deciding to sentence the 15-year-old to youth community service and ordering him to pay 15,000 kronor ($2,400) in compensation to the girl.

According to a review carried out by the TT news agency of similar cases involving young teens who have been taken to court for engaging in underage sex, the gender of the alleged offender seems to play a role in how courts treat such cases.

“The propensity to think that an attack has taken place is probably greater when it's the guy that is older,” Petter Asp, a professor of criminal law at Stockholm University, told TT.

“One explanation can be that it conforms more closely to our image of men's and women's sexuality and our expectations of how a sex crime should look.”

In another case, a 15-year-old girl who had sex with two 13-year-old boys was aquitted of all charges after the court ruled that the younger boys actually used the girl to lose their virginity.

In another instance, a girl who was charged with rape for having sex with a boy who was under 15 and several years younger than the girl, was acquitted despite reports that she had coerced the boy to have sex with her.

According to Asp, Sweden's statutes suffer from certain lack of clarity.

“On the one hand, people under the age of 15 aren't supposed to be able to consent to sex. On the other hand, there remains room for taking into account whether consent existed, both through more lenient classifications and through a rule about freedom from responsibility,” he said, referring to rules that absolve a child under the age of 15 from from criminal responsibility.

The confusion around the legality sex between teenagers involving someone under the age of 15 has also caused concern among parents and teens.

“This uncertainty and fear and cause young people to avoid turning to adults for support when they need it,” Maria Bergström of the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education (Riksförbundet för Sexuell Upplysning – RFSU) told TT.

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