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Huge rise in Swedish rape acquittals: study

26 Mar 2012, 08:42

Published: 26 Mar 2012 08:42 GMT+02:00

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A recent master's dissertation in law found that the percentage of rape cases that are acquitted by district courts in Sweden has increased from 22 percent in 2006 to 33 percent in 2010.

"That a very high percentage of acquittals, the highest among all crimes in the criminal code," Katrin Lainpelto, a doctor of procedural law at Stockholm University who reviewed the dissertation author Lina Tengvar, told the TT news agency.

Their explanation for the dramatic increase in acquittals comes from four precedent-setting rulings by the Swedish Supreme Court (Högsta domstolen) which occurred in 2005, 2009, and 2010.

Sweden's lower courts have interpreted these rulings to mean there is now a general standard for supporting evidence required for a conviction in rape cases, according to Lainpelto.

"I question whether the Supreme Court really has a mandate to go out and limit the free review of evidence. Judges may take it to mean they can no longer make their own assessments of the evidence based on their own beliefs" she said.

Rape convictions are already rare in Sweden. In 2010, there were 4,134 rapes reported to police, but only 313 resulted in indictments that were brought to trial, and of that figure, 33 percent were acquitted.

In comparison, other crimes in Sweden have an acquittal rate of only 5 percent, according to the country's chief prosecutor.

Farah, who is in her thirties, was married to a man who she accused of raping her. For her, a conviction was extremely important to move forward with her life.

"I needed it to help put everything behind me, to have confirmation that it wasn't okay. That would have meant everything," she told TT.

But after her husband was acquitted, she has found her confidence in the Swedish legal system has dropped.

"It's seems like, in principle, you need a witness in order for someone to get convicted of rape, and how often is that the case? Children and women are definitely a vulnerable group, even in a legal sense. I didn't think it could be so bad," she said.

At the Swedish Association of Women’s Shelters and Young Women’s Empowerment Centres (Sveriges kvinno- och tjejjourers riksförbund – SKR), there is growing concern as to what the increase in rape case acquittals may mean.

"When you see results like this, it makes us worried that women won't think it's worth reporting attacks," SKR chair Carina Ohlsson told TT.

Story continues below…

Supreme Court Justice Göran Lambertz, who presided over the precedent-setting 2010 rape case cited by the researchers, doesn't think the Supreme Court has placed a general requirement for supporting evidence in rape cases.

"What we've said is that you have to have high standards of evidence in cases involving rape. But the free review of evidence remains in place," he told TT.

TT/The Local/dl


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Your comments about this article

09:13 March 26, 2012 by karex
I believe that a general review of Swedish laws (not only for rape) is in order.
10:25 March 26, 2012 by gpafledthis
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
10:34 March 26, 2012 by queenS
"Sweden's lower courts have interpreted these rulings to mean there is now a general standard for supporting evidence required for a conviction in rape cases"... but it is enough just to claim a rape in order to chase Mr WikiLeaks around the world to bring him back to Sweden?
10:42 March 26, 2012 by dtrocilo
Agree with queenS. And I would add: the Assange case is even worse, as contrary evidences to the rape claim abound.
11:03 March 26, 2012 by Borilla
@queenS and dtrocilo

Poor, poor Assange. They don't want to let him get away with rape so the world must be picking on him. Stig Larssen was right about Men Who Hate Women. Doesn't it bother anyone that there are so many accusations and so few charges, let alone the glaring difference in the number of acquittals? Apparently, rape is not punishable in Sweden unless the rapist takes time to gather a crowd of witnesses. One would suspect that part of the problem of inadequate policing in Sweden is the knowledge on the part of the police that the judicial system will put criminals back on the street without adequate (or any) punishment. The good old boy system doesn't want to make good fellows like Julian Assange suffer just because the woman didn't want to have sex with him.
11:03 March 26, 2012 by Reason abd Realism
4134 reported, 313 trials, 33% acquitals (due to the absence of evidence such as eye witnesses, according to one victim), and so 210 are convicted. This implies a 5% conviction rate vs. the number of reports of rape, and given that more than half of rapes go unreported, there may be as little as a 2% real conviction rate. So possibly about 1 chance in 50 of doing jail time for rape here in Sweden, where violent criminals (and not bankers or CEOs) are the privileged 1%.

With these odds, Assange has very little to worry about. But I agree that his particular case does not appear to match the usual criteria for rape.

Having said that, it is difficult to imagine that the 49 out of 50 rapists who see no jail time all fall into the Assange category.
11:17 March 26, 2012 by RobinHood
The government is waiting for the Assange case to go away. After that, there will be a complete review of Sweden's eccentric sexual offences laws (introduced by a bunch of raving loony feminists back in the days when the Social Democrats were in power).

Some how Sweden has an incredibly low prosecution and conviction rate for rape, but even so, has the the highest number of rapes per capita in the EU. Either there are rapes i(in the proper meaning of the word) behind every bush, ever other day in Sweden, or there is something extremely wrong with the Swedish definition of rape, and the way the police and courts process sexual offences.
11:20 March 26, 2012 by Rishonim
I think that percentage will change the moment the rapist start targeting male judges, their wives and daughters.
11:23 March 26, 2012 by pjtaipale
So they're saying that judges should review and assess evidence according to their "beliefs", not according to what is the law and the established interpretation of law? That doesn't sound like a due process to me. The law and its application should be consistent. Then, if you see that real criminals go unpunished, you should change the law, as the parliament is supposed to do. Not start to change things by having activist judges inserting their beliefs into the system.

I have an alternative reason to why the conviction rate is so low: because of political pressure, prosecutors take to court cases that are impossible to win - the accused cannot be safely convicted based on current law.
11:31 March 26, 2012 by procrustes
What about women who hate men? I have met a lot of those, here. This is an unreported story. Swedish women are set up as sex goddesses from the earliest age, which is fun until they get old enough to resent being objectified: fun becomes hate. Perhaps rape acquittals are due to women abusing rape statues to satisfy vindictive need to hurt any man who doesn't adhere to their wishes.

If a woman is forced to have sex, I believe the Swedish system effectively redresses the violation.
11:36 March 26, 2012 by krow
"But after her husband was acquitted, she has found her confidence in the Swedish legal system has dropped."

It will take alot to prove that the husband really raped her or maybe she was trying to pay him back for something. Turning love to perfect hatred. hmmm
12:02 March 26, 2012 by Liquidmonkey
just tell the court that the rapist has shared 5 movies on the internet.

not only will they be charged but the rapist will go to jail for 20 years instead of just 3.
13:47 March 26, 2012 by zooeden
The cases are gonna explode now cause they included on the menu: one partner sleep rape or 2 partners sleeping rape, the she told me so rape, the too drunk to rape, lambada, telepathy rape and list goes on!!!
14:29 March 26, 2012 by k2kats
In my humble opinion, the courts will not change until public opinion changes.

If the comments on this web site are any indication of public opinion, a widespread education campaign about the crime of rape (e.g. its definition, causes and consequences) is desperately needed.
15:51 March 26, 2012 by Shine your eye
Cant we see the hand writting on the wall? If convictions are dropping it is because women now use rape as a means of settling scores. If you cannot sex well it is rape. If she has sex with a black man and regrets it later it is rape. If you promise to pay after sex and you dont it is rape. Under normal circumstances a man can not rape a woman unless under knife or gun point. Or after serious violent on her.

Rape is forceful penetration against the will of the woman. But the woman will pay her transport to the mans place take off her dress and later on call the police. The girl will invite the man at 12 mid night and call the police at 2 pm what a strange world. And with the huge sex appetite of swedish women, I need to see that husband that will have the Energy satisfy a woman and still force her to get more.
16:07 March 26, 2012 by digitalamish
Alternative Headline: "Huge rise in false rape accusations in Sweden". Food for thought..
17:33 March 26, 2012 by ironman294
you do know that there is another system that needs a witness in order to give credence of rape. Sharia Law. A women needs 3 to 4 witnesses to prove she was raped, but then because women aren't allowed to be around men they are not related to she is accused of whoring and adultery so she gets 39 lashes then.

In other news convicted rapists around the world move to sweden.

How sad for a country that boasts progressiveness and human rights cannot even get something simple like rapists convicted. Disgusting!!!!
18:24 March 26, 2012 by Reason abd Realism
In brutal rape cases with bruises, cuts, etc.. resulting from the struggle against the attacker(s) there is no doubt about the criminal nature of the offense.

'No-means-No' was used to lock up Mike Tyson for years even though the beauty contestant had followed him back to his hotel room, because there were bruises etc... to confirm a struggle.

In cases where there is no clear evidence of physical trauma, or where one accuses the other of requesting very rough sex, and where the accused and victim are known to each other, and there are no witnesses of the actual rape, maybe the only way to clarify guilt vs innocence is with a polygraph test, which, if both parties claim they are telling the truth, both should be willing to take.

This would require that state-of-the-art polygraph testing be ahead of most people's lie-telling techniques, or their ability to train in lie telling before the test is administered. If both appear to be telling the truth from the test then it would be clear that at least one is a skillful liar, and the results of the test would need to be thrown out as evidence. But hopefully this would only occur in a small minority of cases.

Anyway a by-product of the Assange case is that a crystal clear definition of rape in Sweden (however ridiculous the rules of rape might appear to be to some people) will have been fully broadcast to visitors and residents alike. If the Assange team argues that the definiton is ridiculously inclusive ('far too many things can be labelled rape') then maybe they can take this all the way to the Swedish or EU supreme court, if their funding or pro-bono legal resources enables that.
20:34 March 26, 2012 by autonomy
To quote a *slightly* more salubrious journalistic source (the BBC):

"Under Swedish law, there are legal gradations of the definition of rape.

There is the most serious kind, involving major violence.

But below that there is the concept of 'regular rape', still involving violence but not violence of the utmost horror.

And below that there is the idea of 'unlawful coercion'. Talking generally, and not about the Assange case, this might involve putting emotional pressure on someone.

The three categories involve prison sentences of 10, six and four years respectively."

For those commenting here who have their own personal definitions of rape, it might be well to remember that the article is about the legal process and how well or badly it is working in this case.

@#16: I agree it's hard to make an assessment of the severity of the situation without knowing if there is an equivalent statistical increase in the number of reported rapes, but even if there were, that wouldn't necessarily give us a clue of the proportion of fake assertions of rape, or within that the proportion of deliberately fake accusations. I personally have no clear idea of what could constitute "unlawful coercion", but it seems to cover a multitude of sins, and more interestingly to imply the idea of lawful coercion, as in something like:

"...Your honour, I maintain that I lawfully coerced my wife into having sex with me by telling her I would never allow my mother-in-law to visit again unless she did it..." The mind boggles.

@18: totally agree with your comment about the beneficial by-product of the Assange case. What's obviously needed to help both the courts and the victims is a less wishy-washy definition of the crime, not to mention a healthy dose of education for the sexually active population.

The majority of this little micro segment of Joe Public clearly has no clue of the legal definition of rape, so theoretically any of us could be unknowingly perpetrators or victims.
00:47 March 27, 2012 by Grandson of Swedish Emigrants
I think that people need to remember that Assange is being extradited to Sweden for questioning in an aledged rape case.

He offered to be questioned in the UK, but that was not acceptable to the Swedish government.

It is becoming more and more clear that the Assange case is all about politics and about trying to intimidate a whistle-blower. No good deed goes unpunished and Sweden will clearly be seen by the world for "rigging" its judicial system for political purpose. The result is likely that Swedish laws will become the laughing stock of the EU.

As has been said, Sweden really needs to review and reform its justice system. The people need to demand change.
01:59 March 27, 2012 by phil23456
So this is why Swedish women are growing hair under there arms, to make themselves less attractive to rapists. Sweden sounds like the streets are a war zone unsafe for women to walk around, especially native women.
05:34 March 27, 2012 by salescopy
Gee whizz, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this one out.

"rape case acquittals in Sweden have increased dramatically"

That can only mean that the number of rapes have increased dramatically.

We all know why of course but in Sweden it is not policor to say so.

So why don't you Swedes do what you do best.

Sweep the whole sorry mess under the carpet and go back to sleep.
08:42 March 27, 2012 by Reason abd Realism
@ #19

I do not want to downplay the seriousness of rape as a crime that victimizes women, but the 3rd category that you have quoted from the BBC, which can result in up to 4 years of jail time, is, if accurate, utterly ridiculous:

"....Talking generally, and not about the Assange case, this might involve putting emotional pressure on someone."

What ever happened to the responsibility that a woman has to simply dump a guy (even if it is her husband or sambo) if he ever puts emotional pressure on her to have sex? The Swedish system will ensure that this woman (and her children, if she has any) will not starve or freeze to death if she separates from her partner.

Again, not to downplay the severity of conventional rape, but the third category makes about as much sense as locking up the waiter at a fancy restaurant for 4 years if his top recommendation arrives from the kitchen overcooked.

One avenue of appeal that I have not heard anything about would be the Australian embassy. In the same way that the Swedish embassy will intervene if a Swedish national is sentenced to 500 lashes for insulting the relatives of Mohammed, the Australian embassy should intervene if Assange is asked to serve 4 years for what turns out to have been consensual sex with a woman who later decided that she was not impressed that he had another fling on the same trip to Stockholm.
10:11 March 27, 2012 by autonomy
@ #23

I agree that the third category is too broad to be understandable - that was my main point. Since the first two categories explicitly refer to physical violence, there does however need to be a definition of rape where a person forces another person to have sex with them without using violence. To me it's possible to distinguish "force" or "coercion" from "persuasion", and given the legal profession's job is to make such precise distinctions, you'd expect there might be clearer guidance here.

But I do think there's a difference between a risk of being served overcooked food, and a risk of emotional damage to another person... I'm sorry, but that particular parallel does downplay the severity of "conventional" rape.
10:55 March 27, 2012 by Reason abd Realism
@ # 24

My point about the waiter is that the 3rd rape category does NOT fall into the category of conventional rape.

Still with the 3rd category, a person should recognize if she is being coerced into having sex by some sort of emotional blackmail, and should then take it upon herself to express and excersize her right to NOT have sex, and to promptly end the relationship. Most breakups are not emotionallly agreeable, but a breakup is preferrable to emotional damage that she may inflict upon herself by having sex when she does not want to.

Granted that if the guy is a jerk, the situation may then escalate to one of the 1st two rape categories, which deserves severe punishment, but the 3rd category (at least as expressed in the BBC article you quote) remains in the category of emotional 'dirty laundry' that surrounds the end of many relationships.

The government should not wade into the conventional relationship termination business particularly if it empowers one partner to claim emotional blackmail as a mechanism to cause 4 years of jail time for the other party.

Conventional rape is a whole other category which I never intended to trivialize.
11:36 March 27, 2012 by Prestonrobsun
The Assange extradition has little to do with accusations of rape.

He will barely have left the plane from London to Arlanda before he is marched up the ramp onto a white 737 with no markings, bound for Washington.

Sweden is frit of the Yanks.
11:59 March 27, 2012 by autonomy
@ #25

Why are you the self-appointed arbiter of what "conventional" rape is. There is no such thing. The third category is not described as "emotional pressure" but as "unlawful coercion" in the BBC article. That category covers all rapes other than where violence is used as the coercive tactic, and the BBC suggest that therefore it might also cover "emotional pressure".

You seem to be making an assumption that "conventional" rape = violent rape as defined by the first two categories. If a women is coerced into having sex with someone because she feels she may be harmed (physically, emotionally) if she does not comply, then this is defined as rape by the majority of the western world, including Sweden, regardless of whether any violence actually takes place.

It might interest you to know that the proportion of rapes where violence does take place is higher in instances where the perpetrator and victim are either a couple or an ex-couple. For stranger-perpetrated rape, violence occurs in about 25% of cases. It might also interest you to know that one standard piece of advice to women if they find themselves in a situation where they think they are about to be raped is to clearly say no, but not to attempt to struggle or fight. One of the reasons for this is that it's better to be *just* raped than raped and wounded, or raped and killed.
12:40 March 27, 2012 by Reason abd Realism
@ #27

The threat of violence is not traditional breakup territory, as would be cases that involve a teacher or coach and teenaged (or younger) students or athletes even if there is no threat of violence, and I agree these could easily deserve 4 or 6 years in prison. I did not equate 'putting emotional pressure on someone' (BBC) with 'the threat of violence' (your words). Threats of violence are like kidnapping, which are serious offences even if violence does not occur.

My point is that the law should NOT be pulled into is post-breakup revenge scenarios. Web-archive was used to reveal that one of the Assange accusers had posted on myspace or facebook a recipe on how to get back at ex boyfriends, which included reporting them for rape. She spoke to the other girl who had had a fling with Assange and then they both went to the police to report 'rape'. This sounds more like a desire for emotional revenge on a two-timing guy than rape, and should not result in 4 years of jail time, if there was no real emotional harm other than the ages-old lesson that some guys are two-timers.
04:56 March 28, 2012 by strixy
Regarding the case of Assange from what I have learnt, he refused to test himself for HIV after the condom splt. The girl got worried and was advised by the authorities the only way to get the anti-retrovirus treatment free of charge (it is expensive) was to report rape. Sounds realistic but not sure whether it is true.
10:11 March 28, 2012 by Reason abd Realism
@ strixy

The annecdote you wrote makes no sense. No authority would ever advise anyone to report rape and to accuse a particular individual of that rape (with all the criminal implications of that accusation) simply to get a free HIV test.

There cetainly were discussions with the police, but from what I read the accuser who had posted 'revenge advice' on her website on how to get back at ex-boyrfriends was well informed on how to take a complaint to the police, in a way to make it fall under the ultra broad definiton of rape to the Swedish system.

She then informed the other girl on how to do this, and the other girl also spoke to the police, and so there were soon two 'rape' charges against Assange in a matter of hours.
14:07 March 28, 2012 by strixy
Nah, they did not advise her to report rape. She enquired about the anti retrovirus treatment and was advised that it is free ONLY for victims of rape and other accidents (stepping on a needle).

She got annoyed with Assange for sleeping around (maybe she thought he 'would change for her' but he did not).
13:29 April 2, 2012 by jasonpat
These charges are not good for the Swedish society and to stop this crime Sweden law authorities have to take some serious steps, and its a duty of a criminal solicitors to try their best for the victims.
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