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Sweden tests rape law amid surge of attacks

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Sweden tests rape law amid surge of attacks
Swedes protesting the courts' view on sex crimes. File: TT
08:29 CET+01:00
Sweden is set to test its new rape law on a high-profile teen gang rape case, as police and prosecutors warn that young Swedes' attitude toward sex has taken a turn for the worse.

Swedish police have warned of a growing trend of teenage gang rapes, often filmed or photographed on smartphones, as a high-profile case under a new rape law opened in the capital on Tuesday.

In the case before the Stockholm court, three young men are accused of raping a girl, whose age has not been made public, in a forested area south of the capital. The girl was under the influence of drugs, court documents show, and a judge said she was in a "particularly vulnerable situation" due to the number of men involved, who were not known to her.

The trial is the latest in a series of cases of group sex acts involving young Swedes, which has prompted police to raise the alarm about a new trend in gang rapes.

 "We're talking about very young teens," said police inspector Moni Winsnes.

 "They are 14-15 years old. One girl was as young as 12. It goes on in front of their friends, who might even be filming and taking photos."

 Video footage from smartphones is later used to shame and silence victims, or blackmail them into participating in more group sex acts.

 "It can be five guys and one girl, and she is forced to give them oral sex in public... the girl doesn't dare to say no," she said.

This year there have been almost 1,600 cases of sexual assault involving under-18s in Stockholm alone, up from 1,301 the previous year, according to official figures. The number of cases that made it to court in the country as a whole where the victims were 15 to 17 years old almost doubled to 466 from 2011 to 2012.

Sweden has one of the highest rates of reported rape in Europe but police say that can be attributed to a greater willingness to report attacks in recent years. Winsnes and others argue, however, that the figures only reveal part of the picture. They say the attackers often manipulate and threaten younger girls into participating in sex acts and once they are filmed they have control over them.

"It is very widespread and the majority (of victims) are young girls. Their (perpetrators) attitude to sex, sexual abuse, what is right or not, is unfortunately very distorted," said Sanna Bergendahl at Storasyster, a local group working against sexual violence and abuse.

"Many have some kind of idea of how a 'real' rape should look like, that it has to be violent to count as rape."

Nonetheless, not everyone agrees that Sweden has a growing problem.

Per Ullholm, a sex educator at the sexual health association RFSU, said he had not seen "any dramatic change in attitudes towards sexual violence among teenagers," but added that it was important to discuss limits and seek consent before sex. Sweden toughened its rape legislation in July to include victims in a"particularly vulnerable situation", which includes young victims who feel intimidated among a group.

The change came too late for an alleged assault that took place earlier in the summer when six teenage boys were acquitted by a court of appeal for having sex with a teenage girl in a locked room at a party. The girl said that she froze and did not dare resist.

Women's right groups were keeping a close eye on the trial which opened on Tuesday, the most high-profile since the new law came into force, hoping that it would set a precedent and send a clear message to young men. Yet many feel the rewrite has not gone far enough. They called for Sweden to strengthen rape laws further and join other countries such as the UK, Ireland, Norway and Belgium that require explicit consent before a sexual act.

"No men are born to be rapists," said Bergendahl. "They are shaped by society."

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