How researchers want to reform Swedish rape law

A government researcher wants to change Sweden's rape laws to cut the number of acquittals.

How researchers want to reform Swedish rape law
An inquiry has been looking into reforming Sweden's rape legislation. Photo: Heiko Junge/Scanpix NORGE/SCANPIX

Sweden's previous centre-right government launched an inquiry in 2014 to find out why the country's relatively high rate of reported rape incidents does not lead to more convictions.

The results of the inquiry will not be officially presented until October later this year, but the head researcher revealed on Tuesday that she and her team are focusing on the issue of consent.

“Today the perpetrator has to have used threats, violence or taken advantage of a person who for example was drunk. Now, it would be sufficient to say no, that a person believes they did not participate voluntarily,” Mari Heidenborg told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.

Many other European nations, for example England and Wales, already have a so-called sexual consent clause built into their rape legislation, but Sweden does not.

Put into very simple terms, while under the current law it is considered rape if the person has said no, a sexual consent clause would indicate rape if the person has not said yes.

“The inquiry is not totally finished yet, but what we can say for now is that we will put forward a proposal that is based on consent, or rather a regulation based on voluntary participation,” said Heidenborg.

The debate gained momentum two years ago following several high-profile cases in which alleged rapists were freed on the basis that they had not knowingly acted against the other person's wishes.

A study by Lund University showed that around 36 percent of all prosecutions led to charges being dropped or the person found not guilty in 2012, compared to 21 percent a decade earlier.

Some observers note Sweden's low alleged-rape-to-conviction rate should be taken with a grain of salt because while the number of reports is higher than in many other countries, this is partly because the country records allegations in a different way, tracking each case of sexual violence separately.

So for example if someone says they were raped by a partner every day for a fortnight, officers will record 14 potential crimes. Elsewhere, many countries would log the claim as a single incident.