“Travel warning! Do you know that Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide?” read a huge banner advert created by Turkish newspaper Günes and displayed at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul. Pictures posted on the newspaper's Twitter account were accompanied by the hashtag #DontTravelToSweden.
Ads bashing Sweden at Istanbul airport: “Do you know that Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide?” pic.twitter.com/HO1MM1uusN
— Joseph Willits (@josephwillits) August 19, 2016
The Embassy of Sweden in Ankara responded to the advert by tweeting a link to Sweden's National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå) “in light of reoccurring misconceptions on rape statistics in Sweden”.
It also appeared to respond to claims Sweden had tried to get the headline taken down, tweeting: “Untrue. Sweden is a staunch supporter of freedom of speech and has no interest in removal.”
In light of reoccurring misconceptions on rape statistics in Sweden: https://t.co/ixDU004ycS
— SwedenAnkara (@SwedenAnkara) August 19, 2016
“We have noted this and we can say that this is not the first time such rumours are being spread about Sweden in other countries,” Johan Tegel, a spokesman for the Swedish foreign ministry, told The Local on Friday.
When asked if he was concerned that the claims would harm Sweden's international reputation, he replied: “I would not say concerned, but we always make sure that if there are rumours or questions about Sweden we respond to them.”
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The recent row comes days after Turkey summoned Sweden's ambassador to the foreign ministry after Foreign Minister Margot Wallström accused Ankara of legalizing sex with underage children.
“It is a scandal for a foreign minister to post such a tweet based on false news or speculation,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in televised comments earlier this week, adding that the Swedish envoy had been summoned to his ministry.
Pro-government daily tabloid Günes also sparked controversy earlier this summer when it alleged that a fatal June 3rd bombing in Istanbul was an act of German retaliation linked to a vote in the Bundestag recognizing the Armenian genocide.
Sweden's number of reported rapes is higher than in many other countries, partly because the country records allegations in a different way, tracking each case separately, the Embassy in Ankara wrote in a statement on Friday. 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.
“Criminal statistics are also influenced by reporting rates. In Sweden the authorities make great efforts to encourage victims of sexual offences to report these crimes,” the Embassy wrote.
The number of reported rapes and sexual violence in Sweden went down by 12 percent respectively 11 percent in 2015 on the year before. A total of 18,100 sexual crimes were reported last year, of which 5,920 were alleged rapes, according to Brå statistics.