Sweden proposes tougher laws on sexual offences

Sweden proposes tougher laws on sexual offences
A file photo of a Swedish law book. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT
UPDATED: After several years of debate in Sweden, proposals for stricter legislation on sexual crimes have today been submitted to the country's minister for justice Morgan Johansson.

A number of acquittals in rape trials in recent years have sparked an intense debate on the subject. In January 2014, several thousand people demonstrated in Stockholm demanding mutual consent be part of sexual offences legislation in Sweden.

In the autumn of the same year, a parliamentary Sexual Offences Committee was formed to review the current laws.

Today, the committee submitted its final conclusion to Sweden’s justice minister. One of the proposals is that sexual abuse which happens online – where perpetrators and victims do not have physical contact – should be assessed as seriously as other sexual abuse.

“The proposals will have a real impact, both on what is criminalized and society’s norms,” committee member Annika Hirvonen Falk told news agency TT.

She believes the most significant change could be alterations to the wording of a section on negligence.

Another proposed change to the law would mean that in the future, prosecutors would not need to prove that a person was consciously looking to commit a serious sexual offence. Instead, it should suffice that the person “should have understood” that is what they were doing when they committed the act.

As The Local reported in September, the changes to the rules on consent could mean, in very basic terms, that while it is currently considered rape if the victim has said no, the new rule would mean that rape has occurred if the person has not said yes.

The changes to consent rules are somewhat contentious, with some lawyers arguing it will not lead to more convictions because it is difficult to prove.

Sexual Offences Committee member Hirvonen Falk thinks the issue of consent is fundamentally important however: “That’s an important part of the legislation and it sends a signal. If we look back to the 1960s it wasn’t considered a crime unless the woman resisted to the utmost. Over time the amount of resistance required was slowly softened. Now we believe that the foundation should be that one participates voluntarily.”

The complete investigation submitted on Wednesday will also include multiple pages of objections from one of the committee’s experts, president of the Swedish Bar Association Bengt Ivarsson.

“Consent regulation combined with the introduction of crimes of negligence means the easing of two pieces of evidence at the same time for prosecutors. That carries an increased risk of innocent people being convicted,” he told TT in August.