How do Sweden’s rape statistics compare to Europe?

Sweden has more reported rapes per capita than many other countries, but inconsistencies in reporting rates and the way that crimes of sexual violence are recorded mean that it's hard to interpret the figures.

How do Sweden's rape statistics compare to Europe?
Posters reading 'stop raping' and calling for better prevention of sexual crimes at a Stockholm demonstration.File photo: Bertil Enevåg Ericson / SCANPIX / TT

A new study from Sweden's National Council on Crime Prevention (Brå) looked into reported rapes across Europe, after Eurostat figures showed that between 2013 and 2017 Sweden, together with England and Wales, had the highest number of reported rapes per capita.

“We knew that according to the statistics, Sweden has a very high number of rapes. We were interested in studying that closely and to see if the numbers are comparable from country to country, and we soon recognised that they were not comparable,” researcher Stina Holmberg told The Local. 

“This could have an impact on both women in Sweden and women from abroad, if they feel frightened when really it is not more dangerous to be in Sweden than in many other countries from the perspective of the risk of rape,” she said.

In a Europe-wide crime victim survey, the number of women in Sweden who said they had been raped at some point since the age of 15 was still high at 11 percent, but this was similar to most other northwestern European countries.

Holmberg said there were three key differences in how rapes are reported and recorded which could make it tough to compare countries.

Firstly, there is the question of how to define rape. Sweden recently followed the lead of several other countries in defining all non-consensual sex as rape, and its definition of rape covers acts of sexual violence which are categorised as 'assault' or other crimes elsewhere. According to Brå, around 40 percent of reported rapes in Sweden in 2016 did not involve violence, something which was a requirement for a classification of rape in Spain, for example, up until 2020.

Sweden also counts every incidence of assault or rape as a separate incident, whereas in other countries repeated rape within a relationship are counted as one incident. In the city of Malmö, for example, more than a third of all reported rapes in 2019 could be traced back to one single court case of a man accused of raping another person more than 140 times.

And Sweden's reported rape statistics include every incident where the victim claims to have been raped, unlike countries which only register reported rapes once an investigation is concluded and determines that a rape took place.

Brå's researchers tested the extent to which these factors might skew the reporting rate by recalculating Sweden's rape statistics using the legal and statistical definitions in Germany.

Eurostat figures show that Sweden had 64 reported rapes per 100,000 residents in 2016, compared to 10 in Germany. When Sweden's figures were recalculated using the German definitions, the new figure was 15 reported rapes per 100,000 residents. 

That's still 50 percent more than in Germany, but it would place Sweden around the middle in terms of reported rape in Europe if the same standards were used as in Germany (although without recalculating other countries' statistics using the German definitions).

“Those things are clear mathematics. So we can easily recount the statistics in ways that are more comparable, which we did with Germany. The next question is could there be differences in the propensity to report rape? We cannot know the true amount of rapes, but the difference between many south-eastern European countries [and Sweden, as well as northern European countries] could also be linked to differences in the likelihood to report a crime. Sweden and other countries with a high level of confidence in legal systems and high gender equality have the highest reported rapes,” said Holmberg.

Reporting rates could also depend on how individuals define rape, and in their trust in the authorities.

The researchers carried out the study “to highlight the problems that arise when comparing the statistics from different countries on reported rapes and case outcomes, but also to illustrate how other factors affect the statistics, beyond the actual incidence of rape and the effectiveness of the justice system”, according to a statement from Brå.

The agency added that it hoped the study would “contribute to a more nuanced and fact-based discussion about the numbers of rapes and other sexual offences reported to the police in different countries”.

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Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

A man was shot to death in Kristianstad, Skåne, late on Thursday night. He is the 48th person to be shot dead in Sweden this year, meaning that the previous record for most fatal shootings in one year set in 2020 has now been broken.

Sweden breaks yearly record for fatal shootings

“Unfortunately we can’t say more than that he’s in his twenties and we have no current suspects,” duty officer Mikael Lind told TT newswire.

According to police statistics, this most recent deadly shooting means that 48 people have been shot to death in 2022, meaning that Sweden has broken a new record for deadly shootings per year.

Earlier this week, Sweden’s police chief Anders Thornberg said that this number is likely to rise even higher before the end of the year.

“It looks like we’re going to break the record this year,” he told TT on Tuesday. “That means – if it continues at the same pace – around 60 deadly shootings.”

“If it ends up being such a large increase that would be very unusual,” said Manne Gerell, criminiologist at Malmö University.

“We saw a large increase between 2017 and 2018, and we could see the same now, as we’re on such low figures in Sweden. But it’s still worrying that it’s increasing by so much over such a short time period,” he said.

There also seems to be an upwards trend in the number of shootings overall during 2022. 273 shootings had occured by September 1st this year, compared with 344 for the whole of 2021 and 379 for the whole of 2020.

If shootings continue at this rate for the rest of 2022, it is likely that the total number for the year would be higher than 2021 and 2020. There are, however, fewer injuries.

“The majority of shootings cause no injuries, but this year, mortality has increased substantially,” Gerell explained. “There aren’t more people being shot, but when someone is shot, they’re more likely to die.”

Thursday’s shooting took place in Kristianstad, but it’s only partially true that deadly gun violence is becoming more common in smaller cities.

“It’s moved out somewhat to smaller cities, but we’re overexaggerating that effect,” Gerell said. “We’re forgetting that there have been shootings in other small cities in previous years.”

A report from the Crime Prevention Council (Brå) presented last spring showed that Sweden, when compared with 22 different countries in Europe, was the only one with an upwards trend for deadly shootings.

Temporary increases can be seen during some years in a few countries, but there were no countries which showed such a clear increase as Sweden has seen for multiple years in a row, according to Brå.

The Swedish upwards trend for deadly gun violence began in the beginning of the 2000s, but the trend took off in 2013 and has continued to increase since.

Eight of ten deadly shootings take place in criminal environments, the study showed. The Swedish increase has taken place in principle only among the 20-29 year old age group.

When police chief Anders Thornberg was asked how the trend can be broken, he said that new recruitments are one of the most important factors.

“The most important thing is to break recruitment, make sure we can listen encrypted and that we can get to the profits of crime in a better way,” he said.