Sweden’s party leaders to discuss measures against male violence after five women killed

The recent killings of five women in Sweden have sparked debate and calls for policy change in the country often lauded for its gender equality.

Sweden's party leaders to discuss measures against male violence after five women killed
A demonstration for justice for victims of male violence held in Stockholm last winter. Photo: Claudio Bresciani / TT

Two of the women were killed in broad daylight, while one was killed at home in the same room as her young baby. Most of the victims have not been named in Swedish media, which is usually due to families not giving consent.

Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and other party leaders condemned the violence, saying that the government and society needed to do more to combat the problem.

“Men who expose women to these appalling crimes must be punished, but male violence against women should not be reduced to individual cases. It is a societal problem that must be fought with the combined power of all of society,” Löfven wrote in a Facebook post.

Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson said the violence was a “great failure on the part of society as a whole”, saying that “first and foremost” harsher punishments were needed for perpetrators.

Center Party leader Annie Lööf criticised her fellow politicians for not being more active in the fight against male violence, writing on social media: “Where is the cry [for change] from society? From my political colleagues? Where are the commissions, the tough measures?”

Sweden’s Equality Minister Märta Stenevi quickly responded, saying on Sunday that she had invited representatives from all Sweden’s political parties to a discussion on male violence against women.

“This violence takes place all the time, every day, behind closed doors and it deserves the same seriousness and the same resources as against gang crime,” she said.

Twenty-five women and 99 men were killed in 2020, according to the National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), and 13 women and four men were killed by a partner or former partner. On average, around 15 women are killed in Sweden each year by a current or former partner; in 2019 the figure was 16, and the year before it was 22. An investigation by the newspaper Aftonbladet has identified 315 cases since 2000 where a woman was killed by her partner or ex-partner.

As well as those cases which end in death, a further 9,000 cases of violence against women were reported to Swedish police in 2020, but the number of unreported incidents is likely much higher. 

A 2014 survey by Statistics Sweden on behalf of the National Centre for Knowledge on Men’s Violence Against Women, found that a total of 14 percent of Swedish women (almost half a million) said they had been exposed to violence or the threat of violence in a relationship. Brå estimates that around 80 percent of cases of violence against women are never reported.

“We have a Vision Zero,” national police chief Anders Thornberg told the TT news agency after the murders.

He said that police already prioritised violence against women, but also said that society at large also needed to step up. “When we call to a press conference on this topic, it’s pretty empty. When we call to a press conference on gang crime, it’s a full house,” he said.

In 2016, the government launched a ten-year strategy to reduce male violence against women, including setting aside millions of kronor to appoint investigators with expertise in male violence and reforming Sweden’s sexual consent law.

Swedish women’s shelter association Unizon has called for permanent state subsidies for women’s shelters, emergency service involvement in municipal work on the issue, and legislative limits on pornography. The Centre, Liberal, Social Democrats and Left Parties have also highlighted the need for fixed, long-term funding of shelters, while the Left Party has called for tracking of domestic violence incidents to map cases when the authorities were contacted beforehand.

Another of Unizon’s suggestions, also backed by the Moderate Party and Christian Democrats, is to further increase the possibility to use electronic tagging when people are issued with restraining orders, not only after it has been violated. Over the past three years, Swedish prosecutors’ statistics show that only 15 perpetrators of violence have been issued with the tags.

One of the issues currently being discussed is restraining orders. Over the past three years, only around a quarter of requests for restraining orders have been approved, and only 

In his Facebook post, Löfven appealed to all men in Sweden to make an effort in tackling violence and misogyny within society.

“In order for male violence against women to stop, it’s men who need to change. Those who expose women to violence are someone’s son, brotheir, friend or colleague. We men in particular need to notice and speak up. We need to talk about what real masculinity is, that it isn’t hitting or abusing. Never accept someone using violence or threats to gain power over the people close to them. Never look away. Never excuse it. Sound the alarm,” he wrote. 

Five women have been killed by men in Sweden in the past three weeks, sparking a debate about partner or ex-partner violence in the country known for its gender equality.

“We have a Vision Zero,” national police chief Anders Thornberg told the TT news agency, after a woman was killed in broad daylight in the city of Linköping, by a man she had had a previous relationship with according to police and prosecutor.

Thornberg said that two years ago, the police authority earmarked 350 million kronor ($41.3 million) to appoint experts to investigate men’s violence against women, but that society at large also needed to step up. “When we call to a press conference on this topic, it’s pretty empty. When we call to a press conference on gang crime, it’s a full house,” he said.

If you need to speak to someone about domestic violence in Sweden, you can contact Kvinnofridslinjen, Sweden’s National Women’s Helpline on 020-50 50 50, or Akillesjouren, a helpline for men suffering from domestic violence, on 08-29 63 99. You do not need to share your identity when you contact these helplines.

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EXPLAINED: What happens when a foreigner gets arrested in Sweden?

It’s a situation nobody ever wants to be in, but what happens if you’re arrested in Sweden? What should you do, and what are your rights?

EXPLAINED: What happens when a foreigner gets arrested in Sweden?

Most of the people who come to Sweden to work, join a Swedish partner, or start a new life are law-abiding folk. Hardly anyone comes with the intention of breaking the law.  But from time to time, due to an accident of fortune or poor decision-making, foreigners end up on the wrong end of the law. 

Pray it never happens but if you are arrested in Sweden, what are your rights? What happens next, and who can help you? 

Whether it’s a traffic accident, misunderstanding, or murder charge, Swedish law follows certain processes upon arrest. 

The first stages 

The first stage of a police investigation is the anmälan, or report. Anyone can report you for committing a crime, regardless of whether they are the victim. The tax agency, for instance, can report you for fraud. If the police catch you doing something illegal, the officer can file a report themselves. 

After the report is registered, someone is appointed to lead the preliminary investigation — a so-called förundersökningsledare or “investigation leader”. The förundersökningsledare can be either a police officer or a prosecutor, depending on how serious the crime is. 

The förundersökningsledare then decides if there is sufficient reason to suspect that you have committed a crime.

There are two grades of suspicion. The lowest level is skäligen misstänkt or “reasonable suspicion”, which means that there are “circumstances which with a certain strength indicate that you has committed the act.  The next level up is på sannolika skäl, or “on probable cause”, that you have committed the act. 

When can you get arrested? 

If the förundersökningsledare has declared you a suspect, a police officer might be sent to arrest you. A police officer can also arrest you on their own initiative if they think that there is a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. 

All it takes to arrest someone in Sweden is for the officer to say “du är gripen“, meaning “you are under arrest”. If you resist,  the officer is permitted to employ as much violence as necessary to get you to the police station. 

If a member of the public observes you committing a crime serious enough to warrant a prison sentence, they are also allowed to arrest you, either while you are committing the crime or fleeing the scene. A member of the public is also allowed to arrest anyone wanted by the police for a crime. 

Not everyone suspected of committing a crime is necessarily arrested. If there is no danger to the public, no risk of you tampering with evidence, and no risk that you might flee, then police can decide to leave you free until you are asked to appear for interview or in court. 

When you are arrested, police will search you for any weapons, drugs or suspicious goods, and may take your telephone if it could contain evidence of a crime, but they will otherwise leave you with your belongings. 

What happens after your arrest? 

If you have been arrested by a police officer who had a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime, you need to be have a formal interview or förhör at the police station as soon as possible. Police may also interview the person who reported you, your alleged victim (the målsägande, which literally means “case owner”), and any witnesses. 

You can only be held at the police station for a maximum of 12 hours before a prosecutor decides whether there is sufficient reason for you to be anhållan, or “held”.  If they decide there is not, then you need to be released. 

If you are held, then you are taken to a cell, where you can be held for a maximum of three days, before which the prosecutor needs to either release you or request that you be häktad, or placed in pre-trial custody. 

When the decision is made to “hold” you, your personal belongings — phone, wallet, keys, etc — are taken from you and stored.

To be placed in pre-trial custody, you have to have committed a crime that can potentially lead to at least one year in prison. The prosecutor must also demonstrate that there is a risk you will tamper with the evidence or flee.

The decision to hold someone in pre-trial custody needs to be made by a judge at a so-called häktningsförhandling, or “detention hearing”. Unlike a full trial, this hearing is decided by a single judge. 

When can you get a defence lawyer? 

You can ask for a defence lawyer as soon as you are arrested. You can request one by name, or request a specific law firm, or, if you don’t know of any specific defence lawyers, just ask the court to appoint one for you. The court can normally contact the lawyer within a few hours, meaning you should ideally have a defence lawyer with you in your first police interview. 

When can you contact your embassy or family? 

The Swedish authorities are legally obliged to inform national embassies of the arrest of one of their citizens, and will normally do so themselves automatically, according to the British Embassy’s guideIf they do not do so, you can request that they do. 

You can ask the police at any time if you want to make a telephone call, but unlike in the UK or US, you have no right to make a phone call. It is up to the discretion of the prosecutor whether to allow you one, and very often they deny it. 

Most embassies have an urgent number people who are arrested can call. The UK’s line is +46 (0) 8 671 30 00 / +44 1908 51 6666, France’s is 0851992349, Germany’s is +46708529420. 

In practice, it is much better to ask your defence lawyer to contact your embassy, or to request that you can make a phone call. 

Friends and relatives of people who have been arrested can also contact their embassy for them, so that the embassy can find out where they are being held and any details of the suspicions against them. 

What can your embassy do? 

Most European embassies will work with defence lawyers to ensure that their citizens are treated well. 

“The Embassy provides impartial, non-judgemental assistance to British citizens who have been arrested or are in jail in Sweden,” a UK embassy spokesperson told The Local. We aim to make sure they are treated properly in line with Swedish regulations, and no less favourably than other prisoners.”

The first stage of this is a consular visit, which most European embassies generally aim to make within about 24 hours of being notified of your arrest. 

If you request it, your embassy will normally be able to inform your next-of-kin in your home country of your arrest. 

Unless you request otherwise, most embassies will also keep the fact that you have been detained and what the charges are confidential. 

How long can I be held before my trial? 

Perhaps the most criticised aspect of the Swedish justice system is the length that suspects can be held in pretrial detention, while the police and prosecutor carry out their investigations. The system has been criticised by the  United Nations Committee Against Torture, the Council of Europe.

The only limit is that Sweden’s Supreme Court has held that the detention must be reasonably proportional in relation to what may be gained from it (NJA 2015 s. 261) and the injury to the defendant.

In theory, there is no limit to the length of time a suspect can be held in pre-trial detention, so long as the custody is extended by a judge every 14 days. So far the record is a little over four years or being held without trial, and suspects are frequently held for over a year before a court rules on their case. 

There is no bail system in Sweden. 

What restrictions can I be under while in pre-trial detention? 

Prosecutors in Sweden often impose restrictions on those in pre-trial detention on the grounds that otherwise the defendant might change their story or tamper with the evidence. Critics often accuse police of imposing excessive restrictions to break suspects, pushing them to give details of the crime to reduce the time until their trial. 

Restrictions might include stopping suspects from being able to: 

  • receive or send letters without them first being inspected by the prosecutor
  • receive visits without special permission from the prosecutor
  • receive or make phone calls without special permission from the prosecutor
  • watch TV, listen to the radio and read newspapers
  • interact with other inmates

You always have the right to contact your lawyer, a member of consular staff (in special circumstances you may be allowed contact with family). You can also see a priest or other representative of a religious order.  

When will I go to trial? 

When the prosecutor has amassed enough evidence that they feel that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, they will issue an åtal, or prosecution document, after which the court will set a date for the trial. 

Prosecutors will only do this if they judge that there is tillräckliga skäl för att väcka åtal, “sufficient cause for laying charges”. If they do not, the will end the investigation without laying charges, at which point you must be released.