How Sweden could bring in tougher sentences for sex offenders

An inquiry has found it necessary to strengthen the punishments for sexual violations. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT
A new government inquiry suggests locking convicted rapists up for at least three years, one year more than Sweden's current two-year minimum.

The proposal comes after Sweden’s Social Democrat-Green government in January 2020 appointed a commission to look into stricter laws and sentencing of sexual crimes. Led by court of appeal judge Göran Nilsson, the commission included experts from Lund University, the police and the National Board of Health and Welfare, and it presented its findings and final conclusions earlier this week.

It suggests a series of changes, including that sexual crimes that take place remotely, for example on the internet, should be expanded to include a broader definition of the crime. This would mean, for example, that convincing an underage person to commit sexual acts, film them and send to the perpetrator could be classified not only as sexual exploitation, as today, but as sexual assault or even rape.

Other changes include increasing the minimum rape (våldtäkt) sentence from two years’ imprisonment to three years, and increasing the minimum penalty for rape of a comparably less aggravated nature (våldtäkt som är mindre grov) to at least six months in jail.

The commission further suggests increasing the minimum sentence for sexual assault (sexuellt övergrepp) to six months’ imprisonment, and increasing the minimum sentence for rape of a child (våldtäkt mot barn) from two years in jail to three years in jail.

It also suggests increasing the sentence for buying sex from a fine to imprisonment, for up to a year.

Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said the government would next put forward a bill to parliament based on the commssion’s report. There is no clear timeframe for when this will happen, but if parliament gives the green light, the changes could come into force on January 1st, 2023.

It is not the first time Sweden aims to step up its rape laws. In 2020, Sweden saw a two-year rise of 75 percent in convictions, a result which rights campaigners hailed as a success for a law change in 2018 that changed the definition of rape to make all non-consensual sex illegal. 

Previously a factor such as threat, force, or the victim having been taken advantage of in a vulnerable situation (such as under the influence of drugs or alcohol) was necessary for a rape classification. Under the new law, both participants need to have actively signalled consent either verbally or otherwise. With this law, Sweden became the tenth country in western Europe to class non-consensual sex as rape.

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