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24 May 2018

Sex without consent is rape, says a new law

A new Swedish law set to change the way rape and other sexual crimes are prosecuted has been promulgated.

It is the first law in the country that acknowledges that sex without explicit consent is rape.

It is a move lawmakers say is “based on the obvious.”

With the passage of the law, Sweden became the 10th country in Western Europe to recognise non-consensual sex as rape.

Others are Iceland, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Belgium, and Germany.

While Finland and Denmark are also considering similar proposals, Norway’s Parliament rejected similar changes to its own laws in April.

On Wednesday, the Swedish Parliament passed the law requiring explicit consent — verbal or physical — from participants before they engage in a sexual act.

Under previous laws, prosecutors had to show that there had been violence, a threat of violence or the exploitation of a victim in a vulnerable state to establish rape.

Beginning on July 1, when the new law comes into effect, a prosecutor will need to simply show that explicit consent was never given.

While some argue that the law will be problematic to enforce, others say the legislation is more about changing the culture.

“These laws are normative — they are expressing what is acceptable in society or not,” said Katarina Bergehed of the Swedish chapter of Amnesty International.

In a country where the number of reported sexual offenses is on the rise, lawmakers hope that the legislation will help change attitudes and curtail sexual assaults.

“This is a modern legislation based on modern relationships,” said Sweden’s justice minister, Morgan Johansson.

“It should sit in the spines of every boy and man in Sweden that this is how it is. That you have to make sure that the one that you intend to have sex with is a voluntary participant.”

The government said in a statement that the new legislation would make it possible to convict more people of sexual abuse than it is now. Lawmakers hope that will lead to an increase in reporting rape.

In 2017, only 60 percent of those who sought medical care at the rape centre at Sodersjukhuset Hospital in Stockholm filed a police report, said Dr. Anna Moller, the head of the centre.

Dr. Moller supports the new legislation and said it reflected the reality of rape.

“The expectation that there should be bruises and clear evidence of physical resistance is also something this legislation moves away from,” she said.

“So, we think it’s natural that only active participation should be interpreted as a yes. Passivity cannot be read as consent.”

Two new crimes — negligent rape and negligent sexual assault — have also been added to the criminal code, for instances when one party goes ahead with a sexual act without consent and where it should be obvious to the offender that consent was not given.

The maximum penalty for negligent rape is four years.

The new legislation is not without its critics. The Swedish Bar Association is against the change.

“We have been very critical because it’s not going to lead to more convictions,” Anne Ramberg, secretary general of the Swedish Bar Association said.

“The new legislation has not lowered the burden of proof, since the prosecutor has to prove that a crime was committed and they have to prove intent.”

The Istanbul Convention, a Council of Europe convention, is the most comprehensive legal framework to tackle sexual violence against women and girls and obliges signatories to ban all non-consensual sexual acts.

A majority of European states that have signed on to the convention, however, have yet to amend their definitions of rape.

The biggest impact of the new Swedish law might be a change in the country’s mind-set about what constitutes rape, but it could also lead to more attackers being prosecuted, said Anna Blus, who monitors rape legislation in Europe for Amnesty International in London.

“In an ideal world, this will lead to more prosecutions and fewer rapes,” said Ms. Blus. “This will take time and training.”

Part of the problem, Ms. Blus said, is that people still see rape as an attack carried out by a person who jumps out of the bushes and leaves signs of physical violence on a victim. In reality, the majority of rapes occur within relationships or are so-called date rapes.

“We need men to understand that if he is unsure, he should either ask or just not go there,” she said.

“We have a saying in Sweden: ‘If she is lying still, it is not her will.’”

According to Wikipedia, in Sweden, the penalty for rape is imprisonment for not less than four and not more than 10 years.

(NYT/DailySabbah)

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