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Sweden says rape is rape, regardless of force

July 1, 2018

A Swedish law that sex without consent constitutes rape, even when there are no threats or force involved, has gone into effect. The move was welcomed by rights groups including Amnesty International.

A man and woman in a bed
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Wuestenhagen

The new law, which enters into force on July 1, modified previous Swedish legislation necessitating proof that a perpetrator had used force or that a victim was in a vulnerable situation, such as under the influence of alcohol, in order to secure a rape conviction.

The wording states that a person must consent to sexual activity with words or clear body language.

The law was approved in a 257 to 38 vote in May. The Swedish government had presented the bill for a vote despite the advisory Council on Legislation, which studies draft bills, saying that the existing legislation was sufficient.

Silence doesn't mean 'yes'

The new law stops short of making expressed consent a condition for consensual sex but stresses that passivity is not a sign of agreeing to sex.

"If a person wants to engage in sexual activities with someone who remains inactive or gives ambiguous signals, he or she will, therefore, have to find out if the other person is willing," the law read. The Swedish government said the incidence of sexual offenses was rising in Sweden, with young women facing the greatest risk.

The new law introduces two new offenses, "negligent rape" and "negligent sexual abuse," each carrying a maximum prison term of four years. Furthermore, a special "negligence liability" clause will be introduced for specific, serious sexual crimes.

A triumph for women's rights

Tomas Tobe, justice affairs spokesman for the opposition Moderate Party, said his party had voted in favor of the law despite having some initial doubts. One of its concerns was that there was "too strong a focus" on the victim in the draft law, he said, for instance on whether or not they had clearly communicated that they were willing to engage in sexual activity.

However, Tobe told Swedish radio after the vote that the new law could help change attitudes toward women.

Anna Blus, a women's rights researcher for Europe with Amnesty International, said that the change in law would make Sweden "only the 10th country in Europe to recognize that sex without consent is rape."

"Most European countries still define rape based on physical force, threat or coercion, and these outdated definitions have caused immeasurable harm," she stressed.

"While there is still a great distance to travel, we are hopeful that today's decision will herald a Europe-wide shift in legislation and in attitudes."

The rise of the #MeToo campaign has seen calls globally to toughen up existing rape legislation and to reexamine popular views on the concept of consent.

ss/rc (dpa, Reuters)

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