Sweden’s Sexual Assault Crisis

October 13, 2017

Sweden prides itself on being a beacon of feminism. It has the most generous parental leave in the developed world, providing for 18 months off work, 15 of which can be used by fathers as paternity leave. A quarter of the paid parental leave is indeed used by men, and this is too little according to the Swedish government, which has made it a political priority to get fathers to stay at home longer with their children.

Sweden has never ranked lower than four in The Global Gender Gap Report, which has measured equality in economics, politics, education, and health for the World Economic Forum since 2006. Of all members of Parliament, 44 percent are women, compared to 19 percent of the United States Congress. Nearly two-thirds of all university degrees are awarded to women. Its government boasts that it is the “first feminist government” in the world, averring that gender equality is central to its priorities in decision-making and resource allocation.

But while Swedish women rank among the most equal in the world, they increasingly fear for their physical safety on the streets. Reported sex crimes increased by 61 percent between 2007 and 2016. Meanwhile a rise in gang violence among men–the number of victims injured by gunshots increased by 50 percent between 2004 and 2016–indirectly affects the safety of women. Police admit that rape cases are piling up without being investigated because resources are being drained by gang violence and shootings.

In June, a 12-year-old girl in the small town of Stenungsund reported that she had been dragged into a public restroom and raped by an older boy. Six weeks later the girl had still not been questioned by the police. Even though she believed she had identified the perpetrator, the police had yet to pay him a visit.

“We have so many similar cases,” a spokeswoman of the local police told the Swedish public television channel SVT on September 12, “and there are so few of us, that we simply don’t have the time.” She continued: “We have rape victims three years old,” and even their cases await investigation. Torgny Söderberg, head of the investigation section at the Stockholm police, confirmed the problem on SVT, acknowledging that homicides and attempted homicides draw resources away from rape investigations. “It’s hard to explain why rape cases are piling up awaiting investigation, but the other crimes are even more serious. We are forced to choose between two evils.”

In August of 2016, a woman reported that she had been victim of a gang rape involving ten men in Fittja outside Stockholm. Several suspects were identified early on through forensic evidence and yet it took almost a year until any arrests were made. “I work with rape cases daily, and this is one of the worst rape cases I’ve ever seen,” the victim’s lawyer, Elisabeth Massi-Fritz, told me. “My client has been subject to immense, psychological trauma that will remain with her for the rest of her life. It was nothing short of torture.” And yet, the suspects walked the streets for months before the police found the time to make arrests.

“Unfortunately, the police were too busy and lacked the resources to work the case thoroughly until this spring. Then a number of people were arrested in June,” explained the prosecutor, Markus Hankkio. Ten suspects have now been identified, and the trial will likely begin in October. Over a year after the suspected gang rape, police are now admitting that the same men may have committed more rapes while the police were too busy to investigate this crime, and they are urging other victims to come forward.

Another infamous case in the city of Uppsala became known as the ”Snapchat rape.” Two men filmed their rape of a young girl in real time and then uploaded the video clip to the Snapchat app. Another girl saw the clip, saved it and told her mother, who then alerted the police. It was two months before she was contacted by investigators. “It was terrible, because what you saw in that film, it was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen. And that it was so widely spread, and then that they didn’t get arrested,” the mother told SVT. The two suspects were at long last arrested and convicted of rape, but recent statistics show that this is a rare exception to the norm in Sweden. In 2016, only eleven percent of reported rapes were prosecuted, a decrease from twenty percent in 2014.

For more than a decade, the prevailing perception in Sweden has been that rapes and other sex crimes have not become more frequent in spite of data that suggest the contrary. Instead, rising numbers of reported rapes have been dismissed as an effect of a broadened legal definition in 2005 and 2013, and an increased propensity among women to report crimes. Paradoxically, growing rape numbers have thus been used as proof of Swedish gender equality.

There are, however, reasons to think that there may indeed be a real increase in sex crime. While precise numbers are hard to come by, surveys of victims indicate that the share of women in Sweden stating that they have been victims of sex crime has grown rapidly. Self-reported sex crimes doubled between 2012 and 2015, from 1.4 to 3 percent of the female population. The number of women reporting that they feel unsafe in their own neighborhood has increased to almost one in three—an “alarming” development according to The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), a government agency.

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