Nordic nations have ‘disturbingly high’ levels of rape despite being gender equality trailblazers, says Amnesty

'Social stigma and a lack of trust in the justice system often mean that women and girls fail to report attacks,' says Amnesty International’s Secretary General

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Wednesday 03 April 2019 17:26
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Nordic nations have ‘disturbingly high’ levels of rape despite being gender equality trailblazers, says Amnesty

Nordic nations have “disturbingly high” levels of rape despite being gender equality trailblazers, according to a new report which also suggested they were failing victims.

Flawed legislation, prevalent harmful myths and gender stereotypes have given rise to endemic impunity for rapists across the region, Amnesty International found.

Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden – four countries which are among the top-ranking countries in the world for gender equality – were all found to have high levels of rape and survivors of sexual violence are being let down by their justice systems.

In Finland, around 50,000 women each year experience sexual violence but there were only 209 convictions for rape in 2017. In the same year, 24,000 women were victims of rape or attempted rape in Denmark, but only 94 people were convicted.

Despite changes in law in Sweden, one in 10 people believe gender-based violence against women is provoked by the victim herself, the report found.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said: “It is a paradox that Nordic countries, which have strong records of upholding gender equality, suffer shockingly high levels of rape."

Social stigma and a lack of trust in the justice system often mean that women and girls fail to report attacks, and those that do, are frequently failed by callous and prejudiced justice systems or outdated laws, she said.

“One survivor told us she would never have reported her rape if she had known how she would have been be treated, and her story is typical in justice systems which are stacked against rape survivors," she added.

Ms Naidoo said that amending rape laws across the Nordic countries was a critical step towards changing attitudes and achieving justice, but much more was needed to effect institutional and social change.

She called on authorities to take steps to challenge rape myths and gender stereotypes at all levels of society. Professionals working with rape survivors need to get adequate ongoing training, she said, adding that broader sex education and awareness-raising programmes were needed from a young age.

Amnesty International noted that although the situation facing survivors of rape is not uniform across the four Nordic countries, there were “disturbing parallels” among them as their criminal justice systems “ignore, deny and tacitly condone” sexual violence against women.

The report entitled Time for change: Justice for rape survivors in the Nordic countries, found gender stereotypes and rape myths underpin attitudes of many people in the justice system in Norway.

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One regional public prosecutor told the authors: “I have had a lot of student cases – decent young men who have done something stupid. It is not easy to convict a student who has come to this city to get a good education and who behaves well in court. He was drunk and horny and has done something stupid.”

They also pointed to to a “disturbing” district court judgment in Finland they analysed where a judge acquitted the defendants in a case of multiple perpetrators.

They said: “The fact that a sexual partner says ‘no, I don’t want to’ before sexual intercourse or between intercourses, is not always a sufficient signal to the other person that consent and willingness to continue sex is not present.”

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