The Swedish Law of Sexual Consent

I’ve been watching the interesting Martin Scorsese documentary series on Netflix called ‘Pretend it’s a City.’ The programme is based on a series of interviews with sardonic writer Fran Lebowitz. In one episode, she talks about MeToo, and how when a woman accuses a man of rape the focus has shifted from ‘prove to me that she’s telling the truth’ to ‘prove to me that she’s lying.’

This is merely a change of perspective in most places and not enshrined in law. Except in a few countries, including Sweden. In 2018, a new law was introduced in Sweden – called the samtyckeslag – the Law of Sexual Consent. The basic principle of the law is that sex should be voluntary and that sex without explicit consent is considered rape. This applies whatever the gender.

The Swedish verb for ‘to rape’ is ‘våldta’ which literally translates as ‘to take by violence’. This reflects the previous definition of rape which involved some form of violence, force or threat or that the victim had been in a vulnerable position. An important part of the previous legislation was that the victim decisively said ‘no’. Since 2018, this is not the case.

A crime called ‘negligent rape’ was introduced which is a sexual act that occurs when there has not been an explicit statement of consent, but in which the perpetrator had not intended to commit rape or assault. In other words, before sex there has to be a clear ‘yes’ or active demonstration of consent. If there isn’t, it is rape.

Today, if a woman accuses a man of rape, she does not have to provide evidence that he was violent or coercive, that she had to fight him off or prove that she said ‘no’. The victim does not have to prove she is telling the truth, the accused has to prove she is lying.

The new law has been significant in many convictions in recent years. In one case, the Supreme Court wrote: ‘A person who is subjected to sexual acts against their will does not have any responsibility to say no or express their reluctance in any other way.’

So a ‘yes’ is a ‘yes’. And a lack of a ‘yes’ is a ‘no’

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