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How common is rape in Sweden compared to other European countries?

18 January, 2011
Sweden's broad definition of rape means that more sexual crimes are registered as rape than in most other countries. However, a European victim survey does not put Sweden at the top of the list.
In Sweden there is a comparatively broad definition of what constitutes rape. This means that more sexual crimes are registered as rape than in most other countries. A comparative victim survey between European countries does however not put Sweden at the top of the list.
Rape is a crime that strongly violates integrity, and must be taken very seriously. Therefore we must also be responsible when using figures that describe rape. Currently, there is a discussion about the level of rape in Sweden compared to other European countries, where the discussion is based on statistics about reported crimes.

Within established research about levels of crime and crime development, people are agreed that it is not possible to evaluate and compare the actual levels of violent crimes (such as rape) between countries by comparing the number of crimes reported to the police. This is because there are significant differences between the judicial systems of countries and systems for creating statistics showing crimes reported to the police.

Broader definition and extensive registration


Firstly, in Sweden there is a noticeably broad definition of what constitutes rape. This means that more acts in Sweden are regarded and registered as rape than in the majority of other countries. Secondly, in Sweden a lot of effort is made to register all cases that can be suspected to be rape. As this is done at a very early stage of the process, cases are included that later turn out to be some other sex crime, or even no crime at all. In addition to this, all individual acts are registered — not just the latest occasion or the main crime. In many other countries cases like these are filtered out and do not show up in the statistics.

And it is not only in the area of rape where these differences are noticeable. Sweden stands out within the entire area of crimes against the person in particular, because the registration of crime is more extensive than in the majority of other countries in Europe. This forms the background to, for example, the fact that ten times as many cases of assault are registered in Sweden as in Greece.

Exposure to sex crimes average


Instead of looking at the statistics for crimes reported — which in any case merely show a proportion of the actual number of crimes — criminologists instead recommend comparisons between countries based on large surveys of the general public, so-called victim surveys. Sex crimes, such as rape, are in themselves not easy to investigate using victim surveys, as they relate to sensitive experiences and because the attitude to sex crimes varies between countries.

But in the victim survey that exists that permits basic comparison between levels of exposure to sex crimes in ten European countries, Sweden does not top the list, as in the reporting statistics. Instead, Sweden is around the average mark, which is also the case for assaults and threats, despite the fact that compared to other countries, we have many such crimes reported. However, the fact that we are not any worse than many other countries does not mean that the situation is good. If any rape is committed, the level is too high.

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