After several cases whereby the Swedish courts acquitted rape suspects amid dubious circumstances, the public, activists and politicians alike have raised questions about whether or not the current Swedish legal system essentially legalizes sexual assault rather than defends its victims. Here are two examples of cases that have been widely debated due to court convictions:
- In November of 2013, a foster father was released from suspicion after his foster daughter reported that he had raped her. Even though DNA testing found evidence of the father’s sperm inside his daughter, the court neglected to convict the foster father since he insisted that he had been masturbating in the bathroom, left his sperm on toilet paper and his foster daughter went in after him and wiped herself with the toilet paper. (The court appeals later convicted the foster dad after societal protests and media attention.)
- In May of 2013, three young men were suspected of raping a young girl with a wine bottle and, despite the fact that the men admitted the action, the court failed to convict the accused after the men stressed that they thought the girl wanted the bottle in her vagina. Although the victim claimed to have squeezed her legs together to protect herself against the bottle, the district court dismissed her argument as mere ‘modesty.’ The district court released the men, but they were later convicted in the court appeals. It was with this case in mind that FATTA was born.
In 2012, there were 16,700 reported cases of sexual offences in Sweden and, of these cases, 98% of the offenders are men and 95% of the victims are women. This has put the Swedish sexual assault legalization on the edge. The debate concerning equality, women’s rights and men’s violence against women has risen during the past winter and spring.
The clearest voice in this debate is a campaign called FATTA (Get it! in Swedish), started by a couple of young and inspiring Swedish women.
I got the chance to talk to Ida Östensson, one of the founders of FATTA. Ida and her peers became very emotionally moved and upset over the aforementioned criminal cases in which the Swedish legal system failed to bring justice for the victims. Determined to do something, Ida and her friends collected stories from both male and female victims of sexual abuse and violence in Sweden. These stories became the heart of the FATTA campaign, a campaign built around the idea that a sexual consent law is necessary and that the societal norms that allow sexual violence must change. According to the Swedish legal system, a crime of rape is defined as:
“A person who by assault or otherwise by violence or by threat of a criminal act forces another person to have sexual intercourse or to undertake or endure another sexual act that, having regard to the nature of the violation and the circumstances in general, is comparable to sexual intercourse, shall be sentenced for rape to imprisonment for at least two and at most six years.”
Ida stresses that this definition of rape puts a greater emphasis on the victim’s actions rather than the suspect’s. In the Swedish legal system today, a “No” is not enough evidence to prove violence or threats occurred against a victim of rape or sexual abuse. Ida argues that a consent based law will change focus from the victim’s actions to the suspect’s actions and outline how alleged offenders can ensure consent. A “No” is always a “No” and should be enough.
Although Sweden is famous for its status as a gender equal society, Ida argues that Sweden has a lot to work on when it comes to sexual crimes. She hopes to change the societal norm in which men believe they have the right to women’s bodies by implementing a new sexual consent law. The Swedish state and Swedish legal system needs to show, with a clear statement, that if a person says “No” to sex it means “No” and nothing else. However, Ida clearly underlined the idea that the meaning of “No” should not stop with just a law. If societal norms around sex and women’s rights are supposed to change, we must also talk and educate others about sex and respect at all levels of society.
The FATTA campaign is a step in the right direction. After Ida and her co-partners started the campaign in May of last year, FATTA gained much public support. FATTA works to reach the public through music, cultural events, demonstrations, political discussions and thematic evenings at different clubs and platforms all around Sweden. For example, FATTA has a theme song made by the artists Cleo, Syster Sol, Kristin Amparo and Nasteho Osman. Today, the FATTA campaign is credited for sparking a discussion in the Swedish parliament regarding the possibility of a new sexual consent law. Over the next three years, the FATTA campaign will focus on bringing more men into the conversation with its upcoming FATTA MAN campaign, an initiative to change societal masculine norms.
In my opinion, I think this is an awesome initiative from a couple of young and inspiring women who believe in equality and every person’s right to their own body.
If you are interested in learning more about this campaign, I recommend you to visit their website (in Swedish), or you can watch the talk show stream from Al-Jazeera discussing the sexual consent debate in Sweden.