Sweden. One new law but more struggle needed

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women – 25th November

By Louise Strömbäck – Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden)

In May of 2018 the Swedish government passed  a new law on sexual consent, meaning that sex must be consensual to be legal. Before the new law, it was up to the victim to prove that it had been involuntary, a major factor allowing almost all rapists to be freed.

The new law defines more sexual acts as criminal and implements two new crimes; negligent rape and negligent sexual abuse. People can be convicted of these crimes even if they didn’t know or claim not to have known that they were doing anything wrong.

The law states: “when evaluating whether participation is voluntary or not it is important whether the voluntariness has been expressed through wording, handling or otherwise”. In other words, it is important to make sure whether or not someone wants to have sex with you before you have sex with them. The new law is a definite improvement on the previous one, and it has led to an increased rate of convictions of rapists. What would previously have been classified as sexual harassment is more often classified as rape today. 

During the first year after the law was passed, six men were convicted of negligent rape, who would probably have walked free before the new law. In 84 different prosecutions, negligent rape has been either the primary or secondary charge. In 45 of the cases, the person being prosecuted was convicted of rape. The number of rape convictions increased from 155 in the year before to 198 during the first year after the law of consent. The number of reported rapes has increased as well, since women now believe they might stand a chance in the courtroom.

When there are articles in the international media commenting on the high  number of rapes taking place in Sweden, there are two short answers. On the one hand, there is a rising awareness, which means that more people are ready to report cases. On the other hand, Sweden is still a society built on oppression. In 2018, 20,4% of women aged from 20 to 24 years reported sexual abuse, compared to six percent amongst women of all ages. 

The law was not handed down to us by politicians from above, but was actually a response to the #MeToo movement, as well as several other movements against sexual violence and for women’s rights.

In 2010, after Julian Assange was accused of raping two women, these women’s stories were heavily questioned by the entire world. This led to a new discussion on why women are always doubted and what actually counts as rape. The hashtag #Prataomdet (talk about it) was started by women who had similar experiences and was used by many women to share their stories. It is important to talk about this issue since it usually concerns a grey area between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.

In 2014 a project called ‘Fatta Man’ (understand, man) was launched. This project had the purpose of making it possible for boys and men to talk about their experiences as perpetrators and take responsibility for and work towards changing the masculine role.

Even before #metoo, there had been demonstrations, seminars and  movements against men’s violence against women which engaged both women and men. With #MeToo, the issue has been  taken up in the workplaces in Sweden, all the trade unions have started to act more directly and three out of four big employers have had to introduce measures.

These are only some examples of the organisations and movements that have worked hard to get where we are now. Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) has always participated in the struggle for women’s rights, as well as launching our own  successful campaigns.

The law in itself doesn’t stop rape from happening. As long as we live in a capitalist, patriarchal society, women will not be free of sexual oppression. A lot of men still feel that they have the right to women’s bodies, because they are being raised to believe that by a patriarchal society. Girls are still taught to be passive and to give space to and please the boys.

Despite the fact that through working class struggle, including that of women, a society that is more equal than it was 40 years ago has been created, there is still systematic and comprehensive discrimination against women. In Sweden, women earn an average of 89 percent of men’s wages (if you take into account that more women work part time, the difference is bigger). Women have poorer health and account for 56 percent of unpaid work at home, according to the latest survey. Over the last 20 years, life expectancy for women without higher education has deteriorated, while it improved for all other parts of society in Sweden.

The welfare system that once was quite well developed and played an important role, especially for working class women, is now under severe attack. Cuts in, for example, elderly care, schools and preschools will be dramatic next year, driven by hypocritical politicians who call themselves feminists. Through struggle, the women’s movement has ensured that protection for victims of men’s violence is now a compulsory municipal responsibility although many of the services are now privatised, reducing their quality. Another problem is that the growing housing shortage is leading to the overcrowding of women’s shelters as it  is difficult to find new housing to move on to.

The struggle to prevent rapes and sexual abuse from happening has to continue. There is a need for an increased fight of working class and women’s movements to stop the demolishing of the welfare sector and instead develop it based on the needs of working class women and men. This has to be an anticapitalist struggle for a socialist society free from oppression.