A much-needed change will finally take place in Sweden. On Wednesday, under a new proposal supported by the majority of the Swedish parliament, Sweden's new sexual consent law legally redefines rape. Under this new motion, sex without affirmative consent will be legally categorized as "rape" in the Northern European country. Come July 1, the proposal will officially become law all across Sweden.
Speaking of the proposal, Amnesty International's women's rights senior policy adviser, Katarina Bergehed, wrote on the subject in TIME, "A person needs to agree in words or clearly demonstrate that they want to engage in sexual activity. Passivity is not a sign of voluntary participation."
It may be strange that this change is only taking place in 2018. Previously in Sweden, an alleged case of rape was required to have a threat or element of violence in order to be legally defined as "rape." As Reuters reported in March, present Swedish law on rape requires that the "perpetrator had exploited a victim’s vulnerable situation." As Jezebel noted, this kind of legal definition overlooks the fact that some victims don't fight against rape simply out of extreme and oft-paralyzing fear.
The effort to update the Swedish definition of rape has been going on for years now. In a more recent case, it picked up momentum last year, with support from the Swedish deputy prime minister Isabella Lövin, during the incipience of the #MeToo movement in 2017.
Redefining something so jarring as rape will have social effects, according to analysts, including encouraging more survivors to speak up. Bergehed said that under the new definition of rape, "more rape cases can be prosecuted." There is a reason for this, she wrote, as "under current law, it has to be proven that the perpetrator used force, threats or was taking advantage of a person in a vulnerable situation."
Bergehed brought up a disturbing 2013 case from Sweden wherein three men accused of raping a teenaged girl were acquitted by a Swedish court. The verdict, according to Bergehed, stated, "People involved in sexual activities do things naturally to each other’s body in a spontaneous way, without asking for consent." In response to the court's ruling, activists began the FATTA national campaign, which demanded the Swedish parliament to update its legal definition of rape so as to include affirmative consent.
Although the case took place five years ago, it continues to compel activists in the country to call on for an updated definition of rape. Additionally, Bergehed wrote, the incipience of the 2017 #MeToo movement in the United States seemed to have a transnational effect on Sweden. "Five years on," Bergehed said, "and buoyed by the global #MeToo movement, the campaign achieved its goal Wednesday."
It may be shocking for some to know that Sweden has, until this moment, not included the lack of affirmative consent in its legal definition of rape. But the country is not the only one in this case. Most European countries do not define non-consensual sex as rape.
In the majority of these countries, there must be some element of demonstrable violence or threat in sex for it to be called "rape" in court. European countries that still do not factor affirmative consent in their legal definitions include Norway, Finland, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Spain, Slovakia, France, Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, and others.
The countries that do include lack of sexual consent in their legal definition of rape are Iceland, United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg. In July, Sweden will join their ranks.
In a statement, Amnesty International's Anna Blus said, "Today’s vote marks a huge victory for women’s rights activists in Sweden who have been campaigning tirelessly for this change for more than a decade." But she added, "Shockingly, this change in law will make Sweden only the tenth country in Europe to recognize that sex without consent is rape ... While there is still a great distance to travel, we are hopeful that today’s decision will herald a Europe-wide shift in legislation and in attitudes."