A recent master’s dissertation in law found that the percentage of rape cases that are acquitted by district courts in Sweden has increased from 22 percent in 2006 to 33 percent in 2010.
“That a very high percentage of acquittals, the highest among all crimes in the criminal code,” Katrin Lainpelto, a doctor of procedural law at Stockholm University who reviewed the dissertation author Lina Tengvar, told the TT news agency.
Their explanation for the dramatic increase in acquittals comes from four precedent-setting rulings by the Swedish Supreme Court (Högsta domstolen) which occurred in 2005, 2009, and 2010.
Sweden’s lower courts have interpreted these rulings to mean there is now a general standard for supporting evidence required for a conviction in rape cases, according to Lainpelto.
“I question whether the Supreme Court really has a mandate to go out and limit the free review of evidence. Judges may take it to mean they can no longer make their own assessments of the evidence based on their own beliefs” she said.
Rape convictions are already rare in Sweden. In 2010, there were 4,134 rapes reported to police, but only 313 resulted in indictments that were brought to trial, and of that figure, 33 percent were acquitted.
In comparison, other crimes in Sweden have an acquittal rate of only 5 percent, according to the country’s chief prosecutor.
Farah, who is in her thirties, was married to a man who she accused of raping her. For her, a conviction was extremely important to move forward with her life.
“I needed it to help put everything behind me, to have confirmation that it wasn’t okay. That would have meant everything,” she told TT.
But after her husband was acquitted, she has found her confidence in the Swedish legal system has dropped.
“It’s seems like, in principle, you need a witness in order for someone to get convicted of rape, and how often is that the case? Children and women are definitely a vulnerable group, even in a legal sense. I didn’t think it could be so bad,” she said.
At the Swedish Association of Women’s Shelters and Young Women’s Empowerment Centres (Sveriges kvinno- och tjejjourers riksförbund – SKR), there is growing concern as to what the increase in rape case acquittals may mean.
“When you see results like this, it makes us worried that women won’t think it’s worth reporting attacks,” SKR chair Carina Ohlsson told TT.
Supreme Court Justice Göran Lambertz, who presided over the precedent-setting 2010 rape case cited by the researchers, doesn’t think the Supreme Court has placed a general requirement for supporting evidence in rape cases.
“What we’ve said is that you have to have high standards of evidence in cases involving rape. But the free review of evidence remains in place,” he told TT.