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How Sweden could bring in tougher sentences for sex offenders

A new government inquiry suggests locking convicted rapists up for at least three years, one year more than Sweden's current two-year minimum.

How Sweden could bring in tougher sentences for sex offenders
An inquiry has found it necessary to strengthen the punishments for sexual violations. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

The proposal comes after Sweden’s Social Democrat-Green government in January 2020 appointed a commission to look into stricter laws and sentencing of sexual crimes. Led by court of appeal judge Göran Nilsson, the commission included experts from Lund University, the police and the National Board of Health and Welfare, and it presented its findings and final conclusions earlier this week.

It suggests a series of changes, including that sexual crimes that take place remotely, for example on the internet, should be expanded to include a broader definition of the crime. This would mean, for example, that convincing an underage person to commit sexual acts, film them and send to the perpetrator could be classified not only as sexual exploitation, as today, but as sexual assault or even rape.

Other changes include increasing the minimum rape (våldtäkt) sentence from two years’ imprisonment to three years, and increasing the minimum penalty for rape of a comparably less aggravated nature (våldtäkt som är mindre grov) to at least six months in jail.

The commission further suggests increasing the minimum sentence for sexual assault (sexuellt övergrepp) to six months’ imprisonment, and increasing the minimum sentence for rape of a child (våldtäkt mot barn) from two years in jail to three years in jail.

It also suggests increasing the sentence for buying sex from a fine to imprisonment, for up to a year.

Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said the government would next put forward a bill to parliament based on the commssion’s report. There is no clear timeframe for when this will happen, but if parliament gives the green light, the changes could come into force on January 1st, 2023.

It is not the first time Sweden aims to step up its rape laws. In 2020, Sweden saw a two-year rise of 75 percent in convictions, a result which rights campaigners hailed as a success for a law change in 2018 that changed the definition of rape to make all non-consensual sex illegal. 

Previously a factor such as threat, force, or the victim having been taken advantage of in a vulnerable situation (such as under the influence of drugs or alcohol) was necessary for a rape classification. Under the new law, both participants need to have actively signalled consent either verbally or otherwise. With this law, Sweden became the tenth country in western Europe to class non-consensual sex as rape.

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

What’s the Swedish Christian Democrats’ abortion contract all about?

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden's Christian Democrats on Monday presented an "abortion contract", which she wants all of Sweden's party leaders to sign. What's going on?

What's the Swedish Christian Democrats' abortion contract all about?

What’s happened? 

Ebba Busch, leader of Sweden’s Christian Democrat party, called a press conference on Monday in which she presented a document that she called “an abortion contract”, which was essentially a pledge to safeguard the right of women in Sweden to have an abortion.  

“There is room for signatures from all eight party leaders,” she said. “I have already signed on behalf of the Christian Democrats.” 

What does the so-called “abortion contract” say? 

The document itself is fairly uncontroversial.

It states simply that Sweden’s law on abortion dates back to 1974, and that it grants women the right to an abortion up until the 18th week of pregnancy, with women seeking abortions later in their pregnancy required to get permission from the National Board of Health and Welfare. 

“Those of us who have signed this document support Sweden’s abortion legislation and promise to defend it if it comes under attack from forces both within our country and from outside,” the document reads.  

Why have the Christian Democrats produced it? 

The decision of the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs Wade, and so allow US states to ban abortion has aroused strong feelings in Sweden, as elsewhere, and Busch is seeking to send a strong signal to distance her own Christian party from the US religious right. 

Abortion has been a recurring issue within the Christian Democrats with several politicians and party members critical of abortion. 

Lars Adaktusson, a Christian Democrat MP, was found by the Dagens Nyheter newspaper to have voted against abortion 22 times when he was a member of the European parliament. 

The party has also in the past campaigned for the right of midwives and other medical professionals who are ethically opposed to abortion not to have to take part in the procedure. 

So why aren’t all the other party leaders signing the document? 

Sweden’s governing Social Democrats, and their Green Party allies, dismissed the contract as a political gimmick designed to help the Christian Democrats distance themselves from elements of their own party critical of abortion. 

“It would perhaps be good if Ebba Busch did some homework within her own party to check that there’s 100 percent support for Sweden’s abortion legislation,” Magdalena Andersson, Sweden’s prime minister, said. “That feels like a more important measure than writing contracts between party leaders and trying to solve it that way.”  

In a debate on Swedish television, Green Party leader Märta Stenevi argued that it would be much more significant if Busch’s own MPs and MEPs all signed the document. 

It wasn’t other party leaders who needed to show commitment to abortion legislation, but “her own MPs, MEPs, and not least her proposed government partners in the Sweden Democrats and even some within the Moderate Party”. 

She said it made her “very very worried” to see that the Christian Democrats needed such a contract. “That’s why I see all this more as a clear sign that we need to move forward with protecting the right to abortion in the constitution,” she said. 

How have the other right-wing parties reacted? 

The other right-wing parties have largely backed Busch, although it’s unclear if any other party leaders are willing to actually sign the document. 

Tobias Billström, the Moderates’ group parliamentary leader, retweeted a tweet from Johan Paccamonti, a Stockholm regional politician with the Moderate Party, which criticised the Social Democrats for not signing it, however. 

“It seems to be more important to blow up a pretend conflict than to sign the Christian Democrats’ contract or look at the issue of [including abortion rights in] the constitution, like the Moderates, Liberals and Centre Party want to,” Paccamonti wrote. 

The Liberal Party on Sunday proposed protecting abortion rights in the Swedish constitution, a proposal which has since been backed by the Moderate party and the Centre Party

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