Denmark has ‘pervasive rape culture’ despite reputation for gender equality, says Amnesty
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Even though Denmark rates highly for gender equality in many areas of life, the Scandinavian country has “a pervasive rape culture and there is endemic impunity for rapists”, according to a new report by Amnesty International.
Denmark’s international reputation is as a progressive land of contented citizens. It came second only to Sweden in the 2017 Gender Equality Index, which examines a range of policy areas such as work, money and health. It has even won accolades both for happiness and as one of the world’s greatest countries for women. But Amnesty International’s worrying report paints a dramatically different picture when it comes to sexual violence.
“Despite Denmark’s image as a land of gender equality, the reality for women is starkly different, with shockingly high levels of impunity for sexual violence,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo.
The problem begins with the radically different estimates for the number of women raped in Denmark every year. Official figures from the Danish Ministry of Justice state that around 5,100 women are subjected to rape or attempted rape every year. However, according to the Amnesty report, researchers at the University of Southern Denmark said it could be as high as 24,000 in 2017. And, in that year itself, only 890 rapes were reported to authorities, 535 of which led to prosecutions. Only 94 ended in convictions.
Amnesty says that the differences are because rape in Denmark is often not reported and cases that do go through the justice system rarely result in convictions. This is in large part a result of the process for reporting rape, during which victims are often “met with dismissive attitudes, victim blaming, and prejudice influenced by gender stereotypes and rape myths,” the report said.
Amend the definition of rape
“The simple truth is that sex without consent is rape,” said Naidoo. “Failure to recognise this in law leaves women exposed to sexual violence and fuels a dangerous culture of victim blaming and impunity reinforced by myths and stereotypes which pervade Danish society: from playground to locker room, police station to witness stand.”
Amnesty recommends that the government focus on amending the definition of rape and train police officers and lawyers so that they do not accidentally re-victimise women during the reporting process. Survivors told Amnesty that the fear of not being believed or even being blamed and shamed by police and justice officials were among the primary reasons for not reporting rape.
Given Denmark's international reputation for equality, how has this rape culture persisted and become so severe?
“I believe that the perception that Denmark has achieved gender equality obscures the picture not only for the authorities but also for the general population. Discussions about issues such as persistent “rape culture” are often dismissed for this reason. There is little recognition of the scale and root causes of the problem,” said Anna Blus, Western Europe and Women’s Rights Researcher with Amnesty, in an interview with FRANCE 24.
“This picture of widespread sexual violence and impunity for perpetrators stands in stark contrast with the image of Denmark as a country where gender equality has been achieved. And, as our report shows, rape survivors encounter rape myths and gender stereotypes at different stages of the legal process and many do not report to the police fearing they would be met with prejudice and victim blaming."
Kirstine, a 39-year-old journalist, said that she tried four times to file a report of rape with the police. On her second attempt, she was taken to a police cell and warned that she could go to prison if she was lying. She described how the reporting process meant “enduring new fear, shame and humiliation” and told Amnesty: “If I was 20-years-old, I wouldn’t have proceeded after the first attempt.”
‘I was just a young girl ‘claiming’ to have been raped’
Another woman told Amnesty how intimidated she felt going to the police: “I was just one 21-year-old woman, sitting there with two guys looking at me, saying, ‘are you sure you want to report this?’…I was just a young girl ‘claiming’ to have been raped.”
Blus says this is starting to change now, as women’s rights organisations have been raising this issue and activism led by rape survivors is strong and growing.
Currently, the Danish Criminal Code defines rape on the basis of physical violence or threat thereof, the presence of duress, or the victim’s inability to resist the act. Victims interviewed by Amnesty stressed how important it was to them that the definition of rape in Danish law is changed to a consent-based one.
“Only 8 out of 31 European countries analysed by Amnesty International have consent-based legislation in place,” said Naidoo. “By amending its antiquated laws and ending the insidious culture of victim blaming and negative stereotyping, Denmark has an opportunity to join the tide of change that is sweeping Europe.”
The law’s focus on resistance and violence rather than on consent has an impact not only on the reporting of rape but also on social awareness of sexual violence, both of which are key aspects of overcoming impunity for these crimes and preventing them from happening. Hanne Baden Nielsen from the Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen said: “Now, a man can say: ‘she did not say ‘no’.’ But the question should be whether she said ‘yes’. There must be a mindset change.”