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Amnesty slams Nordic states over sexual violence

Last Updated: Monday, March 8, 2010 - 13:21

Helsinki: The Nordic countries, widely considered world leaders in gender equality, are failing to combat sexual violence, Amnesty International said on Monday, singling out Finland as the worst offender.
"In spite of all the progress towards equality between women and men in many fields in the Nordic societies, when it comes to rape the legal measures are still not adequate," the human rights group said in a report.

"Rape and other forms of sexual violence remain an alarming reality that affects the lives of many thousands of girls and women every year in all Nordic countries," it added.

The report, titled ‘Case Closed’, said that Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden all suffered from gaps in their legal systems, making it complicated to sufficiently prosecute and punish sex crimes.

In most respects, Finland figured at the bottom of the list when it came to protecting victims` rights, it said.

"Compared to the other Nordic countries, it is clear that Finland has been slower to reform its legislation on violence against women and rape."

Across the region, only a small percentage of rapes are ever reported, and even when they are reported, only a few make it to court, where the acquittal rate is very high, the report showed.

"There is therefore a common cause for concern about the lack of legal protection for victims of rape in the Nordic countries," it said.

In Finland, the situation was especially egregious, with only between two and 10 percent of rapes ever reported, compared to 25 percent in Denmark.

One concern, according to Amnesty, was that instead of following the European Court of Human Rights definition of rape as all non-consensual sexual acts, all four countries allowed the "use of violence or threats of violence define the `seriousness` (and thus the criminal liability) of rape."

If there is little or no violence involved, Finnish law for instance defines the crime merely as "coercion into sexual intercourse," which is only prosecuted on explicit request from the victim and which is often punishable with mere fines or a few months in prison.

In one case documented in the Amnesty report, a man had forced a woman to have sex in a car park toilet by banging her head against the wall and twisting her arm behind her back.

The prosecutor argued the violence was of a "lesser degree", and the man was sentenced to seven months behind bars for coercion.

By comparison, Amnesty said, Finns who refuse the compulsory military draft face a minimum of six months in prison.

The human rights group also highlighted that in Finland and Denmark, having non-consensual sex with someone who has rendered themselves helpless, through alcohol for instance, is not considered rape.

This "sends out a message that raping a person who is unable to give her free agreement is a less serious crime than raping a person who is able to resist," Amnesty wrote, insisting this definition of rape rests on "discriminatory gender stereotypes”.

The report called on all the Nordic nations to improve protection for victims of sexual crimes, insisting they needed to "ensure that all legal procedures in cases involving crimes of rape and other sexual violence are impartial and fair, and not affected by prejudices or stereotypical notions about female and male sexuality."

Bureau Report

First Published: Monday, March 8, 2010 - 13:21
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