Sweden has become the latest European country to recognize sex without mutual consent as rape, passing a bill stipulating that people must consent to sex with clear verbal or physical language and that silence will no longer be interpreted as “yes” in sexual encounters.
The law, which passed in a 257-38 vote on Wednesday, was hailed by activists as a landslide victory for women’s rights in Sweden and around Europe. Sweden joins nine other European countries that have made lack of consent a crime.
In most European countries, rape must include violence or threats by the perpetrator. When the Swedish law goes into effect on July 1, prosecutors will no longer need to prove that violence or threats were used in order to obtain a conviction.
Activists hope the new law will have ripple effects across the region.
“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,” said Anna Blus, Amnesty International’s women’s rights researcher for Europe, in a news release by the organization.
“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.”
Anne Ramberg, secretary general of the Swedish Bar Association, was less optimistic, telling CNN that the scope for what is defined as rape in Sweden was already broad enough under pre-existing law.
“This is not a very good idea when it comes to criminalization. We have already extended the legal conception of rape. It includes today a number of activities that from a linguistic point of view do not cover those actions,” Ramberg told CNN.
The passage of the new law comes at a time when reported rape cases have been on the rise in Sweden, increasing 10% in 2017 from the previous year, Johanna Olseryd, project leader of the research department at the National Council on Crime Prevention, told CNN.
The law, she and others hope, will change this.
“This law serves to not only prevent sexual predation, but also to radically inform the justice system, to encourage better police investigation, and this will hopefully lead to more and better quality prosecution of rape cases,” Olga Persson, secretary general of Unizon, an organization representing more than 130 women’s shelters around Sweden, told CNN.