Denmark has a “pervasive rape culture” caused by its failure to address victims’ grievances, antiquated laws and its reluctance to prosecute rapists, Amnesty International said in a report released Tuesday.
The human rights group’s report said “flawed legislation” and “an insidious culture of victim blaming” had resulted in “endemic impunity for rapists in the country”.
It added that while gender equality has been achieved in many areas of Danish society, authorities must do more to address sexual violence – pointing to the 2017 Gender Equality Index by the European Institute for Gender Equality, which said Denmark is home to the highest prevalence of violence against women, including sexual violence, of any European Union member state.
“There is this understanding in Denmark that it has already achieved gender equality,” Helle Jacobsen, one of the report’s authors, told CNN. “But when it comes to sexual violence, it is almost impossible to get a conviction for rape, there is a very low number of [women reporting rape], so it means access to justice in Denmark if you are a rape a survivor is almost non existent.”
According to Danish government figures, around 5,100 Danish women are subjected to rape or attempted rape annually. However, a separate study by the University of Southern Denmark found that 24,000 were subject to raped or attempted rape in 2017.
But in that same year, according to official statistics, “only 890 rapes were reported to the police, and of these, 535 resulted in prosecutions and only 94 in convictions,” Amnesty wrote in the report.
Blamed and shamed
It added that rape victims find “reporting process and its aftermath immensely traumatizing, particularly when faced with inappropriate questions, flawed investigations and inadequate communication” by authorities.
“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,” Amnesty wrote.
It shared an anecdote from a 39-year-old journalist, who tried to file a report of rape four times, but on the second attempt “she was taken to a police cell and warned that she could go to prison if she was lying”.
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,” the rights group quoted her as saying.
Jacobsen said the cornerstone of the problem lies in the country’s legislation, which does not define rape based on the lack of consent, but instead uses an “outdated” definition based on sexual violence that pivots on whether coercion or physical violence was involved or “if the victim was unable to resist.”
The Istanbul Convention, which aims to combat different types of violence against women, “very clearly states that all European countries should define rape as sex without consent,” she said. “But Denmark fails to do that, and you see how it factors down to the whole judicial system – from judges, to lawyers, to police, to prosecutors.”
Following the report’s release, Danish Minister of Justice Soren Pape Poulsen commented on Twitter that it was an “important read” and said the government was considering introducing consent-based rape legislation.
To do so would put the country in line with only eight other European countries that have consent-based definitions of rape: Ireland, UK, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg and Sweden.
“Together with the survivors campaigning for improved access to justice, we look forward to seeing the draft law,” Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said in a statement.
“It will be important for other ministries to support this initiative as well as we continue to stress that law is only one piece of the puzzle and needs to be accompanied by proper implementation, appropriate sexuality education and challenging rape myths through awareness-raising.”