Sweden's Serial Negligence In Prosecuting Rape Further Highlights The Politics Behind Julian Assange's Arrest
By Naomi Wolf
20 December, 2010
As I have been making the case on media outlets in the past few days that the British and Swedish sex crime charges related actions against Julian Assange are so extraordinarily and unprecedentedly severe -- compared to how prosecutors always treat far more cut-and-dry allegations than those in question in this case worldwide, including in the Scandinavian countries, and that thus the pretext of using these charges against Assange is a pimping of feminism by the State and an insult to rape victims -- I have found myself up against a bizarre fantasy in the minds of my (mostly male) debating opponents.
The fantasy is that somehow this treatment -- a global manhunt, solitary confinement in the Victorian cell that drove Oscar Wilde to suicidal despair within a matter of days, and now a bracelet tracking his movements -- is not atypical, because somehow Sweden must be a progressively hot-blooded but still progressively post-feminist paradise for sexual norms in which any woman in any context can bring the full force of the law against any man who oversteps any sexual boundary.
Well, I was in Denmark in March of this year at a global gathering for women leaders on International Women's Day, and heard extensively from specialists in sex crime and victims' rights in Sweden. So I knew this position taken by the male-dominated US, British and Swedish media was, basically, horsesh-t. But none of the media outlets hyperventilating now about how this global-manhunt/Bourne-identity-chase-scene-level treatment of a sex crime allegation originating in Sweden must be 'normative' has bothered to do any actual reporting of how rape -- let alone the far more ambiguous charges of Assange's accusers, which are not charges of rape but of a category called 'sex by surprise,' which has no analog elsewhere -- is actually prosecuted in Sweden.
Guess what: Sweden has HIGHER rates of rape than other comparable countries -- including higher than the US and Britain, higher than Denmark and Finland -- and the same Swedish authorities going after Assange do a worse job prosecuting reported rapes than do police and the judiciary in any comparable country. And these are flat-out, unambiguous reported rape cases, not the 'sex by surprise' Assange charges involving situations that began consensually.
Indeed, the Swedish authorities -- who are now being depicted as global feminist sex-crime-avenger superheroes in blue capes -- were shamed by a 2008 Amnesty International report, "Case Closed", as being far more dismissive of rape, and far more insulting to rape victims who can be portrayed as 'asking for it' by drinking or any kind of sexual ambiguity -- than any other country in their comparison group. As Amnesty International put it in a blistering attack: "Swedish Rapists Get Impunity."
The same Swedish prosecutors who are now claiming custody of Julian Assange are, indeed, so shamefully negligent in prosecuting Swedish rapists who did not happen to embarrass the United States government that a woman who has been raped in Sweden is ten times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than she is of getting any kind of legal proceeding on her behalf undertaken by Swedish prosecutors.
Of all Swedish reported rapes (and remember this is rape, not "molestation"), fewer result in legal proceedings of any kind than do comparable cases in the US, Finland and Norway.
"Sweden needs to do much more to clamp down on rapists, according to reports from Amnesty International and the United Nations," Jennifer Heape reports for the website thelocal.se, which translates Swedish news for an English-speaking audience. Sweden tops European rape league, data showed in 2009, but "Sweden's image as an international forerunner in the fight for gender equality has been damaged by recent reports comparing rape statistics across various countries....''
The same prosecutors going after Assange for an ambiguous situation are doing worse in getting convictions today than they were forty-five years ago: "despite the number of rapes reported to the police quadrupling over the past 20 years, the percentage of reported rapes ending in conviction is markedly lower today than it was in 1965."
Sweden's horrific record in prosecuting all the accused rapists and men accused of sex crime in Sweden who are not Julian Assange drew consternation from as high up as the UN. UN rapporteur Yakin Ertürk warned in February 2007, that there is a shocking discrepancy "between the apparent progress in achieving gender equality and the reports of continued violence against women in the country."
The actual number of rapes in Sweden in 2006 was estimated to be close to 30,000, according to Swedish data compilation. This number indicates that Swedish women have so little faith in their own legal system that 85-90 percent do not bother reporting the crime to the same police who are ankle-braceleting Assange, as a 2007 study showed that only '5-10 percent of all rapes are reported to the police' -- a reporting rate lower than the US and the UK, which have reporting rates of about 13-30 percent, a shameful enough set of numbers in itself.
The statistical survey by the Swedish organization BRÅ showed that of that five or ten percent of rapes that resulted in reporting -- fewer than thirteen percent resulted in a police decision to start any legal proceedings at all. "The phenomenon of alleged offenses not formally being reported to the police or dropped before reaching court is termed 'attrition'," the report remarks sadly. "Amnesty slams the Swedish judicial system and the prevalence of attrition within it, concluding that, "in practice, many perpetrators enjoy impunity," Heape writes. In other words, 1.3 women in a thousand who is raped in Sweden will not receive any legal response whatsoever.
In the US and in Europe, male-dominated media discussions seem to portray the Assange charges as a victory of Swedish authorities over the old canard that "date rape" is not prosecuted because of a tendency to "blame the victim." But in fact, whenever they are not prosecuting Julian Assange, if you are raped on a date, Swedish police are unlikely to pursue your assailant. If the victim has been drinking, or behaving in a way that can be stigmatized as sexually provocative, no matter how clear-cut the rape charge, Swedish police typically leave such charges by the wayside. "In analyzing attrition and the failings of the police and judicial system, Case Closed draws attention to 'discriminatory attitudes about female and male sexuality...Young (drunk) women, in particular, have problems fulfilling the stereotypical role of the 'ideal victim', with the consequence that neither rapes within intimate relationships nor 'date rapes' involving teenage girls result in legal action," reports Heape.
"Helena Sutourius, an expert in legal proceedings in sexual offense cases, concludes that, in Sweden, 'the focus appears to be on the woman's behaviour, rather than on the act that is the object of the investigation.'" Swedish prosecutors and police don't even keep proper track of their own rape issue and how their own police handle or mishandle cases. Amnesty accused Sweden of little scrutiny of or research into the quality of its own rape crime investigations, "a serious shortcoming that needs to be addressed immediately."
Finally, remember that in the Assange case it is the State rather than the women themselves that is bringing the charges. The Swedish state -- which has proven, in politically neutral cases that merely involve actual assaults against women -- such a shameful custodian of raped victims' well-being.
And then, conclude: shame on Sweden; shame on Interpol; shame on Britain. And lasting shame, given this farcical hijacking of a sex crime law that is scarcely ever enforced in Sweden in far less ambiguous contexts, on the United States of America.
Naomi Wolf is Bestselling Author, The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot