A new law redefining sexual relations without consent as rape comes into effect in Sweden on Sunday, after the country was rocked by the #MeToo movement denouncing sexual harassment and assault.
Backed by the ruling Social Democrat-Green coalition, the law stipulates that a person has committed rape if they have been part of a sexual act in which the other person has not participated "freely." It is further detailed that consent has to be expressed with "clear words or actions."
Rape had previously been defined as a sexual act carried out with the use of violence or threat.
Now for someone to face rape charges, "it is no longer necessary that violence or threats were applied or that the aggressor took advantage of the victim's particularly vulnerable situation," according to the government.
Courts will need to pay special attention to whether consent was expressed with words, gestures or in any other manner, and judges will have to rule on the issue, according to the law passed in May.
Judge Anna Hannell, who helped create the law, said there was "absolutely no requirement to formally say 'Yes', to hit a button in an app or anything else of the same type. Simply participating physically is a sign of consent," she told Swedish news agency TT.
"#MeToo showed, with force, that a lot still needs to be done to fight sexual harassment and sexual violence at work and in the rest of society," Gender Equality Minister Lena Hallengren said in a statement Sunday. She added that the government will allocate US$13.5 million to combat sexual abuse.
The #MeToo campaign, which began with the series of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, has shaken up nearly every sector in Sweden.
More than 10,000 women in Sweden — including actresses, journalists, lawyers, musicians, doctors and construction workers — have spoken up and campaigned against harassment.
"#MeToo is changing behaviors and people now understand the extent to which sexual violence is widespread," Ida Ostensson of the Make Equal foundation, a key campaigner for the new law, said. "We finally have legislation that protects physical and sexual integrity."
Before the #MeToo campaign, women's rights groups in Sweden had already been fighting for an update to the definition of rape that would, not just be based on violence, but also the lack of consent, so victims could file their complaints more easily.
In May, the Swedish Academy announced there would be no Nobel Literature Prize, this year, following a major sexual assault scandal.
The announcement came after Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, in November, published the testimonies of some 18 women claiming to have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed by Jean-Claude Arnault, an influential cultural figure with long-standing ties to the Academy, who has since been charged with two counts of rape.
The scandal caused deep discord among the institution's 18 members, prompting six to resign.
"It's important that society clearly states what is OK and what isn't," Erik Moberg, a Swede in his thirties, told AFP. "It makes you think about your own behavior and that of others."
- Published in World