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Rape culture in Denmark: real or constructed reality?

In the last few years, sexual violence has become a part of many discussions in Denmark. Especially the definition of rape in the Danish Criminal Code, which has been criticised by Amnesty International (AI). It triggered arguments about if it really exists something as „Danish rape culture”.

By Katka Cajankova

Denmark and other Nordic countries are praised for their high gender equality standards, but when we look at violence against women, the numbers fail to convey that. It’s called ‘Nordic Paradox‘. According to AI, the problem could be solved by changing definition of rape in the Criminal Code.

Denmark is one of the 23 countries in Europe whose definition of rape is not based on consent, according to a report published by AI. Currently, Criminal Code in Denmark defines rape as „sexual intercourse by violence or under threat of violence“. Anna Maria Fjordbøge, who works at the Policy Department on Gender, Women and LGBTI rights at AI Denmark, believes that it does not „correctly reflect what is actually rape“. Because most of the cases are committed without violence or threat.

„On one side we are praised for gender equality and we have very good scores in many parameters, but still when it comes to sexual violence we are very high in the statistics,“ says Fjordbøge.

The opinions about whether  the definition is sufficient or not are very diverse among Danish people. Nicolaj Sivan Holst from Department of Law at Aarhus University does not  think it can actually change something. „If one person says it was with consent, and the other person says it was without consent, you still need evidence suggesting that one person is most likely telling the truth than the other.“

However,  Nicolaj thinks it cannot change the way how rape cases are proved and assessed, in his opinion,this would constitute  „a good symbolic gesture“. That means maybe more people will talk about the importance of consent in the terms of intercourse.

Ingrid Soldal Eriksen, Analyst at The Crime Prevention Council (DKR), speaks about the possibility to prevent violence due to its definition. “It may create a general preventive effect that will reduce the number of violations. This is because the wording of the law itself can have a strong normative significance.”

Break the silence

Sananda Solaris was one of the first women who stood out and shared her rape story, because “we don’t need to be shamed”. For many years, she has been talking about this topic and helping women who have experienced any kind of violence. The rape-related problems stem from the fact that Denmark is a very closed country, in her opinion.

According to her experiences and her daughter’s ,as well as stories of other women, Sananda sees Denmark as a country with a pervasive rape culture. People just do not want to talk about it, as she claims.

„Not a lot of Danish people are interested in what is going on. They do not realize what is happening before it is in Danish newspaper. Everybody is leaving in some kind of matrix of illusions how to be a nice woman, and how to be a nice man,” says.

“I believe a lot in talking about things. That’s why I am sharing the story from my own private life. A lot of women have been asking me and talking to me and I’ve have been hugging them. We’ve been crying together. I’ve believed this sharing and talking about it, it’s changing things on a deeper level.”

Prayer for gender balance

Although the Amnesty report has been highly criticised by some experts and politicians for using some statements „out of context“, or not being scientific enough, the numbers and findings of other reports or surveys lead to a similar point of view. Maybe the report blown up the pro-rape atmosphere in Denmark, or maybe it pointed out the weak points of Danish society and the legal system that want to be accepted by the public.

In the Gender Equality Index 2017, Denmark achieved the second-best score after Sweden. Besides main domains, such as work, money, knowledge, time, power and health, the index also measures two satellite domains – intersecting inequalities and violence – which are not used for calculating main scores. In the domain of violence, Denmark ranks third place, after Bulgaria and Latvia. This indicates the broadening of violence against women in the country.

„It is around us every day both in smaller or bigger cases. Denmark shouldn’t be presented as very equal country,“ comments Zen Doden, on the sexism in Denmark.

Denmark is usually considered a safe country. The survey by European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) shows that more than fifty percent of interviewed women have experienced some kind of physical or sexual violence after the age of 15.

In Denmark,  this report was not  taken seriously, according to Zen Doden, a board member of Everyday Sexism Project Denmark. „In the media in Denmark, it was treated as if Danish women are more hysterical.” Although the numbers show experiences of Danish women, people still think that „we don’t have a rape culture here“.

Police and courts under criticism

Along with the criticism of inadequate definition of rape, the AI report, through the stories of many victims, has focused on inappropriate police and court behaviour in terms of investigation.

Many female victims have experienced  “being asked about their sexual preferences, infidelity, clothing and sexual behaviour and of police officers commenting on the woman’s behaviour prior to the rape, blaming her for the course of events. Some women have been questioned without the necessary privacy, for example with the door to the police office left open”, showing by Amnesty report.

In 2017, DKR studied the investigation and assessing of rape cases by police. They concluded “that the police handling of rape cases is gradually at a satisfactory level”, as analyst Ingrid Soldal Eriksen says. In 2015, “the National Police and the Prosecutor General launched initiatives to ensure clear directions for the police’s work on rape cases, because there were some issues”.

The improvement of police dealing with particular cases is also confirmed by Camilla Svane from Secretariat for Communications of The Danish Ministry of Justice. “A lot of work has been done. For instance, they cooperate with  som  women’s organizations. They also raised the punishment for rape.”

Charlotte Ejsing, nurse at The Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault in Copenhagen, sees that as necessary. “It is not nice, but they have to do it. They have to find out what happened. We also try to explain the victims that the police doesn’t ask those questions because they don’t believe them, but because  they have to figure the case out.”

Impunity for rapists?

Another problem in Denmark is a huge imbalance between reported cases and convicted persons. For instance, last year 1013 rape cases were reported to the police, while only 77 of them were closed with convictions. AI presents that fact as “impunity for rapists” and their report tries to explain the reasons behind that.

“It is a structural problem. It has something to do with gender norms and a lot of to do about views on sexual limits and autonomy. And there are also some problems in legal process,” explains Anna Maria Fjordbøge from AI Denmark.

“If you have a rape case where the charged person is saying we had sex, but it was consensual, then it is difficult from the evidence’s point of view. But if you have DNA evidence showing they have had sex that it is going to be found guilty of course,” says Nicolaj Sivan Holst from Department of Law, Aarhus University

Justice for victims

But what about the times when the case was closed without accusation, even though the victim has an evidence, as it was in the case of Kirstine Holst. „I had blood on my nightdress and bruises on my breast. Witness confirmed that they had overheard him admitting that he had forced me. He was acquitted  because of lack of proof. No one ever examined the forensic bag with my nightdress. They did not even open it. He told the court that I was naked and had consented by taking my clothes off. That was a lie. I was dressed, and I never consented.”

She reported the raped after two days. “I had to do several attempts. The first police officer said that they are too busy to take the report. Another officer had never done it before. At the third attempt I was able to report it. Afterwards the investigation had to change the section, because I was raped in Copenhagen and not in Fredericia where I live. There were a lot of problems. My rapist was questioned a month after the rape.”

With rape cases in general, it is difficult to prove what really happened. The low percentage of convicted rape cases which could be a potential cause. „If you don’t have any witnesses or any other evidence, it is your word against theirs”, explains Nicolaj Sivan Holst.

The National Police did not answer my questions. The Attorney General Office did not want to comment on this issue.