In recent years, Denmark has earned accolades for its progressive gender policies. International surveys have even called it one of the world’s best countries for women and home to some of the happiest people on Earth.
But a new report from Amnesty International says that “Danish authorities must do more to live up to this positive image” because the Scandinavian country has a “pervasive ‘rape culture.' "
According to the watchdog organization’s research, rape in Denmark is often not reported, and even cases that do go through the justice system rarely result in convictions. That’s in large part a result of the process for reporting rape, during which victims are often “met with dismissive attitudes, victim blaming, and prejudice influenced by gender stereotypes and rape myths,” the report said.
One 39-year-old woman interviewed by Amnesty International researchers said that she tried to report her rape four times and that on one occasion, police told her she could go to prison if she was lying.
Under Danish law, rape is defined on “the basis of physical violence or threat thereof, the presence of duress, or the victim’s inability to resist the act.” That means that cases in which victims did not offer consent often fall apart because of legal loopholes. And until 2013, the organization reported, rape sentences could be “reduced or annulled … if the perpetrator and the victim were to marry or were married.”
In Denmark, there are “shockingly high levels of impunity for sexual violence and antiquated rape laws which fail to meet international standards,” Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s secretary general, said in a statement accompanying the report.
The organization reported that “there is a widespread perception in Denmark that gender equality has been achieved” but noted that such a reputation actually can make it harder to talk about sexual violence.
Estimates for the number of rapes or attempted rapes that occurred in Denmark in 2017 ranged widely. The Justice Ministry put the number at 5,100, but researchers at the University of Southern Denmark said it could be as high as 24,000. Only 890 rapes were reported to authorities that year, 535 of which led to prosecutions — with 94 ending in convictions.
The government has made some efforts to address the gaps in protection against sexual violence. But Amnesty International recommended that officials focus on amending the definition of rape and train police officers and lawyers so that they do not accidentally re-victimize women during the reporting process.
“By amending its antiquated laws and ending the insidious culture of victim blaming and negative stereotyping, Denmark has an opportunity to join the tide of change that is sweeping Europe,” Naidoo said.