Legislating consent

Report slams Denmark, bastion of gender equity, for enabling a ‘pervasive rape culture’

Protesters hold a banner during a rally in central Berlin on September 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz)

Denmark’s reputation for gender equity suffered a blow on Tuesday after a new Amnesty International report accused the country of enabling a “pervasive ‘rape culture’ and endemic impunity for rapists.”

In particular, the report suggested that Denmark’s “antiquated” violence-oriented legal definition of rape contributes significantly to the country’s poor track record in prosecuting sexual violence. According to the Danish Ministry of Justice, an estimated 5,100 incidents of rape occurred in Denmark in 2017, but only 890 were reported to police. Of the 535 rape cases that made it to trial, just 94 cases resulted in guilty verdicts.

Helle Jacobsen, an Amnesty International researcher working in Denmark, told the New York Times that defining rape through physical violence made it difficult for women to prove they were raped without evidence of physical coercion. Instead, she suggested, the benchmark for proving rape should focus on whether the sexual activity was consensual. In Europe, only eight countries — Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Iceland, Germany, and Sweden — mandate consent in their legal definitions for rape. According to Jacobsen, violence-based rape laws can serve as justification for victim blaming, as women are effectively told they are at fault for being subjected to sexual violence unless they physically resisted.

“Legislation carries culture,” Jacobsen explained. “We believe consent-based legislation and a consent-based society in the long term will work to prevent rape.”

And while consent can be hard to prove, experts say it can make a crucial legal difference as the burden of proof is shifted away from women having to prove violence to men having to explain why they believed they had consent.

“Now, a man can say, ‘She did not say no,’” wrote Hanne Baden Nielsen, head of the Center for Victims of Sexual Assault in Copenhagen, in the report. “But the question should be whether she said yes. There must be a mindset change.”

Read the full story at the New York Times.

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