Sex laws row between Turkey and Sweden leads to rape billboard

Sex laws row between Turkey and Sweden leads to rape billboard
By Catherine Hardy with Reuters, UNODC
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A row between Turkey and Sweden over changes in laws on sexual assault of minors led to a billboard appearing in Istanbul's main airport claiming Sweden has the world's highest rate of rapes.


A billboard has been put up in Istanbul’s main airport claiming Sweden has the highest rate of rapes in the world.

Paid for by a pro-government Turkish newspaper, it is the latest round in a diplomatic row between Turkey and Sweden.

“Travel warning! Do you know that Sweden has the highest rape rate worldwide?” reads the text next to a moving walkway in the departures section of Ataturk Airport’s international terminal.

Turkey warns travellers about high rape rate in Sweden

— The Independent (@Independent) August 19, 2016

The row between the two countries was sparked by Turkey’s Constitutional Court ordering changes in the laws on sexual assault of minors to make them more proportional.

That was interpreted by some in Turkey and outside as doing away with the law entirely.


Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters that Ankara had summoned Sweden’s ambassador to protest about comments from Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom.

Turkish decision to allow sex with children under 15 must be reversed. Children need more protection, not less, against violence, sex abuse.

— Margot Wallström (@margotwallstrom) August 14, 2016

“The Turkish decision to allow sex with children under 15 must be reversed. Children need more protection, not less, against violence, sex abuse,” Wallstrom wrote on Twitter.

Her comments followed the decision by Turkey’s constitutional court annulling a penal code provision punishing all sexual acts involving children under 15 as “sexual abuse” and asking parliament to draw up new legislation.

Cavusoglu said Wallstrom’s comments were a scandal and based on false rumours.

He dismissed them as “the result of racism and anti-Islam sentiment in Europe”.

The Constitutional Court, which was also criticised by Turkish lawyers and children’s rights activists clarified that some sentences for sexual assault of minors will actually be increased. It also said the current laws will continue to be in force until the changes are enacted.

But that has not stopped the war of words. Sweden’s embassy in Ankara responded to the airport rape poster by saying it ignores the fact that Sweden has a broader definition of rape and more women report rape there than in other countries.

“Every single offence is for example recorded separately and all reported events are counted as crimes even if some of them later are found not to have constituted criminal offences,” the embassy said.


Turkey also summoned Austria’s charge d’affaires to protest about a headline on an electronic news ticker at Vienna airport.

“Turkey allows sex with children under the age of 15,” it allegedly read.

Austrian officials played the matter down as one of freedom of the press.


Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern has said the EU should end accession talks with Turkey.

This prompted Cavusoglu to refer to Austria as the “capital of radical racism”.

Rape in Sweden – Fact Check

In 2012, a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (“Total Sexual Violence at the National Level, number of Police-Recorded Offences 2012) quoted Sweden as having 66.5 cases of reported rapes per 100,000 of the population.

This was based on official statistics reported by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention

This is the highest number of reported rapes of any nation included in the UNODC report.


Experts say the high number can be explained by:

  1. The comparatively broad definition of rape
  2. The method by which the Swedish police record rapes
  3. A high confidence in the criminal justice system
  4. An effort by the government to encourage the reporting of rape

(Sources: Wikipedia (general information), UNODC (statistical detail)

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