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Outdated laws let rapists act with impunity in Denmark: Amnesty International

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Protesters campaign in Denmark - Jonas Persson
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Flawed legislation, harmful myths and gender stereotypes have resulted in "endemic impunity for rapists" in Denmark, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

The report, “Give us respect and justice!”, argues that women and girls in Denmark are being failed by "dangerous and outdated laws" that fail to meet international standards, while an "insidious culture of victim blaming and negative stereotyping" only adds to the problem.

“The simple truth is that sex without consent is rape," said Amnesty International Secretary General Kumi Naidoo.

"Failure to recognise this in law leaves women exposed to sexual violence and fuels a dangerous culture of victim blaming and impunity reinforced by myths and stereotypes which pervade Danish society: from playground to locker room, police station to witness stand."

Case for changing the definition of rape

As it stands, the law in Denmark does not define rape on the basis of lack of consent.

Under the Istanbul Convention, rape and all other non-consensual acts of sexual nature must be classified as criminal offences.

Twenty European countries have ratified the Istanbul Convention — but most have yet to change their laws to bring them in line.

READ MORE: Is non-consensual sex rape? Most European countries say 'no'

Sweden last year joined seven other western European countries — the UK, Belgium, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Iceland, Ireland and Germany — in defining non-consensual sex as rape.

Hanne Baden Nielsen from the Centre for Victims of Sexual Assault at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen said Denmark should do the same.

“Now, a man can say: ‘she did not say ‘no’. But the question should be whether she said ‘yes’. There must be a mindset change."

'At least 5,100 women in Denmark subjected to rape or attempted rape every year'

Figures from the Danish Ministry of Justice state that every year, around 5,100 women in the country are subjected to rape or attempted rape.

However, The University of Southern Denmark’s research estimates that this figure may have been as high as 24,000 in 2017.

Official statistics for the same year show only 890 rapes were reported to the police, and of these, 535 resulted in prosecutions and 94 in convictions.

Low conviction rates criticised

Amnesty's report puts the low conviction rates down to "deeply entrenched biases within the justice system" and a lack of trust in it, together with the fear of not being believed, and self-blame.

The research is based on interviews with 18 women and girls over the age of 15 who have experienced rape, as well as with NGOs, other experts and relevant authorities.

Jonas Persson
Rape survivor Kirstine speaking at a consent demo in DenmarkJonas Persson

Kirstine, a 39-year-old journalist, tried four times to file a report of rape with the police.

On her second attempt, the report says she was taken to a police cell and warned that she could go to prison if she was lying.

She described how the reporting process meant “enduring new fear, shame and humiliation” and told Amnesty International: "If I was 20 years old, I wouldn’t have proceeded after the first attempt."

Government steps

The Danish government has recently established a group to recommend initiatives that can help rape victims to receive adequate support and professional treatment when they navigate the system.

Amnesty International said it welcomes the initiatives but said the government still needs to take much bolder steps and change the law.

“By amending its antiquated laws and ending the insidious culture of victim blaming and negative stereotyping that currently exists in legal proceedings, Denmark has an opportunity to join the tide of change that is sweeping Europe," said Amnesty International Secretary General Kumi Naidoo.

“This tide of change in Denmark and other parts of Europe can help ensure that women are better protected from rape and will mean that future generations of women and girls will never have to question whether rape is their fault or doubt that the perpetrators will be punished.”

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