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Denmark has pervasive rape culture, says human rights group Amnesty

The waterfront in the Nyhavn area of Copenhapen
The waterfront in the Nyhavn area of Copenhapen
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Denmark has a culture of "widespread sexual violence", and systemic problems in how it deals with rape: that's according to a new study by Amnesty International.

Despite having a reputation for gender equality, the human rights campaigners found that "the reporting process and its aftermath are immensely traumatising" for victims.

Rape in Denmark is hugely under-reported, and even in circumstances where women do go to the police, the chances of prosecution or conviction remain slim, Amnesty said.

Of the women who experienced rape or attempted rape in 2017 (estimates vary from 5,100 according to the Ministry of Justice to 24,000 according to a recent study), just 890 rapes were reported to the police. Of these, 535 resulted in prosecutions and only 94 in convictions.

Under the Istanbul Convention, ratified by Denmark in 2014, rape and all other non-consensual acts of a sexual nature must be classified as criminal offences. Despite this, under Danish law, rape is not defined on the basis of a lack of consent. Instead, the definition is based on whether physical violence, threat, or coercion is involved or if the victim is found to have been unable to resist.

By placing the burden of proof on the victim to have adequately protected themselves from the attack, and not on the person carrying out the assault, the law has faced criticism from activists, as there is common evidence that victims are known to freeze in the face of assault.

Helle Jacobsen, senior advisor at Amnesty International said: "We show how this legislation creates very problematic and harmful gender stereotypes and rape myths all the way through the legal system from the police to the prosecution, to lawyers to judges in the court system. It's really important to remember that legislation carries culture."

There is hope for activists wishing for a change in the law.

Responding to Amnesty's report, Danish Minister of Justice Soren Pape Poulsen went on Twitter to say: "Thanks so much for putting this on the agenda. We must ensure that Danish legislation reflects the fact that sex shall always be voluntary. It is utterly important to bring justice to sexual assault victims. I am working hard for new legislation."

In response to his comment, Jacobsen said: "We are waiting to see a law proposal, but we are hopeful."

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