Sweden passed a law on Wednesday that defines sex without consent as rape. Perhaps right now you are wondering: Did Sweden not previously define sex without consent as rape? And, nej, it did not.
The country—although known for progressive policies around things like parental leave and gender-neutral preschools—defined rape as necessarily requiring an element of violence, the threat of violence, or the exploitation of a victim in a “vulnerable situation.” Obviously, that legal approach excludes the vast number of rape cases in which a victim doesn’t fight back out of fear (or even involuntary paralysis). But today, parliament voted overwhelmingly to change that.
According to Time, under the new law, “A person needs to agree in words or clearly demonstrate that they want to engage in sexual activity. Passivity is not a sign of voluntary participation.”
Sweden’s move is part of a broader push—in “countries like Germany and U.S. states such as California,” as Time points out—to align legislation with the concept of affirmative consent, in which sexual consent is defined as the presence of a “yes,” verbal or otherwise, as opposed to simply the absence of a “no” (or, in the case of Sweden’s existing law, actual or threatened violence). “Sweden is only the 10th country in Western Europe to recognize in law that sex without consent is rape,” reports Time, and “the majority of European countries have yet to amend their legal definitions of rape accordingly.”
Just recently, a judge in Spain sparked mass protests for sentencing three men accused of gang rape to a lesser charge of “sexual abuse.” The country’s law requires “violence or intimidation” for an act to be considered rape—and now outraged protesters are calling for legislative change.
Sweden’s law change was spurred in part by a judge’s 2013 acquittal of three men accused of raping a 15-year old girl with a wine bottle. “The verdict stated: ‘People involved in sexual activities do things naturally to each other’s body in a spontaneous way, without asking for consent,’” reports Time. The ruling incited protests and launched a movement to overhaul Sweden’s rape law to define sex without consent as rape. It took five years, but Sweden has finally come around to define rape as it should have been all along.
Now there’s just, you know, the majority of European countries left. As Anna Blus of Amnesty International put it in a statement, “While there is still a great distance to travel, we are hopeful that today’s decision will herald a Europe-wide shift in legislation and in attitudes.”