Xenophobic agendas and short-term solutions to sexual assault in Sweden


The far-right, long champions of women’s rights, have recently turned their focus to the fight against sexual assault in Sweden – home to ‘the rape capital of the world’, as advertised in its brochures. Donald Trump is the natural man for the job, considering his personal experience in the field, with Nigel Farage assuming position as his right-hand man. On 18th February, Trump accidentally intimated, as he often does, that there had been a problematic incident in Sweden the night before, later clarifying that he was referring to a Fox segment, many of which can indeed be referred to as problematic incidents.

In the segment, a clip was shown of Ami Horowitz’s new documentary which addresses refugees in Sweden and their apparent role in making it the ‘rape capital of Europe.’ Farage went further and not only agreed with this view but suggested it might be the ‘rape capital of the world.’ It is true that it is the country in which there are the most reported rapes in the world. This is clearly different to the one in which rape most frequently happens – laws, culture and openness about rape vary from country to country. Are we to believe that rape happens over 30 times more frequently in Sweden than in India on account of the number of reported rapes? The claim is nonsensical, even for the far-right’s own argument. If we are to follow it, the number of reported rapes in the migrants’ countries of origin is far lower than in Sweden, making Sweden and its delicious meatballs the catalyst for rape.

To back up his linking of refugees to rape statistics, Horowitz talks about the dramatic increase in recorded rapes between 2006 and 2015. Instead of there being a massive influx of refugees just before 2006, there was a change in the law, widening the definition of sexual assault. This is likely the cause of the large increase in reported cases rather than the number of refugees, which stayed about the same until the influx in 2011. Since 2011, there has been a fluctuation in the number of recorded rapes. Some far-right commentators are now focusing on data during this fluctuation to justify their claims about the impact of refugees on rape.

They focus on the statistic of there being an increase in recorded rapes from 2015 to 2016 (from 5,920 to 6,560), ignoring the decrease from 2014 to 2015 (from 6,700 in 2014 – more than 2016). According to Jerzy Sarnecki, a Swedish criminologist, “What criminologists do is to look at the 10-year, 20-year development. Then we can see the trends. Year to year, it’s impossible to judge why changes occur.” Therefore, we can judge far more about the post-2005 law landscape in terms of reported rapes than the post-2011 landscape. Additionally, he states a possible reason for the increase in 2016 being the amount of discussion about sexual assault, saying, “We know through research that those kind of years with more discussion of those subjects see the number of crimes reported increase.”

The truth is that the correlation between the recent influx of refugees and the statistics of reported rapes in Sweden is not yet clear at this stage. However, even if refugees were to have caused an increase in rape, the far-right’s solution is not an effective one. To send these rapists back home or to stop more from entering just means putting another set of women at risk – the women in their countries of origin. It also does nothing to stop Swedish rapists. Most likely due to the far-right’s lack of actual interest in the issue of sexual assault bar that serving their xenophobic agenda, they do not have a clear strategy for tackling it. Addressing the root of the problem through education, awareness and the law is a far more viable strategy for actually lowering rates of sexual assault rather than simply changing the location of the rapist, unless that location is a prison cell.

The far-right care about sexual assault committed by migrants the same way they are avid campaigners for animal rights with a sole focus on halal meat. A search on Breitbart’s website of the word ‘rape’ reveals that the extremely influential far-right website only cares about rape when it is threatened against someone they like, committed by migrants, Muslims or Bill Clinton or when railing against feminists who claim there is such a thing as rape culture.

Cover-ups and reluctance to speak about refugees perpetrating violence for ‘fear of worsening ethnic tensions’ exist too. In a way, both extremes are using the issue to suit their agendas, whether that is attempting not to fuel xenophobia or fuelling xenophobia. The real losers are not the mainly male perpetrators or politicians but the mainly female victims. We do not have to resort to either extreme, by talking openly about sexual assault, whoever it is committed by, and not jumping to conclusions about statistics, we can attempt to address the issue in a more long-term way. As for Trump – maybe leave the concern about sexual assault to the pussy-grabbees.

Photograph: Mikail Moiner via Flickr

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