Sweden has passed a new law saying that sex without consent is rape, even when there are no threats or force involved.
The new law, due to come into effect on 1 July, says a person must give clear consent, verbal or physical.
Prosecutors will no longer need to prove violence or that the victim was in a vulnerable situation in order to establish rape.
Activists have welcomed the changes but critics say the law will not increase the number of rape convictions.
With the new legislation, approved in parliament by 257 votes against 38, Sweden joins other European countries like the United Kingdom and Germany where sex without consent is considered rape.
It says the lack of consent is enough to constitute a crime. It is “based on the obvious: sex must be voluntary”, the government said when the legislation was proposed.
The approved text stops short of making expressed consent a condition for sex but states that passivity is not a sign of agreeing to sex.
“If a person wants to engage in sexual activities with someone who remains inactive or gives ambiguous signals, he or she will therefore have to find out if the other person is willing.”
Under the previous legislation, prosecutors had to prove that the perpetrator had used violence or that the victim had been exploited in a vulnerable condition, such as under the influence of alcohol, in order to secure a rape conviction.
The law introduces two new offences, negligent rape and negligent sexual abuse, carrying a maximum prison term of four years.
“The negligence aspect focuses on the fact that one of the parties did not participate voluntarily,” the government said, adding that it would be possible to convict more people of sexual abuse.
Most countries in Europe still define rape as a sexual act carried out with the use of violence or threat.
The countries where sex without consent is considered rape are:
1: United Kingdom; 2: Ireland; 3: Belgium; 4: Luxembourg; 5: Germany; 6: Cyprus
Malmo, along with other urban centres in Sweden, has one of the highest levels of reported rapes in proportion to population in the EU, mainly due to the strictness of Swedish laws and how rape is recorded in the country.
The rate of reported rapes in Malmo has not dramatically risen in recent years and has in fact declined from its peak in 2010, before the recent large increases in refugees.
It is not possible to connect crimes to the ethnicity of the perpetrators as such data is not published.
“Sexual offences” is a very broad term, which refers to a range of all sex-related crimes in Sweden.
Rape is one of the sexual offences, but other crimes such as paying for sex, sexual harassment, indecent exposure, sexual exploitation, molestation and trafficking are included in the numbers as well.
The figures peaked in 2014. The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Bra) says this rise is due to the changes to the legislation in 2013, which made it tougher.
Similar increases in the number of reported cases were seen in 2006, after new sex offence legislation came into force in April 2005.
Since then, Sweden has recorded every reported case of sexual violence separately.
That means, as Susanne Lekengard from Bra explains, that if a person comes to the police and reports being raped by a partner or husband every day for the past year, the police will record each of these events.
In many other countries these incidents would be recorded just once: one victim, one type of crime and one record.
Also, paying for sex became one of the crimes counted in the statistics.
During 2015, the year in which Sweden took the largest number of asylum seekers, the number of reported sex crimes and rapes actually decreased by 11% and 12% respectively compared with 2014 – 18,100 sex offences were reported to the police, of which 5,920 were classified as rape.
Preliminary figures for 2016 show a rise, bringing the latest figures close to 2014 values.
Susanne Lekengard says the rise of the number of sexual molestation cases in 2016 is due to a higher number of reported cases of sexual harassment amongst teenagers at summer music festivals.
Sweden does not publish the ethnicity or national background of perpetrators of any crime, including sexual offences.
It is very hard to compare sex-related offences and rape across the world.
Police procedures and legal definitions vary widely around the world, making an international comparison meaningless.
The 2012 UN international rape rate comparison showed Sweden to have the highest rate of rape in Europe and the second highest in the world, but the report did not contain data for a total of 63 countries that did not submit any statistics, including, for example, South Africa, where other earlier surveys indicated a very high rape rate.
The most recent Eurostat data for the 28 EU countries also puts Sweden in the top spot.
But the agency warns that comparisons between different countries should be avoided because of differences between their legal and criminal justice systems, recording practices, reporting rates, efficiencies of criminal justice organisations and types of offences included in the categories.
There has also been a public debate in Sweden over the past two decades to raise awareness and encourage women to go to the police if they have been attacked.
This has resulted in a higher report rate than in other countries in Europe.