Rape: Denmark Becomes 12th Country In Europe to Categorise Absence of Clear Consent As Rape

Denmark has strengthened its laws against rape by criminalising sex without explicit consent, in a long-awaited victory for sexual assault survivors and rights groups.

The new legislation passed by the country’s parliament on Thursday widens the circumstances that could constitute rape and replaces the old law which required proof of violence, attack or victim’s inability to fend off the assault in order to determine if its rape.

The country’s justice minister Nick Haekkerup said in a statement: “Now it will be clear, that if both parties do no consent to sex, then it’s rape.”

Nordic countries, including Denmark, have long been considered among the safest for women, consistently topping the annual gender equality index. However, demands to amend the law have been intensifying over the years as survivors and rights groups have pointed out how the system puts the burden of proof of violence on the victim and fails to recognise freezing up as a common response to assault.

Around 11,400 women are raped or subjected to attempted rape in Denmark in a year, according to the Danish justice ministry’s figures collated by Amnesty International. The University of Southern Denmark’s research estimates that this figure may have been as high as 24,000 in 2017. However, in 2019 just 1,017 rapes were reported to the police and only 79 resulted in conviction.

For long, rights groups had been demanding to categorise sex without consent as rape. The country recognises marital rape and includes acts other than sexual intercourse in its legal definition of rape. But it’s only the 12th country in Europe to categorise lack of clear consent as a decisive factor in determining rape.  

Women’s rights researcher for Amnesty International, Anna Blus, said in a statement: “The new law falls short on being crystal clear in its commentary that passivity cannot be taken to mean consent but despite this weakness, it is nevertheless a huge step for Denmark.”

She also said: “This is a great day for women in Denmark as it consigns outdated and dangerous rape laws to the dustbin of history and helps to end pervasive stigma and endemic impunity for this crime.”

In 2018, Sweden passed a similar law introducing clear consent as a determining factor which resulted in a 75 per cent rise in rape convictions. Germany and the UK also recognise sex without consent as rape.

In 2019 Greece amended its rape definition in 2019 and Spain and the Netherlands recently announced plans to amend their national laws to recognise this fact.