Sweden - Bearing the Brunt of the Latest Rightwing Rhetoric
Note: This article is neither for nor against left or rightwing positions regarding immigration, crime, migrants, Muslims, or anything else. However, it is against the shrill, intellectually dishonest and irresponsible ‘Trump-eting’ of falsehoods and half-truths that only serves to obscure the issues and appeals to humanity’s ‘darker’ side, generating fear, xenophobia and irrational knee-jerk responses.
Muhammed is the most common name for babies in the UK.
Muslims have a much higher birth rate than Westerners.
Sweden has the second highest incidence of rape in the world.
All of these alarmist soundbites demonstrate precisely how statistics can be misused by those with a somewhat tenuous relation with the truth. As you might suspect, all of the assertions are technically correct, but as you also might know, raw statistics seldom present an accurate picture of… well, pretty much anything. Of course, that doesn’t stop the less rigorous among us (including some who should know better) from quoting them, blogging about them and tweeting them until by sheer decibel level, they manage to gather a veneer of respectability they don’t deserve. I have already discussed the first two in an earlier article so I will limit myself to the third claim here, although, to be honest, I am getting tired of doing the rightwing scaremongers’ homework for them.
The claim is that Sweden has the second highest incidence of rape in the world and the highest in Europe. Now, this is actually true. There were 2,565 reported rapes in 2003 (42 per 100,000 people) compared to 6,697 (69 per 100,000 people) in 2014
First, over the past two decades Swedish police have made a conscious effort to raise awareness of sexual violence and have actively been encouraging women to report sexual crime. Sure, Sweden has seen a massive increase in reported rape over the past decade but how much of that is due to an increased willingness on the part of victims to come forward? How many rapes went unreported ten years ago compared to today? We just don’t know.
Secondly, in 2005 there were some major overhauls to sex crime legislation which meant that “certain acts which were previously classified as sexual exploitation are now classified as rape”.
Third, in Sweden, each individual instance of rape is reported separately; not just the latest incident or the main crime. In other countries, cases like these are treated differently. For example, the same individual raping the same victim over a prolonged period of time may be recorded as a single instance of rape rather than multiple crimes (to avoid overstating the number of individuals guilty of rape, for instance).
Fourth, Sweden takes great pains to record rapes as soon as they are reported. The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention notes that, “in Sweden a lot of effort is made to register all cases that can be suspected to be rape. As this is done at a very early stage of the process, cases are included that later turn out to be some other sex crime, or even no crime at all.”
What all of this means is that the willingness of the public to report rape, the country’s legal definitions and its judicial procedures all significantly affect, and are included in, what eventually gets boiled down to a single number. In other words, the raw statistic by itself doesn’t actually tell us how many rapes take place in a country. This crucial piece of information, the one people are basing their ill-formed conclusions on, is heavily influenced by the legal and procedural framework the statistic appears within. No statistic is an island.
But add to this the fact that these variables are different in every country and we have, not only a figure that doesn’t say what some people want it to, but one which cannot be meaningfully used in cross-country comparisons. Every page on the UNODC website that compares crime rates across countries states that “any cross-national comparisons should be conducted with caution because of the differences that exist between the legal definitions of offences in countries, or the different methods of offence counting and recording.”
In addition to all of this, I would be remiss if I did not point out that despite the increase in reported rapes, the number of rape convictions per year has remained relatively stable since 2005, hovering around the 190 mark.
Am I saying that rape doesn’t happen in Sweden? Of course not. Am I even saying that rape is not a problem in Sweden? No. What I am saying is that the raw statistic (i.e. reported incidents of rape) does not and cannot tell us whether rape is more or less prevalent in Sweden than in other countries.
Just in case you are still unsure about the potential of statistics to be used by the unscrupulous to mislead the public and push an agenda, consider this. Which country has the third highest kidnapping statistic in the world according to the UNODC? Honduras? Mexico? Not even close.
At 9.2 per 100,000 people, the answer is Canada.
However, if you were interested in actually discovering the truth you would do a little bit of research and learn that Canada, unlike other countries, includes parental disputes over child custody in its kidnapping figures. Mystery solved.
The typical rightwing response to the facts discussed here is something along the lines of, “This is just another example of the sophistic lengths bleeding heart, PC Liberals will go to in order to explain away facts that don’t align with their world view. A change of legal definition? Supposed higher reporting rates? How convenient.”
Unfortunately, such criticisms fail to offer any substantive arguments against the case presented here. There is nothing sophistic about any of the points I have raised. They are all relevant and have a direct bearing on the issue. In fact, far from the Liberal turning a blind eye to the situation, it is her critic who is attempting to sweep salient facts under the rug with ad hominem and dismissive comments.
Are the facts convenient? Perhaps they are, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are still facts and ought to be treated as such. Their ‘convenience’ or ‘inconvenience’ is completely irrelevant.
It really is both disappointing and discouraging that this kind of shameless manipulation of statistics can be seen proliferating on any and every public forum these days. There is already plenty of irrational and emotionally charged rhetoric out there and the completely illegitimate misrepresentation of statistics only contributes to this in true Trump style by preying on our almost instinctive fear of those different from us.
Again, I’m not arguing that rape isn’t a problem in Sweden. I’m not suggesting that foreign migrants in Sweden aren’t responsible for a greater percentage of crime. I’m not even endorsing Sweden’s immigration policy.
And that’s precisely my point.
A blind, prejudiced discussion that only considers Sweden’s reported rape statistics can only tell us about Sweden’s reported rape statistics. You can’t get from there to the outlandish, ‘Trumped-up’ claim that Sweden’s migrants are destroying the country from the inside and you certainly can’t conclude that Sweden is more dangerous than another country; at least, not in good conscience.