Over half of respondents polled in a new Swedish thesis project at Gothenburg University have placed the blame for rape on the victims themselves, which the researchers attributed to prejudice, national broadcaster SVT reported.
In the survey spanning 3,800 people, the respondents were faced with a set of fictional rape situations, including a party rape amid alcohol consumption, and a home rape after the victim invited three male colleagues to her place after a dinner out.
"There are many who blame the victim, although not entirely", Kerstin Adolfsson, a PhD student and the author of the dissertation, told SVT.
According to the dissertation, preconceptions are more important than the specific situation in which rape actually occurred. Neither the age of the victim, nor the factor of violence influenced the respondents' judgment. By contrast, feeling sympathy for the victim proved to be more important. Perhaps surprisingly, the victims of group rape received more blame than those exposed to assault by a single rapist.
Kerstin Adolfsson said she was not surprised by the results. According to her, many people have a rather 'narrow' definition of rape, picturing it as a stranger jumping on a woman when it's dark outdoors. Adolfsson argued that preconceptions and attitudes may be changed by explaining the role of consent and urging people to report all kinds of assault and actively participate in police investigations.
Adolfsson's take on sexual assault is mirrored by the Swedish authorities, who earlier this year broadened the definition of rape by introducing a special 'consent clause'. Also, tougher penalties were introduced.
"We have got a whole new pitch now. The situations that could previously be attributed as sexual abuse are now judged as rape", Stockholm prosecutor Christina Voigt told Swedish Radio, ensuring that the changes have already had a positive effect.
Meanwhile, the number of reported rapes and sexual offences have increased by 10 percent and 8 percent (reaching 7,230 rape cases and 21,500 sexual offences in 2017 respectively). Over the past decade, the number of reported sex-related attacks has increased by 34 percent. Only 11 percent of rape cases are solved, and even fewer result in criminal convictions.
Earlier this year, Swedish media broke their persistent tradition of avoiding to report the culprits' ethnicity for ethical reasons, as SVT claimed 58 percent of those convicted for rape were born abroad, signalling a clear overrepresentation.