Does Sweden have an immigrant rape crisis?
Mar. 17, 2017
Banning immigrants from Muslim-majority countries is one of the cornerstones of Donald Trump's response to terrorism, and one heartily supported by his core supporters. On Feb. 18, 2017 he spoke at a rally of those supporters in Melbourne, FL and defended this policy defended that plan with the claim that,
"We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening. We’ve got to keep our country safe. You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers [of refugees]. They’re having problems like they never thought possible..."
The comment raised many eyebrows because nothing happened in Sweden on Feb. 17, or any date leading up to it. Trump isn't exactly known for being well-spoken or informed, so the White House was forced to respond with the usual damage control that always seems to be required when he speaks in public. Eventually it was discovered that yet again he had misspoken and was referring to claims he'd misheard during a Fox News segment that had aired the previous evening, not an actual incident. Backtracking only made matters worse of course, so after a day or two he went back to what he knows best--the red meat Twitter offensive,
"Give the public a break - The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!"
The incident put Sweden back under the same 2016 election year spotlight that made it the Far-Right's poster child for why everything that's wrong with the world is the fault of dark-skinned people from non-Christian nations, and how a new age of peace and prosperity will dawn if we would only ship them all off to internment camps on the most remote wind-blown rock in the Aleutians. Fake news and propaganda sites have published one story after another about Sweden's "rape crisis" (Perlmutter, 2017; Craig, 2017; Thorn, 2016; etc.). A widely circulated Facebook meme alleged that a 14-year-old Swedish girl had been kidnapped, tortured, and gang-raped by three refugees. Swedish police were said to be handing out "don't touch me" bracelets to women to prevent "migrant sex attacks" (Hale, 2016; Gehl, 2017).
None of this checks out of course. The 14-year-old girl turned out to be German rather than Swedish, and later copped to having made the allegations up (LaCapria, 2016). Furthermore, the image in the circulated meme wasn't even her--it had been posted to Flickr by a girl hoping to win a "Little Picture of the Year" contest. The bracelet campaign was part of a larger sexual harrassment awareness program that had nothing to do with any alleged refugee rape crisis (LaCapria, 2016b). Interestingly, many of these stories (including three of those cited above) feature the collage shown below of praying Muslims and what are purported to be Swedish women who were beaten and raped by immigrants.
Reverse image searches reveal that the blonde woman figuring most prominently in it was taken from a stock photo published by an online royalty-free image collective.
There's no evidence the model is even Swedish, much less actually abused. It's more likely she's an aspiring starlet with a good make-up artist, and a regular at Malibu Beach.
The Fox segment Trump referred to was an even bigger spectacle. In it Tucker Carlson interviews Ami Horowitz, a media personality and film-maker who recently completed a short documentary alleging that "rape and violence has exploded across Sweden due it's immigration policies." During the interview Horowitz made numerous statements that within days were debunked as unsubstantiated rumors or outright falsehoods (Aftonbladet, 2017; Baker & Chan, 2017; Chan, 2017; Farley, 2017). The documentary not only repeated these falsehoods, but contained numerous edits that appear to have been deliberately misleading. For instance, its first 20 seconds include a slow pan across a BBC headline ("Sweden's rape rate under the spotlight") but conspicuously avoids the article's content. However the title, author, and date (briefly visible) are enough for a Google search of the original article (Alexander, 2012) where we find the accompanying byline;
"The Julian Assange extradition case has put Sweden's relatively high incidence of rape under the spotlight. But can such statistics be reliably compared from one country to another?" [My emphasis]
The article goes on from there to explain in depth why they can't. "In the spotlight" was merely a rhetorical device to pique readers' interest, but Horowitz would have us believe it was an indictment. When I first pulled the article up, this byline appeared on my screen barely an inch below the portion scanned in the documentary, and in bold print. Compare the portion of the article the documentary pans across,
with this highlighted screenshot from the original,
No reasonable person could've missed the article's message or content, unless the intent was to deliberately mislead the audience. Soon after the documentary's release two policemen who were interviewed in it accused Horowitz of deliberately editing their comments to misrepresent their statements and called him a "madman." A review of the final edits by the documentary's cameramen confirmed their claims (Lindkvist, 2017; 2017b). Horowitz denies all of this of course, but as of this writing he still refuses to provide the original raw footage for comparison (Lindkvist, 2017c). Horowitz also claims to have been beaten by a "gang of immigrants" while filming for the documentary in Stockholm's Husby district (Robinson, 2016). But not surprisingly, there's no actual footage of the alleged attack--only a blank screen with audio and a few words of what is claimed to be "Arabic." And of course, Horowitz emerged from this traumatic ordeal with no apparent injuries. To date, no independent evidence whatsoever suggests the attack wasn't staged, or if it did happen, that the assailants were actually Muslim immigrants.
Needless to say, these shenanigans only increased the documentary's popularity on social media and in the usual Far-Right tabloids.
Shenanigans aside, here's what actually is true. Sweden does have the highest number of registered rape offenses in Europe, and has so for some time (UNODC, 2013; Brå, 2016). But a number of statistical, substantive, and legal factors render the differences almost meaningless. First, in Sweden crimes are registered when they are first reported, before their true classifications have been verified. As such, and act first registered as rape will retain that classification in published crime statistics even if it ends up being reclassified or charges are later dropped. Furthermore, rape charges are also handled in a substantively different manner than elsewhere. In the United States for instance, a man who assault his wife or girlfriend, say, 20 times might be given a single rape charge, whereas in Sweden he wuld be charges with 20 rapes. Second, even by First World standards Sweden is an overtly feminist society and their laws and social norms are correspondingly more liberal. In Sweden, the definition of rape includes groping, and there are fewer social stigmas associated with reporting it. Here in the United States a significant number of sexual assaults go unreported because of the shame attached to them. Rape victims are often accused of being "slutty" behavior that somehow led their attackers on, and are considered "soiled" by it. The Swedes have little patience for such excuses, or for "locker room banter" about sexual assault of any kind--to them, "no" damn well means NO! As such, rape tends to be overreported in Sweden compared to other First World nations (Von Hofer, 2000; Brå, 2017).
In other words, the main reason rape is more "prevalent" in Sweden is that they don't make excuses for men like Donald Trump or his bragging about "[grabbing] them by the p***y, " they arrest them!
If Swedish law were implemented in the United States, our rape stats would likely be worse than theirs... and our current ruler would be in prison where he belongs rather than the White House. As for immigrants and Sweden's crime trends, those alleged correlations disappear on closer examination as well. There are several chronically recurring factors in Far-Right xenophobic fake news, but among the more common are scientific and mathematical illiteracy, especially where statistics are involved. For instance, one repeatedly sees videos and alleged eyewitness accounts of isolated incidents from which sweeping generalizations are made, or graphs in which some trend (like crime) is plotted against a single variable such as nationality hailed as "proof" of a direct correlation between the two. A few weeks ago a friend posted the two graphs below in a Facebook comment thread.
The first was said to be from "Mother Jones" and the second from "SCS." No other specifics were given regarding their origins or content, but I was able to trace the first to a Feb. 17, 2017 article in the online edition of Mother Jones (Drum, 2017), and the second to the Swedish Crime Survey (Brå, 2016), which my friend had dubbed "SCS." As he originally posted it neither the ordinate, nor the title of the latter were labeled leaving us to wonder what percentages were even being shown. But even so, I was able to track down the original research behind both for the context and detail that were omitted here. The latter figure as it appears in the original publication is below,
Several things are immediately apparent. First, the long-term regressed trends of the violent crimes shown are almost flat, and if anything trending downward. The few spikes present are easily accounted for by reporting noise and/or socio-economic factors unrelated to immigrant status. In particular, the 2015 spike in rape was almost certainly a result of the fact that the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention reclassified reporting of sexual offences that year to broaden the definition of rape (Valverde, 2017). It would be surprising if there wasn't a resulting spike, even if the number of actual crimes remained unchanged. Comparison of these trends with Sweden's immigration records (Wikipedia, 2017) reveals no discernable correlation whatsoever between the two.
But what about the first figure? Doesn't it show that immigrants are committing the lion's share of Sweden's violent crimes? The figures shown there are clearly labeled as being for the period of 1997 to 2001--almost a decade before any of the recent immigration waves the Far-Right is intent on blaming immigrants for. In the uncited article my friend borrowed it from we find the following directly above it,
"Sure enough... He linked to an old report that tallies crime rates for the years 1997-2001—which is all but useless in 2017…" (Drum, 2017 - My emphasis)
It seems my friend conveniently overlooked the "useless in 2017" part in his own source before sharing it. A check of the original source Drum obtained both figures from (Martens & Holmberg, 2005) reveals the following,
"The high level of relative risk noted among North Africans does not however mean that persons from North Africa are responsible for a large proportion of the offences that are linked to crime suspects in Sweden. On the contrary they account for a very small proportion of these offences. The groups that dominate in this regard are those from the Nordic countries." (My emphasis)
In other words, the bulk of Sweden's immigrant "rape crisis" is due to Scandinavians, not dark-skinned people from Muslim-majority countries!
When demographic, socio-economic, and other factors are properly accounted for, the relationships between their crime statistics by race and/or immigrant status are no different than what one would find in poor minority communities in America. Yet again, there's nothing here but reptile-brain, xenophobic agitprop. No meaningful relationship of any kind whatsoever exists between being a Muslim immigrant and being a low-life scumbag.
It's depressing, and alarming to think that that so many otherwise decent human beings can be so fear-driven and hungry for an excuse to hate dark-skinned people with different beliefs, that they'll devour any vicious, incompetently researched rumor fed to them about those folks... without so much as 30 seconds of the due diligence they would demand if they were slandered strangers in a foreign land.
Aftonbladet. 2017. "After Trump's "Last night in Sweden": Here are the errors in Fox News' report on Swedish immigration." Aftonbladet Feb. 19, 2017. Available online at http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/a/g26Lk/after-trumps-last-night-in-sweden-here-are-the-errors-in-fox-news. Accessed Mar. 3, 2017.
Alexander, R. 2012. "Sweden's rape rate under the spotlight." BBC News Sept. 15, 2012. Available online at http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19592372. Accessed Mar. 8, 2017.
Chan, S. 2017. ""Last Night in Sweden"? Trump's Remark Baffles a Nation." New York Times Feb. 19, 2017. Available online at https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/19/world/europe/last-night-in-sweden-trumps-remark-baffles-a-nation.html. Accessed Mar. 3, 2017.
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