An article in one of our local papers discussed the assumptions and beliefs of the Swedish legal system as three men were acquitted of rape charges. Two men sexually took advantage of a young woman while a third held a camera, filming the assault, which took place at a party. The assault also involved the attackers using a wine bottle. As if this was not degrading and horrifying enough, acquittal in the case did not pertain to lack of evidence as much as flimsy and stereotypical assumptions about women’s intent and consent. The court stated that: “The men could have mistaken the woman’s attempts to keep her legs together as simply a sign of her being shy or initially hesitant.” The court also stated that: “People involved in sexual activities together sometimes act spontaneously and without asking the other person involved for consent.”
The three men were freed from charges even though the court claimed the woman’s testimony to have been believable, logical, consistent, detailed and more probable than the stories given by the men during their testimonies. Despite this, the court believed that the men were unaware of the fact that the woman did not express consent.
Victim blaming and rape culture is truly at work when a victim’s account of rape by three men is completely turned on its head and focus turns instead to the shyness of and assumed intent of the woman. This case is a horrible example of the all too common belief that all women really enjoy coercive sex (with multiple people) and that no actually means yes. It solidifies the awful misconception that women are just being coy, seductive and are playing hard to get when they are being taken advantage of. Even if a woman is trying to avoid being raped by holding her legs together she is assumed to be shy, or pretending to be shy. It is truly disturbing that the court even has the audacity to state that not asking for consent is somehow natural and can be used as an excuse when sexual assault has taken place.
If consent does not seem to matter in cases of sexual activity according to the justice system, then what constitutes rape? We know that levels of intoxication, clothing choices and previous sexual history have always been used in the courts to mistrust women and to point to promiscuity and consent to engage in sexual activities. The assumption then is that even when saying no, women say yes, consciously or unconsciously through their appearance and self-presentation. This case is also based on assumptions of consent, and the notion that no means yes. The courts seem to agree with the notion that consent is not important and that it is not needed when engaging in sexual activity. As the court says no, we say yes. Consent is the most important and fundamental part of engaging in sexual activity. If someone is trying to fight you off, holding their legs together, or if they are simply too intoxicated to give consent, you are engaging in rape.