The Internet has brought an enormous mass of knowledge to the fingertips of everyone with a computer, smartphone or tablet. Never before have so many individuals been so close to true scientific facts about the world, from fun facts about animals to the latest crime statistics. Large communities with blogs, forums and social media groups have grown up around a wide variety of special interests and it has become a powerful tool for communication, cooperation and the advancement of human knowledge.
However, this has also led to the creation of ideologically isolated Internet communities, where faulty claims and misunderstandings of statistics and empirical evidence gets repeated in an endless echo chamber and all refutations are either ignored, misrepresented or subjected to ideologically driven rejection, often with stale references to supposed “political correctness”, as if that was a statistically mature rebuttal.
This article will show that according to crime victim surveys, the actual rate of sex crimes has been more or less unchanged in Sweden between 2005 and 2014, despite the fact that immigration has increased during the same time period. Instead, the increasing rates of reported rapes are influenced by expansion of the legal rape definition, an increase in the tendency to report rapes, police efforts to classify each individual rape as a separate crime and their tendency to classify any sex crime that could potentially be rape as rape. It will also demonstrate that reported rates between countries such as Sweden and Denmark cannot be naively compared to do the large difference in legal rape definition and police registration methods.
Primer: how does crime statistics work?
Before we look at the data, here is a short primer on what crime statistics is and different ways to measure crime. This is crucial, since a lot of arguments that commonly occur in mainstream, alternative and social media are based on confusing these different measurements.
When looking at crime statistics, there are two main sources of information:
(1) : these kinds of datasets provide information about how many crimes of a certain type was reported to the police during a certain time period (such as a calendar year).
(2) : these datasets come from surveys sent out to many thousands of people who ask them if they have been the victim of particular crimes during e. g. the past 12 months.
These may look similar, but they are in fact completely different and answer very different questions.
are influenced by the real crime rates, propensity for reporting, trust in the criminal justice system, victim stigma, crime definitions and registration methods. This is a measurement of how many reports of a certain crime that comes in to the police, and thus a measure of the police investigation load.
Crime victim surveys, on the other hand, attempt to measure how many individuals are the victim of a certain crime during each time period i.e. the . Since these are anonymous, is not done by the police and uses the same crime definitions over the years, it is not influenced by the confounders that reported crime rates are.
To make it crystal clear: reported crime rates is not the same as actual crime rates and changes in one does not need to be reflected in the other. In fact, they do not even have to correlate. This is because not all crime reports are true and not all crimes get reported to the police.
If you want information about actual rates, you have to look at crime victim surveys.
The Swedish Crime Survey show that sex crime incidence is unchanged since 2005
The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (BRÅ) does a crime victim survey every year called The Swedish Crime Survey (“Nationella Trygghetsundersökningen”, abbreviated NTU). They send out surveys to a random and nationally representative sample of 20 000 people in Sweden and about 12 000 people respond (60% response rate). They survey asks people if they have been the victim of certain crimes and other questions related to crime and the criminal justice system. They started at 2005 and summary statistics was recently released for 2014.
Here is BRÅ data from 2005-2014 for crimes against individuals, expressed in proportion of total population:
Red is any kind of sex crime, blue is robberies, purple is any kind of physical assault, yellow is fraud, dark-cyan is any form of harassment and green is any kind of illegal threats.
The major result from this graph is that not a lot happens over time. Since 2005, most categories are roughly the same or slightly decreasing, although there is some random fluctuation from year to year.
The Swedish Crime Survey attempts to ask additional details about the seriousness of the sex crime in question by asking if the sex crime was accompanied by violence or threats of violence, if the victim was incapacitated by sleeping, alcohol or drugs and if the victim would label it as rape. However, because it cannot be generally expected that victims of sexual crimes fully understand legal definitions of rape, those estimates are more uncertain. The year-to-year variability in rapes is comparable to that of sex crimes generally.
This also means that the doomsday claims made in alternative media and Internet forums about an avalanche of rapes and sex crimes in the wake of immigration is empirically false. So how could so many political ideologues be so profoundly mistaken on this issue? It turns out that it is because they look solely on incidence of reported rapes and not actual incidence of rape.
If actual incidence of rape is unchanged, why are rape reports increasing?
Anti-immigration activists often point out that the observed number of rape reports per year is increasing. This is true, but does not demonstrate that the actual incidence of rape is increasing. As we saw above, it is more or less constant over time (with some year-to-year fluctuations).
So what is going on? Well, the increase is caused by a couple of different factors:
—> : over the past 20 years, Sweden has broadened the definition of rape several times: actions that are comparable to rape (e. g. forced vaginal fisting) was classified as rape in 1998, sex with someone in a helpless state (e. g. sleeping or passed out due to alcohol or drugs) was classified as rape in 2005 and sex with someone in a particularly vulnerable situation (e. g. victim paralyzed with fear) was classified as rape in 2013. Since a higher proportion of sex crimes is classified as rape, the incidence of rape reports increases over time.
—> a doubling of the proportion of sex crimes reported to the police occurred between 2005 (10%) to 2011 (20%) according to BRÅ, but this figure fluctuates a bit from year to year. This statistic may be influenced by increase in societal equality, more attention given to sex crimes, and increased trust in the criminal justice system by victims.
—> Swedish police has made a stronger conscious effort at registering all potential rapes over time: “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.” (according to BRÅ).
Together, these factors increases the incidence of reported rapes. No one is claiming that any individual factor causes all of it and they are not post hoc rationalizations since crime victim survey data shows that the incidence of sex crimes is more or less constant since 2005.
Why naive comparison of incidence of rape reports between Sweden and Denmark is invalid
When anti-immigration activists are faced with data from crime victim surveys that show that actual rates of sex crimes is more or less constant in Sweden from 2005, they rarely change their minds. Instead they either appeal to conspiracy theories about the government hiding statistics (even though it is freely available online), and if they are more sophisticated, they will try to make faulty comparisons with rape statistics from other countries, such as Denmark. However, this is not a valid comparison.
BRÅ emphasize the distinction between actual crimes and reported crimes:
Within established research about levels of crime and crime development, people are agreed that it is not possible to evaluate and compare the actual levels of violent crimes (such as rape) between countries by comparing the number of crimes reported to the police. This is because there are significant differences between the judicial systems of countries and systems for creating statistics showing crimes reported to the police.
BRÅ goes on to cite a couple of reasons why a naive comparison between Sweden and other countries does not work:
Broader definition and extensive registration
Firstly, in Sweden there is a noticeably broad definition of what constitutes rape. This means that more acts in Sweden are regarded and registered as rape than in the majority of other countries. Secondly, 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. In addition to this, all individual acts are registered — not just the latest occasion or the main crime. In many other countries cases like these are filtered out and do not show up in the statistics.
In other words, Sweden has a much broader definition than other countries, police makes an effort to label sex crimes that they suspect are rapes and registers each rape as a separate event even when the perpetrator has raped a victim several times over a longer period of time (such as months or years).
This can be independently verified by comparing the number of rapes with the number of unique rape victims. For instance, the NTU 2013 report states that (my translation):
Of the polled, 0.8% states that they were the victims of sexual crimes during 2012, which corresponds to about 62 000 persons in the population (aged 16-79). The proportion of sex crime victims has been relatively stable during the eight measurement dates (see table 3A). Just like when it comes to threats and assault, most people who were the victim of a sex crime during 2012 were exposed to a single event, but there is a smaller group that are repeatedly victimized. The number of events amount to an estimated 223 000.
So although there were 62 000 people exposed to sex crimes (not just rape, see above), there were 223 000 events, which highlights that the police reports single events separately.
Another way to independently confirm the statements made by BRÅ is to compare the legal rape definition between Sweden and Denmark.
The Swedish legal rape definition can be found in the 1§ of the 6th chapter of the Penal Code called Brottsbalk (1962:700) (my translation):
6th chapter. About sex crimes
1 § The one who through assault or otherwise with violence or threat of criminal act forces a person to intercourse or to undertake another sexual act that with respect to the seriousness of the violation is comparable to intercourse is convicted for rape to prison for at least two years and at most six years.
The same applies to the one who with a person completes an intercourse or a sexual act that is according to the first section comparable to intercourse by unduly taking advantage of the fact that the person due to being unconscious, being asleep, serious fear, intoxication or other drug influence, disease, bodily injury or psychiatric disorder or otherwise with regards to the context are in a particularly vulnerable situation.
The first paragraph continues for two more sections to discuss sentencing where the crime is considered less severe and more severe than normal, respectively.
The legal rape definition in Denmark can be found in the Criminal Code (“Straffeloven”) Chapter 26 Section 216 (Danish original):
§ 216. For voldtægt straffes med fængsel indtil 8 år den, der
1) tiltvinger sig samleje ved vold eller trussel om vold eller
2) skaffer sig samleje ved anden ulovlig tvang, jf. § 260, eller med en person, der befinder sig i en tilstand eller situation, i hvilken den pågældende er ude af stand til at modsætte sig handlingen.
The first part of the definition is about violence or threat of violence (cf. Swedish definition above) and the second part relates to victims that are incapable of refusing the act due to e. g. sleeping or heavily intoxicated or under the strong influence of drugs.
Thus, the Swedish rape definition is much broader, encompassing sexual activities that are comparable to rape, individuals that cannot resist due to psychiatric disorder or are in a particularly vulnerable situation. In other words, many sex crimes that are classified as rape in Sweden are classified as a lesser sex crime in Denmark.
So when anti-immigration activists write stuff like:
Danish legislation is not very different from Sweden’s, and there is no obvious reason why Danish women should be less inclined to report rape than their Swedish counterparts.
We can now easily understand why they are mistaken: Danish legal definition of rape is very different from the Swedish legal definition and the tendency to report rapes is an explanation for why rape reports are increasing in Sweden whereas crime victim surveys place sex crimes at more or less a constant rate since 2005 (not an explanation for between-country differences in the number of reported rapes).
The moral of the story is that you should not get your information about crime statistics from shady blogs who make trivial statistical errors (like confusing reported and actual crimes) or Youtube videos. Instead, go to the original scientific papers or crime victim surveys, read them and understand the methodology, results, limitations and conclusions. There are no shortcuts to substantial knowledge.
The increasing rates of reported rape in Sweden is primarily caused by a repeated expansion of the rape definition, the fact that police is consciously reported all rapes as individual reports and an observed increase in the tendency to report rape. The differences between rates of reported rape between e. g. Sweden and Denmark is caused by differences in rape definition, differences in registration methods and efforts to rape all sex crimes that might be rape as rape.
In the end, it is doubly ironic that anti-immigration activists say that they refuse to read mainstream media because of its bias, yet (1) are strongly influenced by the increase in sensationalist coverage of violent crime by mainstream media and (2) are so willing to believe claims made by “alternative” media that are unsupported and often contradicted by actual crime victim survey results.