Why does Norway not have a rape law requiring sexual consent?

Why does Norway not have a rape law requiring sexual consent?
Photo: AFP
Unlike its Scandinavian neighbours, Norway is yet to move towards a reform of sexual violence laws to make consent rather than violence the basis for determining rape.

Norway’s governing Conservative party says the country is not considering a sexual consent law at the current time as neighbouring Nordic nations press forward with the reform.

In Denmark, the government earlier this week announced changes to its own laws meaning that consent will become the determining factor in rape cases.

Denmark's legal change, which has majority support in parliament, is expected to be adopted by the end of the year. Under the new law, a sexual partner could express their consent verbally or “indirectly” according to the circumstances.

A similar law has meanwhile been in place in Sweden since 2018

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A proposal to introduce consent to sexual assault laws in Norway has previously been rejected by the country’s parliament.

In March 2018, a Socialist Left (SV) party proposal to introduce a consent law was voted down by the then-government coalition of the Conservative, Liberal and Progress parties along with the Centre Party.

Peter Christian Frølich, a lawmaker with the governing Conservative party and vice-chair of the parliament’s justice committee, told newspaper VG in a written comment that the party was against making explicit consent the basis for rape law.

“A large majority in parliament has said a clear ‘no’ to a consent law. All parties want to fight rape, but it must be done in a good way which follows Norwegian legal tradition,” Frølich said.

“(A legal requirement for consent) is difficult to enforce in practice. It can also work against its intention and place focus on what the victim should have done rather than what the perpetrator actually did,” he added.

That is in stark contrast to the views of the Danish government, whose justice minister Nick Hækkerup said on Tuesday that the country was “moving from a system where there had to be coercion and violence for it to be rape, to one where there must be consent”.

In Sweden, a more long-term outcome of the law change can be observed, considering it was passed by the Swedish parliament in 2018.

The number of rape convictions in the country rose by 75 percent to 333 last year.

That is evidence Norway should follow the example of the other two Nordic countries, according to Alberte Bekkhus, leader of the youth section of Norway’s left-wing Red Party.

“A consent law makes it not just easier (for victims) to report (rape), it can also lead to a change in perception,” Bekkhus told VG.

“This can be seen in statistics on cases that are shelved in Norway. There are a lot of people who suffer rapes but aren’t able to report them because the chance the investigation will be shelved is so high,” she said.

Frølich rejected comparisons with Sweden, arguing that Norway’s rape laws are “miles ahead” of its neighbour, citing Norwegian laws against negligent rape.

Women's groups have welcomed the planned legal change in Denmark, where the Federation of Danish Women on Tuesday called it a “historic victory for legality and the right to take sexual decisions”.


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