Myths cloud attitudes toward rape

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A unique study of rape in Norway and Norwegians’ attitudes toward rape both shatters and reveals several myths around sexual assault. The United Nations, meanwhile, remains concerned that many rapists in Norway get off far too easily, even when convicted.

The study, conducted by research firm TNS Gallup for the DIXI Resource Center for Rape Victims in Oslo (external link), follows a wave of reported rapes in Oslo last year, while the incidence of rape also has increased nationwide. On Monday, for example, just before the study was to be officially released, two more teenage girls filed rape charges against two older men after a party in Trondheim over the weekend.

The alleged Trondheim incident seems to reflect a trend picked up in the DIXI study, that the vast majority of rapes in Norway are carried out by ethnic Norwegian men against women with whom they’re acquainted. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports that many assaults involve domestic violence, date rape or party rape, according to the study. Sometimes the alleged rapes involve men in positions of power. Detailed results were to be formally released Monday afternoon.

The demographics of the majority of attackers differ sharply from widely held beliefs that rapists tend to be foreign immigrants. In fact, reports NRK, such attacks account for only around 18 percent of the rapes reported in Norway.

Victims also get blame
NRK also reported, in advance of the study’s release, that rape victims themselves are often blamed if they’re intoxicated when the rape occurs or agree, for example, to go home with someone they’ve met while out on the town. Fully 25 percent of Norwegians questioned also believe that rape victims are at least partly responsible in such incidents, also if they’re wearing provocative or revealing clothing. Lisa Arntzen, leader of the anti-rape campaign group Aksjon mot voldtekt, was surprised so many would still blame the victim, not just the attacker.

“I though we had come futher than that, and we like to think we have,” Arntzen told NRK. “But this study reveals attitudes that aren’t aired publicly.”

The study also showed than more than half of all rapes in Norway occur when women are both sober and “normally” dressed, and many victims suffer long-term after-effects. More than half of rape victims admit they’ve contemplated suicide after a rape, while as many as 50 to 75 percent of the victims resort to self-destructive behavior or suffer severe lack of concentration. The DIXI study interviewed 150 rape victims and found that most require therapy and that it can take years before they feel they can function as they did before the rape.

“We hadn’t expected such an extent of serious difficulties,” Ivar Westhagen, chairman of DIXI, told NRK. The study’s results, he said, “shows that many suffer after-effects that also can last for the rest of their lives.”

Most rapes occur indoors
Police statistics show that between 8,000 and 16,000 persons are raped in Norway every year. Police in Oslo are still dealing with 96 random street rapes in the capital last year, a new record, according to newspaper Aften. While many of the random rapes, called overfallsvoldtekter in Norwegian, were linked to foreign attackers and set off widespread alarm last year, they make up a tiny percentage of the total number of rapes in the country.

Only 1 percent of those charged with rape actually are convicted in Norway, reported Dagsavisen, with police dropping fully 80 percent of reported rape cases because of lack of evidence. Of those convicted, average prison terms amount to three years and four months, even though rapists can face up to 21 years in prison under Norwegian law. It’s how the law is practiced by the courts that worries officials from the United Nations, with the lack of convictions often tied to legal disputes over whether the reported rapes were assaults or consensual sexual relations.

Newspaper Dagsavisen reported earlier this month that the UN’s committee on women has sharply criticized Norway for its failure to prosecute many accused rapists, its high rate of acquittals and the mild punishments convicted rapists actually get. Amnesty International supports a UN call for new, tougher rape laws in Norway that would be more in line with what Amnesty calls “international human rights standards.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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