Rape cases increased in 2021. Here’s why

Denmark’s Consent Act at one: more victims coming forward, more charges being brought … will it end with more sentences?

“They didn’t say no” is no longer considered an adequate defence in Danish rape cases (photo: Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images)
January 17th, 2022 5:00 pm| by Lena Hunter

From 2020 to 2021, the number of reported rapes increased from 1,392 to 2,110.

There was also a slight increase in charges: 2020 saw 77.4 percent of cases end with a rape charge, while in 2021 it was 79.5 percent, according to figures from the National Police.

The Consent Act, which came into force on 1 January 2021, is thought to be the cause of the increase.

A cultural shift
The minister of justice, Nick Hækkerup, commented that the numbers indicated a cultural shift, as victims are feeling more comfortable reporting rape and sexual abuse.

“I think the new Consent Act really emphasises that nobody should have to suffer sexual abuse or unwanted sexual contact,” he said.

Lene Stavngaard, the head of social-care NGO Sex og Samfund, agreed.

“The Consent Act has won. It’s a huge shift and a big success that more victims dare to report their rape,” she said.

What’s in the law?
Trine Baumbach, a professor of criminal law at the University of Copenhagen, explained the effect of the Consent Act.

“You can no longer submit the defence that ‘the victim was passive’ when they were in fact mentally or physically unable to refuse intercourse. Being passive no longer ‘counts’ as consent.”

Baumbach added that the justice system has become much better equipped to navigate rape cases since the Consent Act was introduced.

More convictions on the way
While the rise in reports and charges doesn’t necessarily equal more sentences, the sharp increase indicates that more convictions are on the way, according to Hækkerup.

“Reports have significantly increased. There has also been an increase in the percentage of those reports that end in rape charges. It’s moving in the direction of increased sentencing,” he said.

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