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POLICE

Violence against women: A look at the Swedish government’s 40-point plan

Sweden's government has announced a nationwide plan to fight male violence against women after several recent killings of women by their current or former partners. The proposals include tougher sentences but also preventative work.

Violence against women: A look at the Swedish government's 40-point plan
The proposals include strengthening sentences for several crimes against women, but no concrete support for shelters. File photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The government says that its measures are intended to work towards the following goals: “Violence must be prevented and the men who commit crimes against women must be punished. Women who are exposed to crime should get the help they need.”

“This is the most comprehensive package against men’s violence against women for at least 20 years,” Justice Minister Morgan Johansson told a press conference where he announced the measures with Minister for Gender Equality Märta Stenevi and Interior Minister Mikael Damberg.

Märta Stenevi said efforts are needed to change norms “so that no boys will grow up and become men who beat and rape”.

Preventative work 

The measures include a national focus on violence prevention, including initiatives aimed at sharing knowledge and strengthening cooperation between relevant authorities. This includes both early stage preventative work (to stop men at risk of violence from committing crimes) but also initiatives to reduce the risk of re-offending.

From autumn 2022, school curriculums will be changed so that the subject that was previously called “sex and relationships” will also address gender equality. And the government proposes initiatives to raise awareness of its consent law, which makes explicit in legislation that passivity does not equal consent.

As well as schools, sports associations were highlighted as a part of society to be involved in preventative work, and Sweden’s Center for Sports Research (CIF) will be asked to identify opportunities to introduce anti-violence initiatives.

Better victim support

The government pledged to review “possible ways to provide women’s and girls’ shelters and other non-profit organisations that work with crime victims better planning conditions” but stopped short of promising funding. One of the challenges these organisations face is their reliance on donations and government support, which is often only guaranteed for a fixed time, therefore making long-term work difficult.

It did say that it would review the need for more funding for The National Center for Women’s Peace (NCK), which runs a phone line for victims of crime and which reported an increase in calls in recent years.

And it noted: “Women exposed to violence should not have to leave a shelter and return to the perpetrator of violence because they lack a permanent home.” An inquiry will therefore look into municipalities’ responsibilities in providing housing for women and children exposed to violence, for example whether people in this situation can be prioritised.

Vulnerable groups

The report outlined the need to support particularly vulnerable groups, including those who are involved in pornography and victims of human trafficking, but also foreign residents who are in Sweden on a permit based on their relationship. 

“In some situations, there needs to be an opportunity to grant a person a residence permit despite the fact that the relationship on which the permit was based on has ceased, e.g. due to violence in the relationship,” it noted, saying that an investigation will be launched into possible changes to Sweden’s migration laws to protect these people from the threat of deportation.

Stricter penalties

The proposals also include tougher penalties for crimes including rape, hate crimes with a gender motive, violation of a woman’s integrity, and soliciting. Some of these harsher penalties had already been submitted, others are currently being investigated and some will now be added to the agenda.

One example of a review that the government says it will now act on will see punishments of fines for paying for sex removed, so that the crime is punishable by imprisonment only. The government now plans to put this to parliament.

And as well as increasing the sentences, the government proposes lowering the threshold for issuing restraining orders, making it easier to use electronic tags on people subject to restraining orders, and increasing the punishment for violating such orders.

And the government will investigate whether it should be made easier to deprive perpetrators of contact with their children. 

“We have far too many cases where women live with a protected identity, but still somehow have to solve the issue of contact with the father. We must move away from the view that the man does not hit his children and therefore should have contact with them,” said Johansson.

Improving skills and methods used by authorities

When The Local has spoken to people working in the field of male violence, a commonly raised obstacle is limited understanding of how to deal with these crimes by police and other authorities.

Seven of the 40 measures outlined by the government relate to development of skills and methods, including more in-depth statistics on violence against women; skills development within the police including improved understanding of mental health issues and how to work with other agencies or social services; mapping the research currently being done into violence against women, and a review into the situation for women and children who have been exposed to violence and are living under a protected identity.

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FAMILY

How Sweden’s gender-equal divorce law can leave women worse off

Sweden is often lauded as being gender-equal, reflected in Swedish divorce law. But that doesn't mean that Sweden is the best place for women to get divorced, as Sarah Jefford discovered following her split three years ago.

How Sweden's gender-equal divorce law can leave women worse off

Moving to a new country can bring enough turmoil, stress, and culture shock to put a marriage through its paces.  Causes of divorce and separation among native Swedes and immigrant partners include emotional estrangement, loneliness, and a lack of independence in a new country. But what happens when a Swede and foreign spouse decide to split up in Sweden when they share a child?

For expats enduring a divorce to a native in Sweden, separation can be especially acrimonious if children are involved and one of the plaintiffs is financially and civically dependent on the other.

Immigrant divorce rates in Sweden are around 15 percent higher than native Swedish divorce rates and marriages between a Swede and a foreigner are between a quarter and two-and-a-half times more likely to end in divorce than those between two Swedes, according to a study by Martin Dribe, Professor of Economic History at Lund University.

British expat, Sarah Jefford, considers herself, since her split nearly three years back, to be trapped in Sweden, destitute, and fighting to be able to leave the country with her son to return back home to family and friends to rebuild a life for themselves. She would like other expats to know what they’re getting into with regards to absence of alimony and child support in Sweden.

“It’s not that good towards women”

She tells the Local that “expats should realise this because Sweden is super popular at the moment, you hear constantly in the papers that it is such a civil society–fantastic for women, the kids, and an equal society? Well, these are the disadvantages of an equal society. And the truth is that it’s not that good towards women.”

She met her Swedish husband, a pension fund CIO, in Switzerland and they married in the UK. Happy with the course their burgeoning family was on, she agreed to put her own job as a winemaker on hold and move to Sweden to follow her husband’s career together with their child in 2014.

She could never imagine it would end in divorce, let alone that she would find herself struggling to make ends meet and look after her child after her husband walked out amidst an office affair nearly three years ago.  Though they share joint custody and despite his wealthy career managing a top Swedish pension fund, her ex refuses to financially support their son, now 14, who lives with her.

Photo: Sarah Jefford

“It did not occur to me that were I to get divorced it would be the law of the country of residence that I would be subject to and not the UK, my home country, the country where I got married.”

Swedish law stipulates that joint assets (those acquired during the marriage) are split in half when a couple divorces in Sweden. Unlike in the UK or North America, there is no division of pension and alimony is not available. There is no child allowance if the children spend one week with one parent and one week with the other (regardless if one of the parties has no income).

Should a child live with one parent full-time, the other must pay child support.  The amount varies according to the child’s age. 1,673 kronor until the child becomes 11, 1,823 kronor till the child turns 15, and 2,273 after that. Försäkringskassan (the Swedish Social Insurance Agency) estimates how much the non-custodial parent must pay to Försäkringskassan. 

In Sweden, there are other options for dealing with issues regarding property partition and child custody arrangements, family mediation and constructive dialogue are advised tactics. The European e-Justice portal includes a comprehensive description of divorce law and settlement procedures in English.

In Jefford’s case she claims 1,823 kronor (about €170) a month for her 14-year-old child through the agency.

“So the Försäkringskassa pays me and then goes after my ex for the money.  As a result, there is no child support or alimony depending on the parent’s income. How should I bring up a teenager with that? I mean it it barely pays for the fancy sneakers that teenagers like so much, and definitely does not cover their food and they eat like horses at that age.”

Jefford’s business as a wine educator has suffered immensely during the pandemic, and she finds it near impossible to keep up with the price of living in Stockholm whilst supporting her child.  She has been scraping by working as a substitute teacher and doing sporadic odd jobs which she says she can’t survive off, or pay rent with, or get bank loans for a mortgage. 

Feeling completely stuck, Jefford says that had she known about Swedish divorce laws and the fact that they are legally binding in the place of residence, she would have “never moved here, or got married.”

Jefford recalls friends in France and Switzerland being gobsmacked by her predicament:

“Foreigners are envious of Sweden’s generous parental leave, and that’s talked about a lot. So the focus is on Sweden being an amazing country, because you get this parental leave, right?”

“But it blurs the fact that other problems with the system going towards total equality are actually misguided in a way. Great, you know, equal pay and opportunities for men and women. I’m all for that, of course.  But it doesn’t always work–you have to take into consideration circumstances.  I think the system of equality works if everybody is equal in life, or has the same advantages and has the same kind of life and opportunities.”

“But if you don’t have that, if you don’t come from that, then that system doesn’t work and is unfair. That’s how I see it. And I think it’s really scary.”

By Matthew Weaver

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