My research interests center around understanding sexual violence and gender inequality. I am interested in illuminating the social conditions that lead to sexual violence, and how policies can be created to address the problem, prevent future violence, and find justice and healing for survivors.
In my doctoral research, I am exploring why sexual violence persists despite strides women have made in other areas of gender equality, and I use Sweden as a case to investigate what has been called the “Nordic paradox.” Sweden has some of the highest rates of sexual violence in the European Union yet is consistently ranked as one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. What explains Sweden’s high rate of sexual violence amidst relative gender equality in other areas? In my dissertation, “In a Feminist State: Sexual Violence and Gender Equality in Sweden,” I provide a historically grounded explanation to the seeming paradox of persistent sexual violence in Sweden.
The Swedish government has been at the forefront of legislating against sexual violence, particularly in improving the legal experience of victims. The Swedish state has recognized sexual violence as one rooted in gender inequality since the 1998 kvinnofrid law, the first explicitly feminist legislative approach to gender-based violence. Since this legal change, there have been several legal reforms and policy changes, including, among other things: broadening the definition of rape, promoting dignified treatment for victim-survivors in encounters with the police, providing extensive participatory rights for those who report to the criminal justice system, requiring training on sexual violence and intimate partner violence in medical school training, and guaranteeing government funding to all organizations that work against gender-based violence.
I argue then that Sweden has high rates of sexual violence as a result of this close collaboration between feminist anti-rape activism and state institutions, breaking the silence and encouraging victims to seek help while reforming policies to create more victim-centered criminal justice and medical institutions. The combination of activism and legal changes has led to an increase in the number of rapes that are reported to the police, reflected in the official criminal statistics. Thus, it’s not necessarily a paradox that Sweden has high rates of sexual violence. Rather, the high rate of both police-reported sexual crimes and self-identification on national and international victims’ surveys should be seen as a feminist victory, as women are resisting the normalization of sexual abuse and violence that occurs in their everyday life.