Comments on Sweden’s recent acquittal of a cisgender man for the rape of a trans woman
Recently, there has been much coverage online of a recent case from Sweden in which a cisgender man was acquitted of the rape or attempted rape (since the act, apparently, was never completed) of a transgender woman. (See here, here and here.) Much of this coverage has implied that the acquittal of the defendant resulted from the judge’s bias against trans women. While that could well have been a factor here, I suspect that the situation is much more complicated than that.
When I’m not online, I work as a criminal defense attorney doing appeals for defendants who have been convicted but cannot afford an attorney. I have doing this work since 1997. I say this not to brag, but to lend some credence to what I’m going to say here.
Part of my job is to parse the language of the statutes under which my client was convicted to see if they do, in fact, apply to my client’s conduct. Because of the long sentences at stake, many of my cases involve sex offenses, like the case in Sweden. One thing I’ve learned through that work, is that legislators are often very bad at drafting clear and comprehensive statutes. Another thing I’ve noticed is that, unless the state or country has undertaken a comprehensive program of updating their statutes, the statutes are likely to reflect many outmoded ideas, such as the belief that women cannot be raped by their husbands, something that was only corrected here in Arizona in the last few years.
My point is that, regardless of the judge’s personal feelings, it could well be that the applicable statute in this case was written in such a way that a conviction was simply impossible. For example, the statute here may have defined rape as only the nonconsensual penetration of a vagina. Without reading the exact statute the attacker was charged under, as well as the indictment stating his alleged crime, it is impossible to know whether the failure of Sweden’s criminal justice system in this case was the fault of the judge, the prosecutor or the legislature, or some combination of the three.
I too decry the result in this case, but I think we do our fight for equality a disservice when we automatically attribute outcomes we disagree with to the prejudice of the people involved without acknowledging the broader systemic failures at work. For better or for worse, the world is not always as black and white as we make it out to be, and not everyone we disagree with is our enemy.
One final comment: I’ve seen many posts, on Twitter and elsewhere, claiming that the attacker was set free based on the court’s ruling. In fact, despite the acquittal on the rape charge, the attacker was convicted of assault and is facing 4 years in prison. Presumably, the sentence for rape would have been much longer.