Nordic countries have some of the lowest gender workforce gaps and best maternity leave policies in the world. But a new report from Amnesty International revealed that women in these countries face sexual abuse and rape at "disturbingly high" levels.

The report, published on April 3, looked at Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway and found that in all of these nations, rape and sexual violence against women occurs tens of thousands of times annually.

In 2017, 24,000 women were victims of rape or attempted rape in Denmark, but only people in 94 of those cases were convicted; in Finland, 50,ooo women reported sexual abuse but only 209 rape convictions were made. The report also found that one in 10 people in Sweden thought gender-based violence was the fault of the woman.

These statistics are the result of a vicious cycle involving the justice system and culture misconceptions about sex and consent, Patricia M. Kaatee, a policy advisor at Amnesty International Norway, told INSIDER. "Rape myths are preventing women very efficiently from reporting rape. Out of [all of the] reported cases to police, the majority are closed by public prosecution," she said.

Nordic countries are often praised for their gender equality

Nordic countries have consistently ranked high in terms of gender equality. Finland, Denmark, and Sweden have some of the most generous maternity leave policies in the world. In Finland, a woman receives 23 weeks of maternity leave and in Denmark and in Sweden, mothers receive 18 weeks of leave, compared to 12 weeks of leave in the United States .

Bergen, Norway
Bergen, Norway

They also have some of the lowest gender workforce gaps in the world , according to a May 2018 report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Despite these encouraging numbers, violent acts against women continue

Each country in the report defines rape slightly differently, but they all have one thing in common: rape is considered a forcible and violent act. That means sexual abuse at the hands of a spouse, partner, or other person close to the woman doesn't qualify as rape. "This has enormous repercussions both in terms of the ability to successfully prosecute crimes, but also in terms of how society itself perceives rape," the report reads.

In Norway, for example, the law protects rapists and discourages women from reporting the crimes committed against them, according to Kaatee. "The criminal justice system confirms the idea it's a woman's fault because they don't take [reported cases] as seriously as they should," Kaatee said.

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This was the case for Kirstine Holst, a Danish journalist and rape victim who shared her experience as part of the Amnesty International report. A friend raped her when she was staying at his home, and when she tried to report the case, the rapist was ultimately acquitted.

"The first [investigator] said they didn't have time [to take my report] and the next guy said he had to let me know that cases where you knew the perpetrator like mine rarely end up going to court. He tried to talk me out of it," Holst told INSIDER.

When the cases do make it it to court, women are often blamed for what happened to them. "It's like in the US where police are concerned about how the men or boys will have to deal with it, not the victims," Holst said. "Victims have to drop out of school, lose their jobs because of psychological consequences, get PTSD even."

Advocates think consent-based laws are the best way to protect women against abuse

After investigating each of the Nordic countries' current rape and sexual abuse laws, Amnesty International experts recommended new consent-based rape laws be put in place to better protect and support women.

"To authorities in Denmark, Finland and Norway ... urgently amend the definition of rape in the Criminal Code so that it is based on the absence of consent, bringing it in line with international human rights and revise the legislation to ensure that particular circumstances such as the abuse of a position of power are considered aggravating factors in sexual crimes," the report recommendation read.

Amnesty International experts also recommended providing more resources for police and public prosecution so they are better equipped to handle a large number of rape reports. Finally, the experts called for additional training for professionals who deal with rape and abuse cases, as well as educational programs for students.

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