The Myth of the Swedish “Rapefugee”

A comprehensive debunking of the myth of the “rapefugee”.

[A Swedish commenter called “Imaginary Petal” on We Hunted the Mammoth just posted a comprehensive debunking of the particularly irksome myth circulated by far-right xenophobes that Sweden is suffering an extreme rise in sexual crimes due to the large numbers of refugees moving there. It is reproduced here in full, with their permission, with my own notes and grammatical corrections in brackets where appropriate. — B.G.]

Hi guys. This is my response to the myth of Sweden as the rape capital of the world due to Muslim refugees. Needless to say, this comment will deal with rape, sexual assault, and other sexual crimes. I won’t use any kind of graphic language, but I will discuss various kinds of terrible crimes in a matter of fact tone. [I] think that’s the only CN [content note] necessary.

Let’s start with a graph, based on correct statistics, which at first glance might seem to confirm the conservative narrative. [This is the origin of this graph (se), which bears out Imaginary Petal’s explanation. — B.G.]

[A graph of the portion of Swedes who have reported sexual crimes committed against them from 2005 to 2015.]
(fig. 1)

I’ve seen quite a few people post this graph as evidence that rape rates are spiking, often without any further information given as to what the graph is actually meant to be showing. In short, the y axis shows [the percentage] of the total population in the age group 16-79 who say they have been victims of some kind of sexual crime. The purple line is for women, the blue line is for men, and the green line is for all genders.

Anyone who is somewhat familiar with rational thinking will quickly come to the insight that these stats do not correspond to the number of crimes reported to the police, or even necessarily to the number of crimes actually committed. The graph shows that more people, for some reason or other, said that they had been a victim of a sexual crime when responding to a survey. The upwards trend could be influenced by any number of circumstances, such as increased awareness, increased outspokenness, decreased stigma, a wider and more proper understanding of what a sexual crime really is, etc.

Secondly, these statistics don’t cover the entire population. For example, something like 40% of all rapes are committed against minors. A non-neglig[i]ble number of sexual crimes have victims over the age of 79.

Thirdly, there’s a bait-and-switch here. This graph covers all sexual crimes — not only rape. To illustrate my point with this complaint, let’s look at a different graph. [This graph came from the same place as Fig. 1 above; again, it bears out Imaginary Petal’s explanation. — B.G.]

[A graph of the total number of reports of various crimes in Sweden with sexual crimes superimposed.]
(fig. 2)

Here, the y axis shows total number of reported crimes. The [turquoise] line at the top is for all sexual crimes added together. The yellow line is for sexual assault. The purple line is for rape. The blue line at the bottom covers sexual coercion, blackmail, etc.

The most interesting thing here, in comparison to the previous graph, is that the number of reported sexual crimes dropped in 2015 from the previous year, while significantly more people reported in the survey that they had been victims of such crimes compared to the previous year. Again, this could be due to all kinds of different factors. It doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer sexual crimes were committed.

One very important thing to note, regarding this figure, is that these statistics show the number of separate crimes. A single case reported to the police could contain many separate crimes. For example, a child who reports their parent for sexually assaulting them a hundred times for the past decade would increase the number of reported crimes by a hundred (not by 1), and all those separate crimes would be counted for the year in which they were finally reported. The spike in crime for 2014 is in large part due to just a few cases each covering many separate crimes.

Another elephant in the graph, so to speak, is that both these figures show a more or less clear upward trend over the decade. In order to understand these trends, we need more background information.

First of all, these figures start at 2005 for good reason. In 2005, the legal definitions of rape, sexual assault, sexual crime, etc, were significantly broadened. Because of this, comparisons to pre-2005 would be wildly misleading. Not surprisingly, these new laws coincided with a massively increased awareness of what sexual assault is, largely thanks to feminist activists. A gradually increasing number of people became aware that men can be victims of rape, that women can be perpetrators of rape, that it’s quite possible to rape a sexual and romantic partner, that silence doesn’t necessarily mean yes, that no never means yes, etc etc etc.

Immediately following 2005, we see an increase in the number of reported sexual crimes (and a decrease in the number of self-reported victims of sexual crimes) until it plateaus in 2010. This increase coincided with a large influx of new refugees, mainly from Iraq, leading some people to jump to the conclusion that these mostly Muslim refugees must be responsible for the apparent wave of sexual crime. However, statistics show that the number of reported sexual crimes had been steadily rising for many years prior to 2005, under the old laws, while the number of self-reported victims of such crimes remained largely unchanged. This supports the theory that increased awareness has been a major factor in driving the number of reported sexual crimes up. We also need to consider that these are absolute numbers, i.e. we’re not dealing with crimes per capita. Sweden’s total population has been steadily rising since before crime statistics became available.

Here’s an interesting table that I created by searching the crime statistics database:

[A table labelled in Swedish, showing a more-or-less steady rise in sexual crimes from 1995 to 2004.]
(fig. 3)

This covers the decade prior to 2005, showing that the total number of reported sexual crimes (sexualbrott) rose dramatically year to year, well before the recent waves of refugees from majority Muslim countries entered the picture. Those determined to blame refugees for literally everything would undoubtedly try to pin this on Balkan refugees from the early 1990s. However, the steady and dramatic increase in reported sexual crimes has been a fact as far back as the database will let me investigate. I won’t include screenshots of the entire history of sexual crime. Anyone is free to access the database and do their own search, in order to verify my findings.

Take another look at the table in figure 3 before we move on. Many of the boxes are left blank. This is a clear indication that heightened awareness has played a massive part in increasing the number of sexual crimes reported to the authorities. Would anyone believe that there were zero child pornography related crimes prior to 2000? Did grooming (bottom row) simply not exist until a few years ago? Any such claims would be absurd and could [I would also add “should”. — B.G.] be instantly dismissed.

Returning to figure 2, we see that the number of reported rapes in 2009 was around 6000 (more accurately, 5937). For 2015, the number was also around 6000 (more accurately, 5918). In other words, the number is unchanged (slightly down) over the 7 year period in question. Let’s look at migration figures for the same period.

[A graph of the number of immigrants to and emigrants from Sweden between 1980 and 2015.]
(fig. 4)

From these statistics, we can see that not only did the 2005 spike in immigration have no measurable impact on the number of reported sexual crimes, but the much higher rates of immigration in later years have had even less of an impact. In fact, the number of reported rapes is unchanged as immigration is at an all time high. For every year prior to 2015, the largest group of immigrants has been Swedish citizens returning from having lived abroad for a period of time. Since 2015, the largest group of immigrants is refugees from Syria. The increased immigration by other groups than Swedish expats has had a clear influence on the proportion of Swedish residents born in a country other than Sweden.

[A graph of the portion of the population of Sweden which is foreign-born from c. 1963 to 2015.]
(fig. 5)

In 2009, 14.3% of all Swedish citizens [Imaginary Petal later corrected this to say “residents”, while still maintaining that it is irrelevant to the point made. — B.G.] had been born abroad. In 2015, the figure was 17%. In absolute numbers, that’s an increase of about 200 000 people, most of whom were recent refugees from majority Muslim countries. This massive influx of what the right would call “rapefugees” has led to a slight decrease in the total number of reported rapes. How could this be?

By now it should be obvious that blaming the increased number of rapes and other sexual crimes on Muslim refugees requires ignorance of all available facts. It should be equally obvious that we cannot determine that the number of rapes has actually increased.

When listening to the talking points from the right, we need to remember that they’re not only claiming that Muslim refugees are prone to rape. They claim, more specifically, that Muslim refugees target young, white women for sexual assault. The numbers, however, show that the number of sexual crimes against minors under the age of 18 dropped by 23% from 2014 to 2015, coinciding with the largest influx of refugees of all time. Of course, comparisons from year to year aren’t all that useful or reliable, but we can safely say that the 2015 statistics do nothing to help the conservative narrative. In addition, second generation immigrants are more at risk of being victims of sexual crimes than “ethnic Swedes” as well as first generation immigrants. Data shows that this is almost certainly due to other factors, such as urban/rural, class, average age, number of individuals per household, etc. Regardless of causation, we can definitely dismiss claims that young white women are more at risk than young WoC [women of colour], when taking into account the demographics of the total immigrant population.

Before I’m done here, I want to add the caveat that I don’t intend to downplay statistics showing that an increasing number of women say they have been victims of sexual assault, more women say they feel unsafe, and so on. My purpose is only to illustrate that we cannot conclusively say that sexual crime is on the increase, and that it would be nonsensical to blame such an increase on refugees.


[End of Imaginary Petal’s content. — B.G.]