Trigger Warning for descriptions of sexual assault, apologism, and victim-blaming
At a New Year’s party in Sweden, a 17-year-old girl laid down to sleep on a sofa. The 49-year-old father of the boy hosting the party proceeded to lift up her skirt while she was unconscious and photograph her genitals. He then, in some unspecified manner, spread the photo to other people.
The victim pressed charges, once she learned of what had been done to her. Then, the court dismissed the charges — not because they found that there was insufficient evidence, or because the victim changed her mind about pursuing the case, but because they said that lifting an unconscious person’s skirt without her consent and photographing her genitals, also without her consent, is not against the law.
A court in Halmstad on the southwest coast of Sweden has dismissed charges against a man who reportedly took a photo of a 17-year-old girl’s genitals while she was sleeping. The court said that the incident was was not a punishable offense.
Citing several other cases, the Halmstad district court said that the man had not committed a crime. There is no general prohibition against photographing people without their consent. The same applies to people who are asleep.
The fact that other people have seen the photograph, as claimed by the prosecutor in this case, doesn’t make the incident a punishable offense either, according to the court.
What we’re looking at here is a legal system which has absolutely no respect for women’s bodily autonomy — a legal system that says “so long as she’s there, you can do whatever you want with her.”
This is not a purely theoretical interpretation of the decision. What the court has opted to do here is say that a certain type of sexual assault is acceptable — and so you better believe that the type of guy who gets a kick out of sexual assault is thanking his lucky stars for this green light and breaking out his camera as we speak. Sexual predators have a tendency to enact their violence in ways they think they are most likely to get away with, and take cues from social attitudes and the judicial system in terms of which victims are seen to be the least sympathetic, most marginalized, and most unrapeable — so thinking that no sexual predator will read of this decision and start acting accordingly is naive at best.
But what we have here is not only the assertion that no parts of one’s body are ever private and that consent is not needed to photograph them, but also that one’s body does not have the right to be free from physical assault. The photographs themselves were certainly a sexual assault. But so was the act of lifting up the victim’s skirt without any form of permission — a type of assault which I would like to believe is illegal in Sweden, and so presumably the court simply decided didn’t count. Again, she was there.
This isn’t a view held only by a misogynistic court, the idea that hey, there was no physical injury, so how could non-consensual touching possibly be a violation or assault, it’s one that is unsurprisingly shared by many members of the general public. In the comments to the original article (not recommended, trigger warnings apply), while many thankfully note the appalling nature of the decision, others blame the victim for allegedly failing to wear underwear. Of course, they have no evidence that she wasn’t wearing underwear, only an absence of its mention in the description of the assault. But that doesn’t stop them, any more than does the fact that what one does or does not wear under one’s own clothing is nobody else’s business. Only sluts don’t wear underwear under a skirt. And, as we know, sluts always totally want it. Especially when their all existing in public and such, and dressing as they want, as though they deserve some sort of bodily autonomy.
My first inclination upon reading this story was to think that the court made a grave and reprehensible error through a very narrow reading of the law, and that legislators needed to immediately close what was quite possibly an unintentional loophole. Sadly, I should have known better than to have given anyone the benefit of the doubt here. Because the last line of the article makes note of a previous case, on which this decision was based. And it is abhorrent:
The court cited a Swedish Supreme Court (Högsta domstolen) case that cleared a man who had been brought to trial for filming sexual intercourse without the consent of the woman involved.
Presumably, this other case didn’t happen within the past couple weeks, and yet here we are, with the problem persisting. The Swedish Supreme Court ruled that the autonomy and rights of women become irrelevant once any kind of sexual consent has been given. She agreed to intercourse, and therefore the man she was with could do whatever the hell else he liked with her.
The same rule applied to this decision, though what the victim did consent to changed. In this case, she consented to falling asleep near someone who had the inclination to sexually assault her. Or, perhaps, she consented to not wearing underwear under her own damn skirt. Or, at the very least, she consented to existing as a woman outside of her own home, and didn’t remain absolutely vigilant during every single second that she did so. And that, apparently, is more than enough consent for absolutely nothing else to matter.