Assault rape cases have dominated the Norwegian news to an extent we have never seen before. According to the news, Oslo has turned into a capital of fear, and politicians demanded action from the police and judicial authorities. Is this massive media discussion creating biased and unnecessary fear and shadowing the reality of sexual assault?
Assault rape and murder cases have characterized the Norwegian news in the fall, to an extent we never seen before. Oslo even has had a new designation: Rape capital. The statistics, however, show that the number of rapes per capita was lower in Oslo than in Stockholm and Copenhagen.
Marianne Saetre and Veslemøy Grytdal from the strategic analysis group in the Oslo Police Department emphasized that the numbers and factual analysis reveal a different picture, and they ask reporters and editors not to sensationalize the news.
“The media’s close interest in assault rape cases has adverse consequences. I understand that sensationalized journalism is appealing. Whenever we present a report, there comes a wave of rape reports in the media. This does not necessarily mean that the number of rapes committed increases, says Saetre to Journalisten.”
The analysts also ask the media to be consistent when using definitions. Often they are based on different definitions. Saetre and Grytdal think it is wrong to focus so much on assault rape, because the statistics show that most rapes occur as a result of a sexual culture of partying, and high alcohol consumption.
Saetre and Grytdal are also frustrated by simplistic focus on the perpetrators’ ethnic background as the cause of abuse behavior. “In the media, this has emerged as a kind of mystical cause, which has been especially designed to create fear without documentation and research-based theories,” says Saetre.
Editor of Journalisten, Helge Øgrim also thinks the stories about the rape cases are often incorrect. He cites, specifically, the assumptions that asylum seekers, often undocumented, are behind many of assault rapes, based on assumptions; noting that very few are arrested. He says it may sometimes be true, but just as often it is wrong, and encourages prejudice when such guesses are presented as facts.
Journalist Hjort Arne Johansen shares similar views by stating that the perpetrator in 41 of the 48 reported cases are still not known and it is overly-simplistic to connect it to ethnicity, disregarding socio-economic factors. He also suggests the inhabitants of Oslo are about to be hostages of their own fear.
“Rape figures in Oslo during the last ten years have shown a clear increasing trend, but within the period, there was a huge fluctuation in the figures. The previous peak was in 2009, with a slight decline in 2010. This year, it looks to increase again. Could it be a natural fluctuation in the numbers?,” asks Johansen.
The police reporters, at the same time, point out that media prefers to see only a small part of the problem. They report that assault rapes account for less than one-fifth, 13 per cent last year. Most rapes occur in close relationships and partnerships, many others occur in the context of celebration and substance abuse.
Kjetil Rolness from Dagbladet agrees with Saetre and Grytdal. “Rape Wave” in the media creates unnecessary fear, taking the focus away from the causes and maintains the old myths about rape, sex and stereotyping according to Rolness.
The Effects of Change in Sexual Culture
The report prepared for the Police Department proposes the notion of sexuality has changed dramatically in the last decade and this can have given room for violations related to a new active role of women in the sexual arena, and as a result of a passive male role. Several social scientists and sexologists have documented the changes as part of a general liberalization trend, and in particular the sexual empowerment of women. According to social researcher Sveinung Sandberg, men become more passive, waiting for woman’s initiative, and they seek confirmation to give her sexual satisfaction. Sexologist Gro Isachsen believes that the liberalization of sexual culture in this way with the active sexualization of women led to different outcome for different women. Those who are confident in their body and identity could set limits with their own terms, while others goes into a gray area between sexual abuse and intercourse.