Many controversial topics have been and will continue to be discussed at CSW over the next week and a half. One topic that was brought up in one of the first events I attended is one that must be talked about more. Hosted by Sweden and Ethiopia, the topic of changing social norms and delivering justice towards a culture of consent and a sustainable infrastructure to combat sexual violence was discussed by a very distinguished panel.

Sweden’s Sexual Violence Act

It is no secret that the issue of sexual violence such as sexual assault, rape, and harassment is a very prominent issue in any culture and country. Within the opening remarks of this event, the Swedish Sexual Violence Act was discussed to see the progress that has been made in Sweden and what can be learned from their efforts. The Sexual Violence Act’s policy is that if sex is not voluntary it is illegal and considered rape. While many might think that this is a “no brainer” and that this applies to a majority of countries, the innovative thing about Sweden’s act is that there is no debate. There are set punishments for these crimes and definite punishments. This means that when a victim goes to court due to sexual violence, their case is taken priority and there will be a conviction as long as evidence is consistent with the story. By implementing this act, victims of sexual violence can have hope in knowing that their assailants will be brought to justice to the full extent of the law. In the United States there are long and intense court dates, discussions and negotiations on best punishments, and even then, justice is not guaranteed. Along with the initial statement that involuntary sex is illegal, there is also the detailed inclusion of “negligent rape” in which it is punishable if there was not the initial vocal or physical expression of consent. This covers the issue that if a woman is overly intoxicated and is taken advantage of because she cannot speak up for herself. This Act that has been implemented ensures that there is hope for justice for victims of such a terrible crime that affect so many women and young girls around the world.

In the case of Sweden’s new act and enforcement against these crimes, the word “involuntary” and “consent” have been further defined. In order for sexual acts to be legal there must be a definite exchange of consent between partners. If there is any question as to whether one or the other wanted sex and was fully aware of the circumstances then it is illegal. Consent exists, according to this policy, where there are no doubts, no debates, and total communication between partners. Policy makers have lumped the words “free will” and “consent” together in these circumstances that if at any point your free will has been revoked and you have not given consent, then sexual relations beyond that point are illegal and punishable in court.

What Else Has Been Done?

Discussion was brought by additional panelists from Sweden as well as Ethiopia to bring awareness of this global issue. The Ambassador of Ethiopia ensured the audience that it has been made a priority to prevent violence and abuse against women and children. They are working diligently, and other governments must as well to provide mechanisms for women and children to report forms of abuse and receive resources. It is no secret that majority of sexual violence against women (and men) goes unreported and as a result those victims must continue with their lives never receiving proper treatment. This can only be helped by governments to provide safe avenues for reporting these types of crimes and the assurance that there will be exceptional follow up treatment and care. As stated by the Ambassador of Sweden, that these efforts begin with education about what is sexual consent and how to recognize partner violence. The panelists admitted that there is still a long way to go with these efforts to end sexual violence and bring justice to victims, but they are making incredible strides.

Questions Asked from the Floor

In nearly every event at CSW, the floor has been opened to the audience to confront the panel with questions and issues regarding the topic at hand. The first question asked from the floor in this instance was “How important is it that men engage in this area of work on a government level but also within the community?” The Ambassador for Sweden answered “The short answer to your question is that it is extremely important. We have a mission against human trafficking and sex trafficking. Things that have happened during the past 20 years have changed the mindset of Swedish men. This change of mindset has changed the market of prostitution. The law [the Sexual Violence Act] has lowered the demand for sex and made sure that there is not a market for sex trafficking.” The Ambassador of Ethiopia stated that it is our [men’s] responsibility to create a critical mass of thinking that sexual violence is not okay. There were also questions about policy and legal context and these policies and actions can be accessed by researching the FDRE constitution.

So Close, Yet So Far

Many discussions such as these are incredibly important, and awareness is even more so in order to implement change. While majority of governments are making strides towards policies and actions that support victims of sexual violence, justice well never be truly achieved until they are never victimized in the first place. There is this amazing empowerment when as a woman I am able to sit in on discussions of real policies that are working to empower women and create a better environment for the next generation. In every event that I have attended thus far, there has been a great amount of encouragement to the young people of this world to speak up, take action, and interact with their local governments on issues that must be heard. As somebody that has been on the inside of the United Nations this week for CSW, I encourage all young people reading this now to take action against sexual violence in your communities. Engage your local governments and encourage them that these are the types of policies that must take priority to ensure a safer environment.