Crime in Sweden

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Reported crimes per capita in Sweden increased between 1950 and 2005. Rates of reports of violent crime, rape and robbery have increased sharply but reports of theft and burglary have declined after 1989.[citation needed]

The 9,350,000 inhabitants of Sweden reported 1,410,000[1] offences to the authorities in 2009 (approximately 151 offences/1000 inhabitants). The number of reported crimes has increased radically since the collection of national statistics began in 1950. Much of this has been attributed to a higher level of reporting of crimes, but the largest factor is the absolute increase of incidents of crime.[4][2]

In regard to the homicide rate, Sweden is one of the safest countries in the European Union; in 2008-2010 only five EU countries (Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Spain, and Netherlands) had a lower homicide rate per 100 000 population than Sweden.[3] Sweden however has a high rate of reported assault and sex crimes, and there is debate as to why this is the case.

Crime dynamics[edit]

Historical statistics[edit]

1950 was the year Sweden began recording national crime statistics. In 1950, 195,000 crimes were reported. In 1964, the number was 368,000. Between 1975 and 1990, the number of reported offences rose by 61 percent at a steady rate. In the 90s and the recent years, the number has fluctuated between years, but has generally not been increasing.

Crime demographics[edit]

During the period 1997–2001, 25% of the almost 1,520,000 offences for which a perpetrator was convicted were committed by people born in the Middle East or Eastern Europe, while almost 20% were committed by people with a foreign background who were born in Sweden. Those from North Africa and the Middle East were also overrepresented.[4]

Crime by type[edit]

Of the crimes reported to the authorities in 2003, 53% were theft-related, 13% were contact crimes,[5] 12% were vandalism and destruction, 6% were traffic crimes (not including minor incidents), 5% were fraud-related and 3% were narcotics-related.


Sweden has a relatively high rate of reported assault crimes, but, as with sex crimes (see section below), this does not necessary mean that such crimes are more common in Sweden than in other countries. For aggravated assault, the rate in 2001 was 667.42 per 100,000 people for Sweden, 318.55 for United States, 23.78 for Japan.[5]

However, this high rate may simply be the result of different legal and social understanding of what assault crimes are, and different reporting patterns. For instance, specific forms of assault, such as when a husband hits his wife, when parents hit their children to discipline them, or when teachers hit their pupils after they have misbehaved, are much more likely to be reported and to be considered unacceptable and illegal in Sweden than in most other parts of the world. With aggravated assault the rate in Sweden is double that of the US, but in the US views on specific issues are different from in Sweden.

For example, in the US, "reasonable" corporal punishment of children by parents is legal (courts have ruled that parents can even use implements such as belts or paddles),[6][7][8] and in some US states corporal punishment is also legal in schools; while Sweden was the first country in the world to ban corporal punishment of children (the legal right of parents' to corporally punish their children was first removed in 1966,[9] and it was explicitly prohibited by law from July 1979). In many countries, there is also a very high tolerance of violence in society, with only the most severe assaults (those that cause very severe injury or endanger life) being reported and being seen as worthy of legal intervention.[5][10]


The historical homicide rate in Stockholm since 1400 AD. The rate has declined greatly: from 45 / 100,000 to a low of 0.6 in the 1950s. The last decades have seen the homicide rate rise slowly.

In 2009, there were a total of 232 reported homicides to the Swedish police. Of those 232 homicides there were 93 deaths due to manslaughter, assault or murder 18 deaths were of uncertain origin, 7 deaths occurred abroad, 5 were still under investigation early 2010. The number of homicides amounted to 93 in 2009, whereas the average number of homicides per year was 94.25 in the years 2002 to 2009. This gives a rate of approximately 1 homicide per 100,000 inhabitants.[1]

Stockholm's reported homicide rate is on par with most capitals,[6] with around 3 annual homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, although the numbers are hard to compare due to large fluctuations between years. Murders are significantly less common now than in the 19th Century and earlier eras.[citation needed]

Sex crimes[edit]

In 2009 there were 15,700[11] reported sexual offenses in Sweden, a rise of 8% compared to 2008, of which 5,940 were rape and sexual harassment (including exhibitionism) accounted for 7,590 reports.[1] In April 2009, it was reported that sex crimes had increased by 58% over the previous ten years.[12] According to a 2009 European Union study, Sweden has one of the highest rates of reported rape in Europe.[13]

There is debate about why this number is so high (almost 168 sexual offences per 100,000 inhabitants). Some argue that the high rates relative to other countries do not reflect differences in rates of offences, but are due to differences in other factors, such as the practice of counting multiple crimes against a single victim (such as from long time domestic abuse),[1] much higher reporting of sex crimes by the victims than in other cultures, and a much broader definition of criminal sexual behavior and more progressive attitudes towards what constitutes sexual victimization (Sweden has been a pioneer in its approach to rape - for instance it was one of the first countries in the world to outlaw marital rape in 1965,[14] much earlier than other Western countries - e.g. Germany outlawed it only in 1997[15]).

However, others argue that Sweden's high rates indeed reflect a serious problem with sexual crimes: in 2009, in a European Union study, the researcher stated that Sweden's high rape rate cannot be explained purely by a greater tendency to report rapes, and that rape was indeed more common in Sweden.[13] However, several sociologists like Laura Agustín argue that the study’s comparative dimension should probably be ignored. She argues that although the figures seem to suggest that there are four times as many rapes in Sweden as in bordering Denmark or Finland, to understand the figures in the study, a comparison of all the definitional and procedural differences between the different Scandinavian legal systems is required. She points out, for instance, that Sweden counts every sexual crime between the same two people separately in statistics where as other countries count them as one.[16] [17]

For example, if someone experiences marital rape for a whole year, every instance of sexual violence the victim has experienced is reported as an individual event.[17] Amnesty International blamed Sweden's "deeply rooted patriarchal gender norms",[12] (however in 2006 Sweden was ranked as the number one country in gender equality[18]). It has been also suggested that the high amount of reported sexual crimes in Sweden might have something to do with problems related to immigration. However there have been no studies regarding ethnicity of those guilty of sexual crimes in Sweden.

Sweden is one of a few countries in the world to criminalize only the buying of sexual acts (the client commits a sex crime, but not the prostitute, who is considered the victim). The law makes no distinction between voluntary and forced prostitution.

Street robbery[edit]

In the late 1990s a certain crime drew the attention of media: muggings among youths. Certain groups put the blame upon immigrants due to their increased rates during those years, even though numbers had been dropping since 1994, yet with the original immigrants remaining in Sweden. Some areas that came to define the situation in respective cities were Bergsjön in Göteborg; Rinkeby in Stockholm; and Rosengård in Malmö.

These areas with their low socioeconomic standard and high unemployment led to segregation. At the same time the rate of foreigner-related crimes were reported as being at a significant level for Swedish standards but low in comparison with the rest of the world. The truth of this was much disputed in the Swedish media with opponents maintaining claims to be the result of xenophobia, hostility and misunderstanding, while others have criticized the media for not reporting on immigrant crimes.

A study was eventually called for and published in 2000 by the National Council for Crime Prevention.[19] Of teenagers in 9th grade, 10% of boys and 5% of girls had been the target of muggings during the previous 2 years. The rates of gymnasium students were about the same. 10% of boys and 5% of girls questioned admitted having mugged someone.

Desirable objects are mainly money (35%) and cell phones (34%). The average value of stolen items were around 700 Swedish kronor (~90 US$).

Juvenile robberies reported to the police annually.

Town 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999, Jan. – June
Malmö 53 58 170 210 196
Stockholm 569 411 709 682 613

The same study also showed that only about 50% of the muggings were reported to police.


In general, the level of corruption in Sweden is very low.[20] The legal and institutional framework in Sweden are considered effective in fighting against corruption, and the government agencies are characterized by a high degree of transparency, integrity and accountability.[21]


The percentage of the population in prison is significantly lower than in most other countries. Out of 100,000 inhabitants, 79 lived in prison facilities in 2001, which is a bit higher than other Scandinavian countries. By comparison, most industrial countries in Europe had a rate of around 100 (England & Wales 125, Germany 97, Italy 90); and some eastern Europe states range between 150–300. Russia ranks high above Sweden with 577 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants, topped only by The United States's 743.[7] Some of these numbers may be due to variations in prison types, for instance Sweden makes frequent use of electronic fetters, allowing the prisoner to live at home (but under constant surveillance, including a no-alcohol policy.)

At the same time, over the last years the prison population per capita has increased in line with the general increase in violent and drug-related crime.

The Swedish prison system is not generally severe. The emphasis is on humanitarian treatment of prisoners and rehabilitation. Sentences are generally short and prisoners enjoy a high material standard. The maximum sentence—a "life" sentence—means imprisonment for an undetermined period no longer than the span of the prisoner's natural life, and the prisoner is generally released after 15–20 years[citation needed].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Statistics from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet – Brå).
  2. ^ Contact crimes are: robbery, assault and sexual assault.
  3. ^ Homicide includes murder, manslaughter, assault leading to death, euthanasia and infanticide. Excluded in most countries is abortion and assisted suicide.
  4. ^ In Swedish, published by BRÅ: Dödligt Våld i Kriminalstatistiken. Note: PDF file, Acrobat Reader (free) required. The link was added July 25, 2007.
  5. ^ See also the Home Office Bulletine which compares reported crimes in various countries: International comparisons of criminal justice statistics 1999. Note: PDF file. The link was added October 14, 2005.
  6. ^ List of countries by incarceration rate.


  1. ^ a b c d [1]
  2. ^ von Hofer, Hanns (2008). Brott och straff i Sverige 1750–2005: Historisk kriminalstatistik 1750–2005 Diagram, tabeller och kommentarer. PDF (2.91 MB) Kriminologiska Institutionen, Stockholms Universitet.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Immigrants behind 25% of Swedish crime". 14 December 2005. Retrieved 17 January 2011. 
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Durrant, Joan E. "The Swedish Ban on Corporal Punishment: Its History and Effects". Retrieved 5 September 2013. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ [2]
  12. ^ a b "Swedish rapists ‘enjoy impunity’: Amnesty International". 28 April 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2011. 
  13. ^ a b "Sweden tops European rape league". 27 April 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2011. 
  14. ^ Elman, R Amy (1996). Sexual subordination and state intervention: comparing Sweden and the United States. Berghahn Books. p. 90. ISBN 1-57181-071-4. 
  15. ^ [3]
  16. ^ "Is rape rampant in gender-equal Sweden?". 11 May 2009. Retrieved 21 April 2012. 
  17. ^ a b Alexander, Ruth (14 September 2012). "Sweden's rape rate under the spotlight". Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  18. ^ "Nordics show way in sex equality". BBC News. 21 November 2006. 
  19. ^ Ungdomar som rånar ungdomar – i Malmö och Stockholm, BRÅ-rapport 2000:6. ISBN 91-38-31609-9
  20. ^ "Motståndskraft, oberoende, integritet – kan det svenska samhället stå emot korruption?". Transparency International Sweden. Transparency International Sweden. Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  21. ^ "Snapshot of the Sweden Country Profile". Business Anti-Corruption Portal. GAN Integrity Solutions. Retrieved 17 November 2013. 

External links[edit]