Subjected to violence

Last updated: 3/5-2023

Using violence against other people, threatening or injuring them are all acts prohibited by law. A person who uses violence is violating the human rights of others and committing a crime. If you are subjected to violence it is not your fault. You are entitled to protection and support.

What is violence?

There are different types of violence. These include physical, psychological, sexual, financial and material violence.

For instance, if someone:

  • Hits, kicks or pushes you
  • Calls you nasty names and says you are bad
  • Threatens you and forces you to do something you don't want to, or prevents you from doing something you want to do
  • Wants to control what you do, for example by texting you all the time asking what you are doing or where you are. Checks your phone, Facebook and Instagram
  • Nags you into having sex. Photographs or films you, against your will, when you are having sex. Spreads images of you undressed or when you are having sex against your will. Forces you to do various sexual acts. Rape.
  • Takes charge of your finances and your money. Takes your bank card and your PIN code.
  • Breaks things that are yours, such as your mobile phone
  • Threaten to harm or kill your pet.

Who uses violence?

Violence is most often used by men. Men are also subjected to violence, mainly by other men they don't know, and usually not in their homes. The picture is different for girls and women, as violence against them can occur both away from home and at home. A large proportion of the violence that men use against girls and women occurs in intimate relationships. The woman is subjected to violence at home, by someone she knows and may be dependent on. The person committing the violent acts is usually a partner, but may also be a child, a sibling or another relative. Away from home, girls and women may be subjected to sexual harassment or rape by unknown men.

Power and control

Violent acts happen when someone wants to have power and control over someone else. In its Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the UN states that the violence is due to inequality between men and women. This inequality means that men as a group have the power to discriminate against women and subject them to violence. The Swedish government has declared it a goal of its policy for equality between men and women that men's violence against women be stopped.

Honour-related violence and oppression

Violence related to honour is directed against individuals who break a family's norms and traditions. Its victims are usually girls and women, but boys may also be subjected to it.

Honour-related violence and oppression is about restrictions and about exercising control in order to protect the family's honour. For example:

  • Not allowing girls to attend certain lessons at school
  • Obliging girls to return home immediately after school
  • Not allowing girls to choose their own friends
  • Boys have to watch over their sisters outside of the home
  • Young women and men are not allowed to choose for themselves what love or sexual relationships to have
  • Young people are forced against their will to marry someone the family has chosen
  • Girls and women are not given the right to an education or to work

The most important norm connected with honour concerns girls' and women's sexuality. One norm is that a woman must be a virgin when she marries, and that she is not allowed to choose her partner. Her extended family watch over her and control her. Boys and men who transgress the family's values may also be subjected to violence and oppression. Homosexuals and trans persons are particularly vulnerable.

A person who transgresses the family's norms and values may be punished with threats or may be assaulted and prevented from spending time with the family and relatives. In extreme cases this violence can be deadly. The decision to punish someone is made collectively in the family or extended family, and both men and women may carry out the punishment.

Forced marriage

You have the right to choose for yourself if you want to get married and who you want to marry. Forcing someone to get married, and deciding who they should marry, is forbidden in Sweden. A person preparing or planning to marry someone off may be sentenced to prison. It is also a crime to plan a journey abroad in order to get someone to marry in another country.

In Sweden it is illegal to marry a child. Neither is such a marriage entered into abroad valid in Sweden. According to the UN, a person is a child until they are 18 years old. Your are entitled to support and protection. This might be in the form of counselling from someone, help getting divorced or, if the situation turns into an emergency, sheltered housing.

Genital mutilation of girls and women

You have the right to the physical integrity of your body and the right to decide about your own sexuality. Female genital mutilation means that someone cuts a girl's or woman's genitals. Female genital mutilation is forbidden in Sweden. It is also illegal to do it abroad if you live in Sweden.

Female genital mutilation can involve the removal of parts or all of the clitoris and labia and the subsequent stitching of the wound, causing difficulties and pain in urinating, menstruating and having sexual intercourse.

You are entitled to care and support. It is also possible to have surgery to reduce the problems.

Sex for money

It is not illegal to sell sex in Sweden, but it is a crime to buy sex or to force someone to have sex for money.

Sex for money is when you have sex or carry out sexual acts and receive something in return. Sex in this context includes:

  • Exposing yourself on a webcam
  • Watching when someone masturbates or masturbating in front of someone
  • Having sexual intercourse or carrying out sexual acts with someone

It does not have to be money that is given in return. It can also be a mobile phone, clothes, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, or a place to sleep.

There are several reasons a person might have sex for money. It might be to get money or things. It might be that the person has been deceived or forced into it, or because it feels exciting and provides a sense of affirmation. The law says that if sex is not voluntary it is illegal. You are entitled to support if you are feeling bad and want to stop having sex for money.

Prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes

It is not illegal to sell sex in Sweden, but it is a crime to buy sex or to force someone else into prostitution. If someone forces you to have sex with someone else, that may constitute human trafficking. Human trafficking is the organised transportation of people for the purpose of exploiting them in different ways. Someone may have helped you get to Sweden and you may become forced into prostitution in order to pay for the trip and pay off a debt. It may also be that you have to sell sex in order to support yourself and someone else. Human trafficking for sexual purposes is a crime in Sweden. Human trafficking for other purposes is also criminal, and may involve being forced to steal or beg, trading in human organs, and other forms of exploitation.

You are entitled to support and sheltered housing. You can also be given help to return to your homeland.

Children and young people living with violence

In Sweden, it is against the law to use physical or psychological violence against children.

It is also against the law to expose children to seeing or hearing some types of domestic crimes. For example, children must not be exposed to (see or hear) assault, threats or sexual abuse between parents, siblings or relatives. This means that violence between parents is also violence against children. The crime is known as “barnfridsbrott” in Swedish and is punishable with imprisonment. Children who witness domestic crimes are crime victims and may be entitled to damages.

In the event of a “barnfridsbrott”, the child victim will receive help from a lawyer known as a counsel for the injured party (“målsägandebiträde” in Swedish).

The fear and anxiety about the violence immediately affects the child's health. But children who experience domestic violence may also develop mental and physical problems later in life. Many children find it difficult to talk about their experiences, which makes the violence harder to understand and process. It is not uncommon for children to try to protect their parents and to put the blame on themselves.

It is important to draw attention to children living with domestic violence. They may need special support and help.

A young person may be subjected to violence by a parent or a sibling, but also by a partner. This might be about control via Facebook and Instagram, abusive words, or rape. Young people may sometimes perceive these as problems in a relationship and not as violence.

Particularly exposed groups

Groups with little support in society are often more exposed to violence. A person who is particularly exposed is often dependent on someone else. There may be prejudices against the group that influence the amount and kind of help and support that the person gets from society. There are differences within each group, and it is possible to belong to more than one group.

Elderly women

Illness, impairments and solitude make elderly women more dependent on others. Invisibility and dependence lead to an increased risk of violence.

This violence may take various different forms. Many elderly women are also subjected to neglect. This may be that they don't get help to wash or to take their medication. The perpetrator of the violence may be a member of the nursing staff or of the family.

Women with an addiction/dependence

Violence is an everyday feature in the lives of women who abuse alcohol and drugs. They are often subjected to violence by several perpetrators, who may be a partner, nursing staff, police, or other addicts.

Many women with addiction problems have bad experiences of encounters with the authorities, which is one reason they may not report incidents of violence. They may also be afraid that their children will be taken into care if their addiction becomes known.

Women with impairments

Invisibility, dependence on others and a particular vulnerability make a woman with an impairment particularly exposed to violence. This vulnerability varies depending on the type of impairment. The woman may have difficulties defending herself and leaving a violent relationship. She may have difficulties describing events and getting someone to listen to her and believe what she is saying. Many also live a life in isolation.

Women with a foreign background

Women who have difficulties with the language, who live in isolation without access to networks, and who have little knowledge of their rights may be particularly exposed. Poverty and a dependence on the person perpetrating the violence also increase the risk of exposure to violence.

Poor knowledge of her rights may mean that the woman does not seek help. There is also a risk that the violence is explained away as culture and not seen as violence.

What the law says

It is a crime to subject another person to violence. A gross violation of a woman's integrity is if a man subjects a woman with whom he has, or has had, an intimate relationship to violence. The violation must be repeated several times to be classified as gross, and is punishable with imprisonment. The police have to investigate the crime even if the woman does not want them to.

A violation is when someone uses violence or quarrels and disturbs the woman, for example. It may also be that the woman is forced into sexual acts or that the man refuses to leave the woman's home.

It is a crime to have sex with a person who has not consented or shown clearly that s/he does not want to have sex. Sex must always be voluntary.

In Sweden it is a crime to buy sex. A person who buys sex is sentenced to fines or imprisonment.

It is a crime to sell or buy people. It is human trafficking when someone forces a vulnerable person into prostitution, low-paid or unpaid work. Poor people may also be forced to beg or to give away their organs.

The people subjected to human trafficking may have been taken from one country to another. They often live out of sight in society and are controlled by means of threats and violence. The punishment for human trafficking is imprisonment.

It is a crime punishable with imprisonment to force someone to marry against their will.

It is a crime punishable with imprisonment to trick someone into travelling abroad in order to force them into a marriage there.

Everyone is entitled to the physical integrity of their body. In Sweden it is a crime punishable with imprisonment to remove or damage parts of girls' or women's genitals.

Do you know anyone who is being subjected to violence? Contact:

The social services are represented in all municipalities. If you are being subjected to violence or are not well, you can be given help and support by the social services.

If you suspect that you are the victim of a crime you can contact the police on 114 14. Call 112 if you need emergency help.

Bris supports children in exposed situations. If you are under 18 you can phone, email or chat with Bris.

BOJ is an organisation that works with giving support to the victims of crime. You can call their support line on 116 006.

Killfrågor is a website where guys can chat anonymously about relationships, sex and the body.

If you are being subjected to violence and treats you can call the national helpline on 020 – 50 50 50

If you are being subjected to violence and need to talk to someone, or if you need sheltered housing, you can contact a women's or girls' shelter.

Linnamottagningen offers counselling, support and protection for young people who are subjected to control, threats and violence by their families or relatives. Helpline: 020 – 40 70 40.

If you are living in an honour culture and you need support and protection, you can call Terrafem's helpline for women with a foreign background on 021 – 52 10 10

TRIS is an organisation working against honour-related violence and oppression. TRIS has a helpline on 0774 – 40 66 00. They also have sheltered housing.

1000möjligheter is a website where you can chat about exposure to violence, sex for money and pornography.

Further information

The website has information about what is criminal. You can also read about how it can feel to have been a victim of crime and where you can get help. This website is intended for young people.

You can read more here about honour-related violence and oppression, about forced marriages, female genital mutilation and honour-related violence connected with LBGT and intellectual impairment.

NCK's knowledge and resource centre offers further reading on violence in close relationships, men's violence against women, and violence against particularly exposed groups.

RFSL is an organisation working for the rights of homosexuals, bisexuals, trans persons and queers.

On Youmo you can read about and watch films on relationships, sex and health in several languages.