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Crime in Sweden

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Crime in Sweden

Crime in Sweden describes an act defined in the Swedish Penal Code (Swedish: Brottsbalken) or in another Swedish law or statutory instrument for which a sanction is prescribed.[1][2]

Figures from the Swedish Crime Survey (SCS) show that exposure to crime has decreased since 2005.[3] The number of convictions has remained between 110,000 and 130,000 in the 2000s — a decrease since the 1970s, when they numbered around 300,000 — despite the population growth.[4] Consistent with other Western countries in the postwar era, the number of reported crimes has increased when measured from the 1950s; which can be explained by a number of factors, such as statistical and legislative changes and increased public willingness to report crime.[5]

Number of crimes reported per 100,000 population in Sweden, 1993-2013
  Total number of crimes reported
  Sexual offences (rape incl.)
  Murder, homicide


  • Legal proceedings 1
    • Confidence in the criminal justice system 1.1
  • Corruption 2
  • Crime statistics 3
    • International comparison 3.1
  • Crime trends 4
    • The Swedish Crime Survey 4.1
    • Offences against the person 4.2
      • Assault 4.2.1
      • Murder and homicide 4.2.2
      • Sex crimes 4.2.3
      • Robbery 4.2.4
    • Property offences 4.3
      • Burglary 4.3.1
  • Criminal sanctions 5
    • Fines and damages 5.1
    • Conditional sentences, probation and community service 5.2
    • Prison and electronic monitoring 5.3
    • Young offenders 5.4
  • Incarceration rate 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10

Legal proceedings

When a crime has been committed the authorities will investigate what has happened, this is known as the preliminary investigation and it will be led by a police officer or prosecutor.[6] The Swedish police and the prosecution service are required to register and prosecute all offences of which they become aware.[7][8][9] The prosecutors are lawyers employed by the Ministry of Justice (any ministerial interference is in fact unconstitutional).[10]

The prosecutor are obliged to lead and direct the preliminary investigations of a crime impartially and objective, make decisions on prosecution issues, and appear in court to process actions in criminal cases. Suspects are entitled to a public defence counsel, either during the preliminary investigation stage or during the trial. The suspect is entitled to examine the material gathered by the prosecutor, and is allowed to request the police to conduct further investigation, if he or she considers this to be necessary. A preliminary investigation supervisor decides whether or not these measures can be carried out.[11]

In the case of less serious crimes, if the suspect admits that he/she has committed the offence and it is clear what the punishment should be, the prosecutor can pronounce a so-called order of summary punishment.[6][12] A preliminary investigation not discontinued may result in the prosecutor deciding to prosecute a person for the crime. This means that there will be a trial at the District Court.[6] The person who has been convicted, the prosecutor and the victim of the crime can appeal against the District Court judgement in the Court of Appeal.[13]

Confidence in the criminal justice system

Six out of ten respondents surveyed in the SCS 2013 said they had a high level of confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole, and the police enjoyed similarly high confidence levels. Of the crime victims, a little over half of all surveyed (57%) stated that their experience of the police was generally positive, and nearly one in seven stated that the experience was negative.[14]


In general, the level of corruption in Sweden is very low.[15] 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.[16]

Crime statistics

Sweden began recording national crime statistics in 1950, and the method for recording crime has basically remained unchanged until the mid-1960s, when the Swedish police introduced new procedures for crime statistics, which have been presented as a partial explanation for the historical increase in crime reports.[5] In 1974, the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Swedish: Brottsförebyggande rådet, abbreviated Brå) became the government agency tasked with producing official statistics and disseminating knowledge on crime.[17] In the early 1990s a new crime reporting system was implemented, which meant that the manual controls became less frequent, resulting in an additional increase in the number of reported crimes.[18]

International comparison

Comparisons between countries based on official crime statistics (i.e. "crime reports") require caution, since such statistics are produced differently in different countries. Legal and substantive factors also influence the number of reported crimes.[7][8][19][20] For example:

  • Sweden applies a system of expansive offence counts for violent crimes, meaning the same crime may be recorded several times, such as in the case of a gang rape. Other countries may employ more restrictive methods of counting.[7][8]
  • In Sweden, crime data is collected when the offence in question is first reported, at which point the classification of the offence may be unclear.[7][8] It retains this classification in the published crime statistics, even if later investigations indicate that no crime has been committed.[7]
  • The Swedish police and the prosecution service are required to register and prosecute all offences of which they become aware. This can be assumed to lead to a more frequent registration of offences than in systems where the classification of offences is negotiable on the basis of plea bargaining.[7][8]
  • Willingness to report crime also affects the statistics.[19] A police force and judicial system enjoining a high level of confidence and a good reputation with the public will produce a higher propensity to report crime than a police force which is discredited, inspires fear or distrust.[7]

Large-scale victimisation surveys have been presented as a more reliable indicator on the level of crime in a given country.[7]

Crime trends

The Swedish Crime Survey

Section of the population exposed to offences against the person, according to the SCS
  Sexual offences (rape incl.)
  Total crimes against a person

The Swedish Crime Survey (SCS) is a recurrent victim survey since 2005 by Brå of the attitudes and experiences of the general population regarding victimization, fear of crime and public confidence in the justice system, with an annual sample size of around 15,000 respondents.[21]

Offences against the person

The level of exposure to offences against the person has decreased somewhat since 2005 (down from 13.1% to 11.4%), according SCS 2013. Crimes in this group includes assault, threat, sexual offences, mugging, fraud or harassment. Around three out of ten (29%) surveyed report these crimes, which is an increase by 4 per cent from the previous year.[14]


While the number of reported assaults has been on the increase, crime victim surveys show that a large part of the increase may be due to the fact that more crimes are actually reported.[22] According to the 2013 SCS, the proportion who stated that they have been the victims of assault has declined gradually, from 2.7 per cent in 2005 to 1.9 per cent in 2012. The proportion who are anxious about falling victim to assault has also decreased, from 15 per cent in 2006 to 10 per cent in 2013.[14] This is supported by medical services reporting unchanged levels of incoming patients with wounds derived from assault or serious violent crime.[22][23][24] Studies have also shown that police are increasingly likely to personally initiate reports of assault between strangers, which contributes to more cases involving assault being reported.[25]

Sweden has a high rate of reported assault crime when compared internationally,[26] but this can be explained by legal, procedural and statistical differences.[Note 1] For example, the Swedish police applies a system of expansive offence counts for violent crimes, meaning the same crime may be recorded several times.[8] The 2005 European Crime and Safety Survey (2005 EU ICS) found that prevalence victimisation rates for assaults with force was below average in Sweden.[27]

Murder and homicide

The number of cases of lethal violence in Sweden has remained at a relatively constant level over the last 30 years — around 100 cases per year — in spite of the population increase over the same period.[23][28] Studies of lethal violence in Sweden have shown that more than half the reported cases were not actually cases of murder or manslaughter. This is because the Swedish crime statistics show all events with a lethal outcome that the police investigate. Many of these reported crimes turn out to be, in reality, suicides, accidents or natural deaths.[23][28] Despite this statistical anomaly, Sweden has an internationally low murder and homicide rate,[Note 2] with approximately 2 reported incidents of murder or manslaughter per 100,000 inhabitants in 2012.[29]

Lethal violence rarely takes place between persons who do not know each other; in 70 percent of cases, those involved knew each other. The risk of being attacked in a public place is extremely unlikely and this risk has not increased in recent years.[28] Around 75% of those murdered are men.[30]

Sex crimes

Rate of exposure to sexual offences have remained relatively unchanged, while the number of sex crime reports have increased.
  Total number of sex crimes reported
  Number of reported rape cases*
  Respondents exposed to sexual offences (rape incl.) in annual victim survey

A long-standing tradition of gender equality policy and legislation, as well as an established women's movement, have led to several legislative changes and amendments, greatly expanding the sex crime legislation.[31][32] For example, in 1965 Sweden was one of the first countries in the world to criminalise marital rape,[32] and Sweden is one of a few countries in the world to criminalizing only the purchase of sexual services, but not the selling (the prostitute is considered a victim).[33]

The rate of exposure to sexual offences has remained relatively unchanged, according to the SCS, since the first survey was conducted in 2006, despite an increase in the number of reported sex crimes.[34] This discrepancy can largely be explained by reforms in sex crime legislation, widening of the definition of rape,[35][36][37] and an effort by the Government to decrease the number of unreported cases.[36][38][39][40] In SCS 2013, 0.8 per cent of respondents state that they were the victims of sexual offences, including rape; or an estimated 62,000 people of the general population (aged 16–79). Of these, 16 per cent described the sexual offence as "rape" — which would mean approximately 36,000 incidents of rape in 2012.[34]

A frequently cited source when comparing Swedish rape statistics internationally is the regularly published report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) — although they discourage this practice.[41] In 2012, according to the report by UNODC, Sweden was quoted as having 66.5 cases of reported rapes per 100,000 population,[41] based on official statistics by Brå.[42][Note 1] The high number of reported rapes in Sweden can partly be explained by differing legal systems, offence definitions, terminological variations, recording practices and statistical conventions, making any cross-national comparison on rape statistics difficult.[43][Note 1]

According to a 2014 study published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), approximately one third of all women in the EU were said to have suffered physical and/or sexual abuse. At the top end was Denmark (52%), Finland (47%) and Sweden (46%).[44][45] Every second woman in the EU has experienced sexual harassment at least once since the age of 15. In Sweden that figure was 81 per cent, closely followed by Denmark (80%) and France (75%). Included in the definition of "sexual harassment" was — among other things — inappropriate staring or leering and cyber harassment.[46][47] The report concluded that there's a strong correlation between higher levels of gender equality and disclosure of sexual violence.[48]


The rate of exposure to muggings has remained relatively unchanged since 2005, according to the SCS, with 0.8 per cent of respondents stating they were the victim of such a crime in 2012.[3] There were 97 robberies recorded by police per 100,000 population in 2012, which is 5 per cent less than the previous year.[29][Note 1] The prevalence victimisation rates for robbery was slightly above the EU-average in 2004, and lower than countries such as Ireland, Estonia, Greece, Spain, The United Kingdom and Poland.[27]

A study published in 2000 by Brå on adolescent robberies in Stockholm and Malmö found that muggings had increased in the 90s, with approximately 10 per cent of the boys and 5 per cent of the girls aged 15–17 having been the target of a mugging. Desirable objects are mainly money and cell phones, with an average value of around SEK 800. Only half of the crime was reported to the police, and foreign-born youths were overrepresented in the offenders demographic.[49] Follow-up studies have shown the level remaining unchanged between 1995 and 2005.[50]

Property offences

The SCS indicate that 9.2 per cent of households fell victim to some type of domestic property offence, which is a reduction since 2006 (when the percentage was 12.6). Crimes in this group includes theft, theft from a vehicle, bicycle theft or residential burglary. Around half of the domestic property offences reported in the SCS 2013 are stated as having been reported to the police, and the overwhelming majority of crime victims state that this happened only once in 2012.[14]

Theft of personal property and pickpocketing are among the lowest in Europe, as is car theft and theft from a car.[27]


Sweden had the lowest prevalence victimisation rate for burglary in Europe, according to the 2005 EU ICS,[27] and the rate of exposure to residential burglary has remained relatively unchanged since 2006.[3] In SCS 2013, 0.9 per cent of households stated that they were the victims of burglary in 2012.[3] Sweden had 785 cases of reported burglary per 100,000 population in 2012, which is a reduction from the previous year by 6 per cent.[29][Note 1]

Criminal sanctions

Sanctions under the Swedish Penal Code consist of fines and damages, imprisonment, conditional sentences, probation, being placed in special care and community service. Various sanctions can be combined. A basic premise in the Penal Code is that non-custodial penalties are more desirable than custodial, and the court is has considerable latitude when choosing a criminal sanctions, paying special attention to measures chiefly aimed at rehabilitating offenders.[51][52]

Fines and damages

A person who has committed a crime may be ordered to pay damages to the victim. Such damages can relate to compensation for destroyed clothing, a broken tooth, costs for medical care, pain and suffering, or personal violation.[53] A person sentenced for an offence that could lead to imprisonment must pay SEK 500 to the Crime Victim Fund.[54] Fines are determined in money, or as day fines. In the case of day fines, two figures are given, for example "40 day fines of SEK 50" (i.e. SEK 2,000). The first figure shows how serious the court has considered the offence and the latter figure depends on financial situation of the accused.[52][55]

Conditional sentences, probation and community service

Conditional sentences are primarily intended when a person commits a one-off crime and there is no reason to fear that he or she will re-offend. Probation can be applied to crimes for which fines are considered insufficient. Like a conditional sentence, it is non-custodial, but it is relatively intrusive.[52]

If a conditional sentence is imposed there will be a probationary period of two years. During this period, the person must conduct himself in an acceptable manner. The conditional sentence may be combined with day fines and/or an obligation to perform community service. There is no check made as to whether the person sentenced has conducted himself in an acceptable manner; but if the person is found to conduct himself in an unacceptable manner, the court may issue a warning, change a provision, or decide that the conditional sentence should be replaced by another sanction.[56]

A person who has been sentenced to probation is subject to a probationary period of three years. During this period, the person must conduct himself in an acceptable manner. A probation officer is appointed, who will assist and support the person sentenced. The court may specify rules about medical care, work and housing during the probationary period. The probation may be combined with day fines, imprisonment, an obligation to undergo care according to a predetermined treatment plan and/or to perform community service.[57]

Community service is an obligation to perform certain unpaid work during a particular time. A person sentenced to community service serves his sentence through working, for example, for an association or a not-for-profit organisation.[58]

Prison and electronic monitoring

A person who has been sentenced to at most six months imprisonment has the opportunity to serve the sentence in the form of intensive supervision with electronic monitoring. The person sentenced will serve the penalty at home and may only leave home at certain times, for example, to go to work. Compliance with these times is checked electronically.[59]

A person who has been sentenced to prison will receive an order from the Swedish Prison and Probation Service to attend an institution. It is possible to start serving the penalty immediately after the judgement has been made, and in certain cases, the person sentenced can get a postponement up to one year. A sentence of imprisonment can, in certain cases, be enforced by the Prison and Probation Service with the use of an ankle monitor outside the institution.[60]

Prison sentences may not be less than 14 days and may not exceed ten years. A person sentenced to life imprisonment can only be conditionally freed when the government commutes his sentence to one having a specified duration.[52]

Young offenders

According to the penal code, persons under 15 who have committed a crime cannot be sentenced to any sanction. If the under age offender is in need of corrective measures due to the crime, it is the responsibility of the National Board of Health and Welfare to rectify the situation, either by ordering that he be put into care in a family home or a home with special supervision.[52]

As a rule, offenders between 15 and 17 are subject to sanctions under the Act on Special Rules for the Care of the Young (SFS 1980:621) instead of normal criminal sanctions. An offender aged 15 and 17 years old, who have committed serious or repeated crimes, and is sentenced to prison or closed juvenile care usually serves time in a special youth home run by the National Board of Institutional Care. A person under 18 years is only sentenced to prison during exceptional circumstances. In less serious cases, fines are levied.[52]

For offenders between 18 and 19 years of age, measures in accordance with the Act on Special Rules for the Care may only be used to a limited extent. A person over 18 but under 21 can be sentenced to prison only if there are special reasons for this, with regard to the crime, or for other special reasons. A person who is under 21 when a crime was committed may receive milder sentencing than that normally stipulated, and may never be sentenced to life imprisonment.[52]

There are no age limits for the application of conditional sentences.[52]

Incarceration rate

Sweden had an incarceration rate of 66 persons per 100,000 inhabitants in 2013,[61] which is significantly lower than in most other countries.[Note 3] By comparison, the United States ranks high above Sweden with 707 inmates per 100,000 inhabitants, and the EU average in 2008-2010 was 126.[62][63] 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).

In 2012, approximately 12,000 prison terms were handed down — a level comparable to the one in the mid-1970s. The number of people sentenced to prison have gone down in the ten-year period of 2004-2013, but the average sentence length (approximately 8.4 months) has not been affected.[64][65]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 See section on International comparison
  2. 1 List of countries by intentional homicide rate and List of countries by intentional homicide rate
  3. 1 List of countries by incarceration rate


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  42. ^ "Anmälda brott, totalt och per 100 000 av medelfolkmängden, efter brottstyp och månad för anmälan, år 2012 samt jämförelse med föregående år".  
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External links

  • The Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention official site (In English, also available in a number of other languages.)
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