Last week in Sweden, a man was acquitted in the second instance of raping a 10-year-old girl twice over his definition of the word ‘snippa’, a Swedish euphemism used to refer to a also infantile way to the female genitals and that in Italian could be translated with “potato chips”. “Snippa” is the term used by the little girl to describe what she suffered, but the appeal court, in its acquittal, wrote that the Swedish dictionary she consulted defines the word as “external genitalia”: it was therefore not it is possible to prove the alleged offense and that is that there was penetration during the abuse. The sentence is causing a lot of discussion and in recent days the hashtag #JagVetVadEnSnippaÄr, “I know what a snippa is”, has spread on social networks.
The abuses at the center of the ruling took place in the summer of 2021 in a city in southern Sweden. According to the victim’s account, the man had “put his hand inside her shorts and panties” and then “put his hand on her snippa and inserted a finger”. Then the man took the girl to another room and repeated the violence. In the first instance, in September 2022, the man was convicted of raping the minor twice. He appealed and on 23 February the Gothenburg Court of Appeal acquitted him.
The journalist of the Aftonbladet newspaper who started the public discussion on the case, Oisín Cantwell, explained that in the appeal ruling the court did not question the story of the little girl. But to determine whether the only alleged crime could be proven, namely rape, she wondered what was the exact meaning of the word “snippa” used by the child during her testimony to the prosecutor. And in the absence of more precise information from the child herself about the meaning of the word or about her perception of the meaning of the word, she decided to resort to the definition given by the Swedish dictionary. So she came to the conclusion that it was “a familiar expression for a woman’s external genitalia”.
According to the Court of Appeal, “Snippa” could not therefore be understood as a synonym of “vagina” and that is, as “the channel that puts the vulva in communication with the uterus”. Since there was no penetration, in their opinion there was not even the configuration of the crime as it had been contested by the public prosecutor. And the fact that the girl had stated during several interviews that her finger “had entered,” wrote Oisín Cantwell, is a fact that has been completely ignored.
After the sentence, the girl’s mother sent a note to the Expressen newspaper saying that ‘after all, the verdict states that the man is guilty and that he acted intentionally. Then the sentence changes and she talks about what the word “snippa” means. Also, she analyzes how far the man had entered her with her finger. He is absolutely insane. How can this happen? To me, to my daughter and to our family, this is incredibly offensive.”
The appeal ruling has caused many protests and discussions in Sweden, including among lawyers and legal experts who, in large part, have expressed outrage at the court’s decision. The girl’s lawyer, Agneta Carlquist, explained that there was a lot of attention and care in collecting the exact and precise testimony of what the girl had suffered, but that “the good guys of the court of appeal” evidently did not understand a word that everyone uses, “even in kindergarten.”
Many journalists have polemically written that ten-year-olds actually did not have time to do a doctorate on the origin and historical and linguistic meaning of words and that if the court had consulted the dictionary of the Academy of Language Swedish instead of the Swedish dictionary perhaps the verdict would have been different. The Academy defines “snippa” simply as “female genitalia”, without specifying whether external or internal.
Journalist Linda Jerneck, on Expressen, wondered if for the country’s courts, boys and girls who have suffered sexual abuse perhaps have to use medical language to be believed: «It is not surprising that children do not distinguish between the genitalia external and internal, but using one word for everything. In fact, many adults do it too. If a grown woman said she had a finger stuck in her pussy, would the court feel the same need to ask whether it was really the “tube that connects the external genitalia to the uterus”? And if a person talked about something that had been shoved up his ass, he would be ignored for not using the term ‘anal’? ». Perhaps, comments Jerneck, “the anatomy of the little girl’s body is particularly mysterious to such elderly gentlemen.”
Part of the discussion, in Sweden, is in fact concerning the age, gender and inadequacy in judging gender-based violence of the majority of the judges who made up the court: four of them are men and, on average, have little more than 66 years old: «This is the average age of the four male judges who had difficulty understanding what a “snippa” is», writes Cantwell. The fifth judge who made up the court was a thirty-year-old woman, and she was the only one who considered the child’s words unequivocal and that she believed she was actually the victim of a rape. This judge said that although the girl did not explain more precisely what the word “snippa” meant to her, she still reported that the man’s finger had penetrated her.
Åke Thimfors, one of the judges of the court that acquitted the man, explained instead that the burden of proving the facts that constitute the basis of the alleged crime is fundamental in issuing a judgment and that such evidence must be established beyond any reasonable doubt. The prosecutor’s charge concerned a single specific crime, not other types of sexual offences. And according to him the disputed crime was not sufficiently demonstrated: “It was not possible for us to ask the child further questions about what she experienced,” he said, also explaining that the prosecutor would have had to present further evidence in order to arrive at a sentence.
Cantwell concludes his article by saying that perhaps “a better job could have been done”, that perhaps the word “snippa” “should have been explained during the trial” and that perhaps alternative crimes should also have been contested compared to the only one presented , such as that of sexual harassment: “But in reality it is also the duty of the president of the court to ask for clarifications if ambiguities arise”. The prosecutor will now have to decide whether to appeal the sentence and take it to the Supreme Court.
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