A Man Was Just Convicted For "Online Rape" — Here's What That Is

Photographed by Eylul Aslan.
On Thursday, a 41-year-old man in Sweden was convicted of rape, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Associated Press reports that while he never met any of the people he assaulted in person, he had coerced young teenagers in the U.S., Britain, and Canada to perform sexual acts in front of webcams.
His sentencing is a huge step in persecuting a sexual violence crime that we don't often discuss — assault that happens online.
According to the AP, Bjorn Samstrom assaulted 27 survivors — 26 girls and one boy — and threatened to kill their relatives or to post their photos on pornography sites unless they performed sex acts in front of a webcam while he watched in Sweden. The assaults all happened between 2015 and 2017.
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The court said that even though he never met any of the survivors, he was guilty of rape, sexual coercion, and other charges. The case is the first time in Sweden that a person was convicted of rape for offenses that occurred online. The AP reports that Sweden's laws dictate that rape doesn't have to involve actual intercourse, but can involve an act that is equally violating.
Online rape, otherwise known as "sextortion," is blackmailing that involves sex acts or sexual images, and it's not federally outlawed in the U.S. However, five states (CA, UT, TX, AL, and AR) currently consider it a crime.
Samstrom admitted to coercing the teens, but didn't think that his actions constituted as rape, and intends to appeal the sentence.
Annika Wennerström, one of the prosecutors involved in the case, told the Canadian National Post that the case is unprecedented, and could set standards for sexual assault that involves technology.
"The technology knows no limits," Wennerström told the Post. "So we have to adapt our mindset to, ‘What can a rape be?’ We say a rape can be different things. You don’t always have to have the textbook case of a physical attack or physical coercion."
If you have experienced sexual violence and are in need of crisis support, please call the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
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