Violence Against Women In Finland

In the eyes of the world Finland might appear as an utopian wonderland where the equality between sexes has already been achieved. Indeed, one can often hear even some Finnish complain that feminism would not be needed in Finland, because the status of women is already as perfect as possible. Yet, every paradise has its own snake, and in case of Finland it might well be violence.

Compared to other countries in Europian Union, Finland is strikingly violent. Although most of the victims of violence are men, women are also affected: for instance, the rate of deaths caused by violence is for Finnish women over 50 % larger than the EU average. Indeed, Finland is among the few countries in Western Europe where from one to two in 100 000 women die because of violence, while in most of Western Europe the rate is less than one in 100 000 women. Violence is more concentrated in groups with a low social status, and especially unemployed or migrant women face greater risk of violent death. [1]

Finnish women meet violence mostly in their homes. Indeed, the second most common form of death by violence in Finland is a case of woman being killed by her intimate partner: one in fifth of homicidal crimes belong to this class. In nine percent of cases of violence reported to police, the victim was woman and the perpretrator someone from the same family. Generally, violence in Finland is often connected with a heavy use of alcohol. Thus it is no wonder that in over 80 % of cases where an intimate partner killed a woman, either the victim or the perpetrator was drunk: in 42 % of the cases the perpetrator could be described as alcoholic and in 64 % he was known to be violent when drunk. [2]

In light of these facts it seems shocking that Finland has so few safe houses for victims of domestic violence. EC has recommended that there should be one place for a family in a safe house for every 10 000 persons. In 2007 Finland was estimated to have 125 places in a safe house, which equals 0,24 places for every 10 000 persons. Furthermore, in eastern and northern Finland there are altogether only five safe houses, which in a country of so long distances is truly insufficient. Most of the safe houses are located in the densely populated southern Finland, but even there it takes time to reach a safe house from more rural areas. [3]

In a Finnish study from 2005, nine percent of women reported having experienced at least once how someone had forced or tried to force them to have sexual intercourse. If one counts also the cases where woman had been unable to defend themselves e.g. because of a state of drunkenness, one in every five woman had such experiences. In the last decade, on average 628 rapes were reported in Finland every year. The numbers might be even worse, because only 2 – 10 % of rapes are estimated as being reported. [4], [5].

In most of the rapes in Finland the victim and the perpetrator knew each other: only in quarter of cases the rapist was a complete stranger. Often the crime scene was home of either victim or perpetrator. In close to half of the rapes reported, the victim and the perpretator were acquaintances or the situation resembled a date rape. Thirteen percent of rapes were committed by intimate partners or close friends of the woman. [4], [5].

The Finnish justice system is often criticised for the low conviction rate of rapes. Approximately 16% of reported rapes go to court in Finland and only 13% lead to conviction. In majority of the acquitted cases the court could not find enough evidence that crime had occurred. [5]

Finnish criminal system recognises three forms of sexual assault: aggravated rape, rape and coercion into sexual intercourse, which is often disparagingly called ”the mild rape”. A sexual assault is defined as coercion into sexual intercourse, if the violence or threats used were slight and if there were some mitigating circumstances. This emphasis on violence fails to take seriously the violation of sexual autonomy of victims: the justice system appears to say that an unwanted sexual intercourse is not a real violation, if the victim is not also beaten to death. Furthermore, in many cases Finnish prosecutors and courts have considered rape as a mere coercion into sexual intercourse, even when rapes have involved clear violence or have resulted in physical injury. Only ten percent of convictions of a coercion into sexual intercourse lead to actual imprisonment. [5]

If a woman is unable to defend herself because of sleep, self-imposed intoxication, unconsciousness or illness, rape is defined in Finnish justice system not as rape, but as sexual abuse. This definition has been criticised, because it makes it depend on the victim whether she has been raped. Furthermore, often a conviction of sexual abuse is punished by a mere fine: thus, raping an unconscious person leads infrequently to imprisonment. [5]

Finland has no state-funded or nationwide support system for victims of sexual violence. Rape victims are treated, for instance, in healthcare centers, but all centres do not have the necessary expertise. This reflects the fact that Finnish authorities still struggle to recognise gender-based violence as a resbonsibility of state. Action Plan for Gender Equality of Finnish government for 2008 – 2011 promises a specific action plan on violence against women. However, the actualisation of this plan did not start before December 2009.

[1] Martti Lehti, Naiset henkirikosten uhrina 2002 – 2007. OPTL – Oikeuspoliittinen tutkimuslaitos. Verkkokatsauksia 11/2009.

[2] Venla Salmi & Martti Lehti & Reino Sirén & Janne Kivivuori & Mikko Aaltonen, Perheväkivalta Suomessa. OPTL – Oikeuspoliittinen tutkimuslaitos. Verkkokatsauksia 12/2009.

[3] Terhi Laine, Lähisuhde- ja perheväkivallan uhreille tarjottavat turvakotipalvelut. Sosiaali- ja terveysministeriö.

[4] Rikollisuustilanne 2009. Rikollisuus ja seuraamusjärjestelmä tilastojen valossa. Oikeuspoliittisen tutkimuslaitoksen tutkimuksia 250.

[5] Case closed. Rape and human rights in the Nordic Countries. Amnesty International. 2010.