Phil, who I stole the title of this post from, quotes Helsingin Sanomat:
According to a news report aired by the commercial television network Nelonen on Sunday, courts in Finland have been handing out relatively lenient sentences in cases of sexual assault - even in some which have led to physical injury.
Nelonen examined all sex crime cases handled by Finnish district courts over the past year and found out that prosecutors and courts have considered acts involving injury to the victim, or in which the woman’s home has been violently broken into, and even in which the victim has been kept a prisoner for several days, to meet the definition of “coercive sexual contact”, a category of sexual assault considered less serious than actual rape.
The new category was introduced to Finnish law in 1999. Opponents of the new definition predicted at the time that the change would lead to more lenient sentences in sex crimes.
The Nelonen report found that more than half of those convicted of actual rape have to serve real prison time. Less than one in ten of those convicted of the lesser crime have had to serve custodial sentences.
The original purpose of the introduction of “coercive sexual contact” as a lesser category of sexual assault was to encourage the prosecution of cases in which one partner was not a fully willing participant of sexual contact, but which are not seen to qualify as full-blown rape.
The Nelonen report suggests that the change has had an opposite effect - that of letting real rapists off with lenient sentences.
My boldface. I apologize for the bad Hesari english, but the point is fairly clear. The original Nelonen story is here. There's some shocking stuff in it, some of which I'll summarize in English here.
There are three kinds of rape in Finnish law: rape, aggravated rape and "coercive sexual contact". Here is an example of "coercive sexual contact", a lesser crime than rape, from the Nelonen report:
A man, born in 1977, forced a woman to have sex with him in the disabled persons' bathroom of a restaurant by hitting her head into the wall and twisting her arm behind her. The woman could not call out for help because the man held his other hand over her mouth. Earlier that evening the same man had tried to forcibly kiss her in the restaurant. The state prosecutor demanded a sentence for coercive sexual contact, because the violence used was mild and the act was performed under mitigating circumstances. The public court decision does not set out these circumstances. The man was given a seven-month suspended sentence and ordered to pay 1000e in reparations.
Understand this: in Finland, if you beat a disabled woman's head into the bathroom wall and rape her, you are not going to prison.
The inept HS English tells us that "more than half" of those convicted of rape go to prison. What that actually means is that 54% of rape convictions result in a prison sentence where the convicted person actually goes to jail.
54%. Remember that a case like the one described above is seen, even by the prosecution, as less than rape. A rape must involve serious violence. Even then, only half of those convicted go to prison. Only 10% of those convicted of "coercive sexual contact" actually go to prison.
This is sickening. If you refuse to go to the army, the state has no qualms about putting you in jail. I'm receiving a far more severe sentence than the majority of Finnish rapists will ever receive. That's what passes for justice in this country.
Finland prides itself on being a "just state" on the model of the German Rechtsstaat. What this means in practice is that our Parliament passes laws that leave actual decisions on legality and sentencing almost completely up to the courts. In the case of sexual assault, the courts and prosecutors routinely apply the lesser penalties, even in cases where this seems to be bordering on insane.
And that's not all they do. At the end of 2008, public feeling in Finland was inflamed against the Eastern Finland appeals court (HS), because of a case heard in November 2008. There, the appeals court found that five adult men, previously sentenced for the rape of a 15-year old girl, were not, in fact, guilty of rape.
The girl had been given alcohol until she was drunk, tied to a bed and raped by all five men. The Eastern Finland appeals court decided that the men were guilty of sexual abuse and aggravated sexual abuse of a minor, but not rape. According to the court, it could not be proved that the men themselves had gotten the girl drunk and tied her to the bedposts; therefore they could not be found guilty of rape. Their sentences were halved. (HS)
So, to recap: not only is beating a woman's head into the wall and sexually assaulting her not rape, but tying a drunk minor to a bed and gang-raping her isn't rape either.
Iltalehti has summed up several interesting previous decisions of the same appeals court over the 2000's:
* In October 2003, a 33-year-old man's jail sentence for rape was changed to a suspended sentence because of his employment history. He had held a steady job for a long time, and his employer had decided to terminate his employment if he went to jail. He didn't have to!
* In September 2003 a 33-year-old man's prison sentence for attempted rape was commuted to a suspended sentence because he had no previous convictions and had paid a large sum in reparations.
* In September 2002 a 27-year-old man had his prison sentence commuted to a suspended sentence and community service, again because of his job.
Finnish courts and prosecutors will, even in cases involving physical violence, not even call for a sentence for rape if the sentence can be handed out as "coercive sexual contact". Of those sentences for rape, barely half actually end up in prison. Of those who do, if they're in Eastern Finland, clearly a trip to the appeals court is worth the trouble, as if you have a good enough job, you won't have to go to prison.
As a feminist and as a human being, I'm disgusted. Overall the Finnish justice system seems dedicated to bending the law in favor of men convicted for sexual assault. Do we really want to live in a society where physically assaulting a disabled person and forcing them to have sex with you is not a serious offense? In a country where an appeals court believes that it's possible that a drunk 15-year-old girl tied herself to a bed in order to be raped by five adult men? I'm sorry, coercively sexually contacted by five men.
I'm not even going to start on the common problems of sexual assaults and domestic violence, like the fact that most go unreported. The way our justice system handles even those that are reported is appalling.
A brief comparison: Finnish internet pundit Seppo Lehto got two years and four months in prison for creating obscene web pages insulting and defaming Finnish politicians and civil servants (HS). The guy who beat a disabled woman's head into a wall and raped her didn't get a prison sentence at all.
From my own perspective as a person actually going to prison in a month or so, this is totally bewildering. I've refused to complete my "civilian service" and because of that, I'm going to jail. If I had, instead, attacked and raped a woman in a bar, I wouldn't be going to jail. I just can't get my head around that.
That's the country I live in. And I'm not proud.