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Foreigners’ sex crime statistics spark debate

Almost 100 men were serving prison sentences for sex crimes in Finnish prisons in May, and 25 of them were foreign nationals, finds Yle's current affairs programme A-studio.

Oulun vankila kesällä 2011
Foreigners are over-represented among sex offenders in Finnish prisons. Image: YLE

This is a large proportion of the convicts—but not of foreigners overall as some 185,000 migrants from abroad currently live in Finland. They account for roughly 3.4 percent of the population.

A-studio discovered that a significant number of the imprisoned foreigners came from countries ravaged by war or other crises.

Psychologist Nina Nurminen from the Criminal Sanctions Agency says that no single factor, be it personal experiences or culture, can explain why a person has perpetrated a sex crime.

Misleading crime figures?

Foreign nationals also make up about 25 percent of suspects in sex crime reports lodged with the police, according to A-studio’s findings.

Senior Expert Lena Bremer from the Finnish Association for Mental Health points that the convict statistic is partially explained by people’s greater willingness to report crimes committed by people they do not know.

“If the perpetrator is a man they know, then they do not report it as readily as they would a stranger. Immigrants, who have few acquaintances, are more often the reported strangers,” Bremer says.

“If we start thinking of the problem in such terms as 'we’ve got immigrants, so we’ve got rapes'—it’s a wholly wrong premise,” Bremer adds, noting that the relatively high number of foreign convicts spurs baseless prejudices against all newcomers. Such figures are often cited in anti-immigrant comments posted on Finnish websites, for instance.

Bremer argues that immigrant integration programmes should include more discussion of cultural differences, particularly on interpreting social messages.

"Communication between men and women is specifically a question of how you're able to interpret messages; of what you may do and what you may not," she concludes.

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