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Consent campaign yields results as ministry revamps rape laws

Finland’s justice ministry is set to change rape laws to ensure that sex without consent is always a crime.

Image: AOP

Finland’s rape laws are set for a revamp, with tightened legislation on consent and sex with minors on the way, along with better consideration of victims’ in helpless situations.

A Justice Ministry working group laid out the task on Tuesday, stating that the idea was to ensure that sex without consent is always punishable under the law—something that is not the case currently under Finland’s penal code.

A citizens’ initiative on the consent law gained 57,000 signatures in six months leading up to last December, but this ministerial working group has a broader remit. The campaign to tighten the law initially got a cool reception from the Justice Minister Antti Häkkänen, so campaigners view Tuesday’s announcement as a significant step forward.

“The main victory is the tone of the debate around the issue,” said Hanna-Marilla Zidan, who was one of the proposers of the citizens’ initiative. “There has been a big change in the conversation, thanks to the metoo campaign and the public atmosphere. It’s important because the law sends a message to society about what’s okay and what isn’t. It’s about improving things for victims but also about the message the law sends--consent is not a grey area legally.”

In addition, a change in the law is planned to ensure that sex with a child is always considered rape. At present sex with someone under the age of consent is regarded as aggravated child abuse, a legal quirk that raised hackles in Finland when a man convicted of sexually abusing a 10-year-old could not be charged with rape under Finnish law.

Preparations for the changes started last summer. The working group will start work in February before handing a legislative proposal to parliament after the next election, which is due on 14 April.

Justice Minister Antti Häkkänen said that he had been shocked by recent reports of rape and sexual abuse in Oulu, but stressed that legislative changes should be made after careful consideration.

“Not by reading incendiary headlines on social media and making rapid changes to the law,” said Häkkänen.

On Tuesday Finland's MPs also reached cross-party consensus on legislative changes to be made before elections due in April in an effort to clamp down on grooming and sexual abuse.

Those laws, which are already under consideration in parliament, cover police rules on data gathering, to allow them to better track individuals suspected of grooming online; the government is to look at whether aggravated sex crimes could be a reason to rescind Finnish citizenship; and an increase in the maximum sentence for aggravated child abuse from four years' prison to six.

EDIT-This story was edited to include cross-party agreement on legislation announced on Tuesday afternoon.

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