Finland is indeed a last bastion of bestiality. Here a person can have sex with an animal as long as the animal is not harmed. The absence of legislation against bestiality makes the nation one of the last in the European Union not to institute a legal ban.
As the law currently stands in Finland, a person can engage in sexual intercourse with an animal as long as it cannot be proved that the animal has been treated too roughly or cruelly or that the act has caused unnecessary pain and suffering. Bestiality does not refer to kissing, hugging or caressing, but to acts between person and animal that could be comparable to sexual intercourse.
"We now know that it has to include a lot more than is generally thought. Bestiality is a taboo subject, and people don’t want to talk about it. However, it would be important to have discussion," says the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s chief inspector Minna Ruotsalo.
From the death penalty to legalisation
Attitudes to bestiality, as reflected by law, have gone from one extreme to the other throughout the ages. In 1734, disorderly conduct with nature’s creatures was punishable by death in Sweden and Finland.
However, Finland legalised bestiality in 1971, following in the footsteps of other European countries. It was thought that criminalising the act was not the right way to deal with people who are likely to suffer from mental illness or who are simply lonely. Bestiality was also permitted in Denmark until July of this year.
"Denmark did not want to be the last Nordic country to allow bestiality, and in addition there was a strong suspicion that animal brothels were operating. Therefore, bestiality was criminalised," Ruotsalo says.
Animals often die of injuries
The difficult subject has not been researched in Finland, however Ruotsalo says that extensive studies have been made in Norway and Sweden. Cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, dogs and cats are the most common animal species to be sexually abused.
"The majority of cases remain in the dark. It’s shameful and shunned. However, some persons that engage in the activity have contacted us saying that they would be concerned were the act to be criminalised in Finland," says Ruotsalo.
Norwegian and Swedish studies have shown that in the majority of cases, the animals suffered severe physical injuries as well as anxiety and fear. The animals often die from their injuries.
Finland to consider a ban
Finnish laws on animal protection are in the preparatory stages of reform. A steering group has recommended the blanket criminalisation of bestial acts.
However, according to Ruotsalo, this has been criticised by the Ministry of Justice. This subject of bestiality is morally loaded, yet moral indignation does not in itself necessarily mean something should be criminalised. She does note however, that the issue of animal welfare offers a compelling legal standard.
"We too want to promote legislation founded on respect for the intrinsic value of an animal," she concludes.
Updated at 16:30: this article was slightly modified following confirmation of the legal status of bestiality in Hungary.