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Less than fifth of reported rapes lead to convictions

Of all rapes reported to the police in Finland, only 23 percent lead to criminal charges and 18 percent to convictions. The figures are low compared to crimes such as assault, of which half lead to convictions.

 Oulun oikeustalo 26. marraskuuta 2015.
Image: Markku Ruottinen / Lehtikuva

Most of the rapes reported to Finnish police never make it to courts. In most cases the reason for throwing out rape cases is a lack of evidence. Helsinki Court of Appeals judge Timo Ojala says that the most problematic cases involve he-said-she-said reports.

"Often the perpetrator and the victim are acquainted, and no hostile interaction has taken place," Ojala says. "The dispute tends to be over whether sexual intercourse has been consensual or not."

Executive director for the Women's Line phone support service, Elina Nikulainen says that the lack of evidence argument is a non-stop woe.

"I wish the victim would truly be heard in these situations," she says. "It's unjust to lay the burden of proof on the wronged party."

Police received 4,171 rape reports in 2007-2011, of which police investigated 2,701. A total of 2,554 rape cases were reported to the prosecutor, of which 994 lead to convictions. Appeals courts handed down 730 rape convictions within the five-year period.

Eighteen percent of reported rapes lead to convictions, whereas the figure for assaults was 50 percent. Ojala, who specialises in sex crime research, says the situation has not changed in recent years.

Victim may drop out due to pressure

Rapes may not make it to the courts for another reason, namely that the victim themselves may drop the charges. In these cases lack of evidence is also an issue. Police cannot go forward with a case if the victim denies a crime has been committed.

"The victim is often the target of guilting and belittling throughout the process," Nikulainen says. "It requires a great deal of willpower to revisit such a traumatic event again and again."

Nikulainen says that Finland has a long way to go in treating victims of violence fairly. The justice system needs to regain the trust of defendants so that they have the energy to see trials through.

"Many know that the process is gruelling, and that justice may not be the reward for sticking it out. And this leads to a higher threshold for even reporting rape," Nikulainen says.

Ojala says that reporting a rape as soon as possible could help with the process moving forward and avoiding problems of evidence.

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