The number of reported hate crimes in Finland appears to be rising after many years of remaining more or less stagnant, according to data maintained by officials at the Police University College.
The data represent crimes actually reported by police throughout the country. College research director Vesa Muttilainen said that up to the present day, statistics have not varied much.
"This phenomenon has been researched in Finland for many years. The number of criminal reports has varied from 700 – 800 a year," Muttilainen said.
The most recent data available are from 2014 and analysts are still crunching the latest figures. However police hate crime specialist Mäns Enqvist said that it already seems that the number of reported hate offences is on the rise.
"Yes, it’s clearly on the rise. And there are many reasons. Of course one reason is that the climate for discussion in Finland has changed. We are more likely to say anything at all. And that creates a foundation for moving from speech to action," Enqvist explained.
Enqvist noted that one background factor behind the growth of the phenomenon, has been the recent increase in the number of asylum seekers in the country.
"Naturally the [arrival of] large number of asylum seekers last year has intensified the discussion. It seems that the social climate is now conducive to this type of crime," he added.
Typical hate crime is racist in nature
Finland’s body of criminal laws offers no definition for a hate crime or a racially-motivated crime. This means that during the course of their investigations, police have had to resort to scientific definitions of such acts.
Hate crimes are so defined of the motive is hatred of the victim’s ethnic or national background, religion convictions of philosophy, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or disability.
However the researchers say that the vast majority of hate crimes have racist characteristics. This has been borne out by the statistics year after year, they say. A recent study showed that more than 80 percent of hate crimes were racist in nature. Muttilainen said that there might be other reasons for the findings.
"Roughly four out of five hate crimes have racist motivations. There may also be other motives involved, such as religion, life philosophy, sexual orientation or disability."
Offences concentrated in capital region
Crime statistics indicate that more than half of all racist crimes occur in the Uusimaa region of southern Finland. Between 2013 and 2014 officials logged nearly one-third of all racism-related criminal reports in Helsinki. The second-highest number of suspected racist crimes was recorded in Vantaa and the third-highest in Espoo.
Enqvist pointed out that one reason for the grim statistics is the large number of potential victims in these areas.
"Of course in these large cities, where there are also potential victims of hate crimes, naturally it would be numerically concentrated in these areas," he commented.
The specialist noted that the situation also reflects the number of offences in relation to the population base. He added that there is also a low threshold for hate speech and hate crimes in municipalities with asylum seeker reception centres.
However even within the Uusimaa region there are great variations in crime data. Researchers found few reports of such offences in places like Porvoo and Järvenpää, while Hyvinkää had no recorded criminal reports of racist crimes.
Police call for public to come forward
Police officials say they have already begun to take action to curb incidents of hate crime in Finland. Enqvist said that law enforcement officers are working to network and develop relations with minority groups that may be potential victims of hate crimes.
They hope that this will help lower the threshold for people to come forward and report infractions.
The vast majority of hate crimes are not reported, but police say they want to change that and get a more accurate picture of the phenomenon.