Skip to content

"Historic" reform: Tougher laws against sexual assault and harassment to take effect in 2023

Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson (SPP) has announced a major overhaul of laws on rape and other sex crimes.

"Today is a historic day," Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson (SPP) Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

The government unveiled a sweeping reform of sexual offense legislation on Thursday. The new laws would institute a broader definition of rape, replacing the current law under which assault is only defined as rape if it involves violence or a threat of violence and a defenceless victim.

Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson (SPP) said this is a significant change. She said that judges, police and other officials must start thinking in a new way.

"Today is a historic day that many have been waiting for. Sexual autonomy is everyone's right and cannot be compromised under any circumstances. The definition of rape will change so that in the future the victim's own will is central," she said.

A lack of consent would be crucial, regardless of the age of the victim. Any non-consensual sex act will be considered rape.

Tougher punishment for crimes against children

"Through the reform, we aim to better protect children, who are particularly vulnerable," Henriksson said.

Penalties for crimes against children in particular would be toughened. The premise is that a child cannot validly consent to sexual intercourse with an adult. An adult having sex with a child under the age of 16 would in principle be rape of a child, which is not now necessarily the case.

The minimum sentence for the crime would rise from one to two years in prison. In practice, a conviction for the crime would almost always lead to an actual prison term.

However consensual sexual relations between two minors that does not violate either's sexual autonomy will not be punishable.

Provisions for other sexual offenses will also be strengthened. According to the bill, sexual harassment need not involve physical contact. Unauthorized dissemination of a sexual image depicting another person will be punishable, and sending unsolicited sexual images would be categorised as sexual harassment.

Inspiration from Sweden

Many European countries have already moved to a consent-based definition of rape.

Although the debate over stricter rape legislation had been going on in Finland for a long time, it was kick-started in late 2017 when neighbouring Sweden introduced a bill to tighten rape legislation.

"Sex should be voluntary. If it is not voluntary, then it is illegal," said Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at the time.

A citizens' initiative calling for similar legal reform in Finland provoked much debate in 2018. It was approved and handed to Parliament in mid-2019.

Nearly three years later, the bill is headed to the legislature and is expected to take force at the beginning of next year.

As the five government parties hold 117 seats in the 200-seat Parliament, the bill almost certain to become law, so long as it passes muster by the powerful Constitutional Law Committee.