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Finland moves closer to tougher rape laws with ministry proposal

A new proposal would broaden the definition of sexual harassment while lack of consent could lead to a rape conviction.

Anna-Maja Henriksson
Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson said that the proposed changes will better protect victims of sexual offences. Image: Olivia Ranta / Lehtikuva

Finland took a step closer to defining rape in terms of lack of consent following a Justice Ministry working group recommendation to include it in the definition of the offence. If the proposed amendment goes through, sex crime laws will no longer mention "consent" but will speak of "voluntary consent".

The change is significant, as it will frame the act of rape in terms of consent, rather than the threat or occurrence of violence, as is currently the case. The working group report was handed over to Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson on Tuesday morning.

"The central criterion would be that the other party has not engaged in the act voluntarily," legal counsellor Sami Kiriakos said.

According to the working group report, lack of consent could be expressed verbally, using gestures or by way of "other actions".

Minister praises proposal

Consent will not be assumed to have been given if a rape victim is rendered passive by fear, or because they are heavily intoxicated or asleep.

"The strength of the proposed rape clause it that we will get legislation that better protects victims. It now includes all of those acts in which victims do not voluntarily participate," Henriksson said during the handing over of the report on Tuesday.

"However it also includes everything that is already in the legislation. In other words, violence and the threat of violence have been taken into account," she added.

The proposed legislative changes echo the demands of a citizens initiative to rewrite Finnish rape laws to include lack of consent, Consent2018.

The initiative itself was launched in December 2018 and quickly gathered the 50,000 signatures required to take to lawmakers for consideration. It was handed over to Parliament in June last year.

Expanded definition of sexual harassment

The working group also proposed adding a regulation relating to sexual touching to sexual offences legislation.

The regulation would replace a section of the law that deals with forcing a victim to commit a sexual act. The penalty for sexual harassment would also be harsher than forcing someone to commit a sex act.

The working group also called for the expansion of sexual harassment to include verbal acts, as well as harassment using images and flashing or exposing oneself in public. The experts acknowledged that broadening the range of criminal offences would also increase the number of criminal investigations.

Currently, disseminating sexual images or videos without the permission of the persons shown in the material is treated as defamation or disseminating material infringing on personal privacy.

Tougher penalties for crimes against minors

The working group recommendations include separating regulations relating to sexual offences involving minors from those involving adults. In the case of rape involving minors, the issue of consent will not be considered.

The proposal also recommends increasing the minimum prison sentence for a conviction for rape of a minor from one to two years.

The proposals will now be sent out for commenting and will return to the ministry in autumn, when the formal legislative amendment will be prepared.

The proposed changes will not likely take effect before next spring, as a second commenting round is required before the bill goes to Parliament for consideration.

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