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MP pushing for rape law to include absence of consent

Left Alliance MP Hanna Sarkkinen is fighting for a legislative change in the definition of rape in hopes it could encourage victims to seek justice. Parliament will discuss the matter on Thursday.

Hanna Sarkkinen
Hanna Sarkkinen Image: Yle

On Thursday, Parliament will discuss a proposed bill on whether the penal code definition of rape should be altered to include absent consent. Currently the primary definition of rape centres on the use or threat of violence.

”The current starting assumption in rape legislation is that another person’s body is automatically available for sex unless the victim specifically resists. The inclusion of absent consent into the definition of rape would better match modern understandings of a person’s sexual self-determination”, justified Hanna Sarkkinen, Left Alliance member and president of the women representatives network.

The question of including absent consent has been mulled over in Parliament before, previously in 2014. Now, the issue is also being discussed on a ministry level. Additionally, a citizen’s initiative has been put forward under the name Suostumus2018 (Consent2018). Those behind the initiative are political youth organisation members belonging to the Left Alliance and the Centre, Social Democratic and Green Parties.

Can it hold up in courts?

Rape is already defined using the concept of absence of consent in British and German courts. A corresponding law change is also underway in Sweden.

Despite there being no mention in the current law, Finnish courts already explore consent when dealing with rape cases. Riitta Silver, a lawyer who has worked with victims for close to 20 years at the Rape Crises Centre Tukinainen, questioned the practicalities of the law change in District Courts.

”Consent as a legal concept is not always a clear matter. The burden of proof falls on the plaintiff, and this law change would not bring any changes to that” pondered Silver.

Turku university professor of criminal procedure law Johanna Niemi, argued otherwise. Niemi has fought for a law change of the definition for several years.

”Above all it would change how we think about sexual intercourse and exploitation.”

The issue will be discussed in Parliament on Thursday.

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