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"Painfully clear, political": Academic slams govt's immigration crime prevention plans

The psychologist called government's proposals to thwart immigrant crime a "painfully clear" example of politics at play before the upcoming election.

Tiedotustilaisuus seksuaalirikosten ennaltaehkäisyn ja torjunnan toimenpiteistä
From left: Blue Reform MP Simon Elo, Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen, Centre Party MP Antti Kurvinen Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

Forensic psychologist Tom Pakkanen has described government's plans to combat migrant crime as "disappointing" and said the administration gave a misleading picture of the problems at hand and that their message was inaccurate.

On Wednesday the Finnish government announced a package of measures it said would help prevent and combat crimes – especially sexual offences – committed by foreign-background individuals.

"I wouldn't give [Wednesday's government press conference] terribly high marks. I have to say it was mostly disappointing. The focus was wrong. The first 15 minutes was straight-up immigration politics."

"That's also an important debate that needs [adequate] time to be addressed, but mixing up the two issues [immigration and crime] is a misrepresentation about the problem of sexual abuse, and in the worst case targets immigrants to a degree that is not objective at all," Pakkanen said.

The proposals follow news of several cases of suspected child abuse in Oulu involving alleged perpetrators with foreign backgrounds.

Not the only problem

Part of the government's crime prevention package specifically addresses dealing with individuals with foreign backgrounds. Pakkanen said that such measures are needed but noted there is a bigger picture to the issue of crime prevention.

"It is clear that people with refugee backgrounds are over-represented among suspects in cases like these. It's a risk, if one thinks about it like that. It's probably appropriate to consider measures against [the problem] as well, but it is certainly not the only risk factor or problem, nor the biggest problem, either," Pakkanen said.

Pakkanen works at Helsinki University Central Hospital's Forensic Psychology Unit for Children and Adolescents and has more than eight years experience investigating sex abuse crimes and said there are several measures authorities use to counteract these kinds of crimes.

"If we're talking about the population as a whole, then sex education is very important and the proposals package touched on this a little; that children and youths should learn about what grooming is and so forth. I suspect that this [type of information] isn't as novel to young people as it can be for adults," he said.

Kids' marginalisation plays major role

"Another thing is that we generally know that marginalised kids face the biggest risk of being abused. In these cases, preventative measures include supporting children and families who don't otherwise have access to help," Pakkanen continued.

"Reducing the income gap would also be an effective preventative measure. We also need more - and more foundational - support in rehabilitating people convicted of sex abuse crimes and for those who are drawn towards children," he said.

Pakkanen has also worked at the National Bureau of Investigation as a consulting forensic psychologist, and has helped train officers in threat assessment, alongside his work at the hospital.

Made into political issue

"My unit and I [at the hospital] examine research about the problem of sex abuse to see which measures help to prevent it. At this press conference, it became painfully clear how it was made into a political issue right before the parliamentary elections. [Their] questions and issues were mixed up in a way that surely will create headlines, but are not necessarily based on research," Pakkanen said.

The forensic psychologist said that according to European comparisons, kids in Finland are more connected on the internet than children in other countries and they largely understand the pitfalls of being online.

"They understand that they shouldn't give out personal information to others online or to send nude pictures of themselves to people who request them," he said.

"But this is on a general level; children who are already marginalised are at greater risk of being exploited. We often talk about how parents should be discussing these issues with their kids, but marginalised children can have very difficult relationships with their parents," Pakkanen explained.

When asked to describe the ongoing debate surrounding the alleged sex abuse cases in Oulu and Helsinki, Pakkanen said "In one word: frustrating."

"Not one aspect of [the cases] was something new to us, the people who [regularly] deal with these questions. Again, it became [an issue of] political agendas; why exactly these questions were raised now before the elections," Pakkanen said.

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