In a new programme, police in Helsinki are helping children and youth with immigrant backgrounds who have run away from home to escape honour-based violence.
Honour-based violence takes many different forms and can include psychological and physical violence or threats when it is perceived that a child has brought dishonour to their family.
The Helsinki police are on call twice a month at the safe houses of Sopu, an organisation that takes a reconciliatory approach in supporting young people whose lives are restricted honour-based violence. When it is safe to do so, the method also involves engaging with the child's parents and other family members.
”I would estimate that about 30 immigrant-background youth living in Finland have fled their homes owing to honour-based violence or the threat of it,” said Johanna Aapakallio from Sopu, which is a part of the youth support NGO Loisto Settlement.
Police provide safety plan for client
With guidance and referrals from Sopu staff, police are now able to meet young people who are struggling with threats at home.
”There is a so-called 'low threshold' mode to our work, where we first carry out a threat assessment of the client,” the police department's senior constable Sirpa Koskela said.
After the assessment, Koskela teaches clients how to file a criminal complaint and how to prevent further threats - or worse.
”Preventative measures are a very important part of our work. Our goal is to minimise violent situations. In practice, we create a safety plan for our clients,” Koskela said.
Meetings with family members
One important principle of the programme is to meet the victim's entire family - not just the target.
“With the permission of the client, we often meet other members of the family, spouses or former spouses,” Aapakallio said. “If meeting the family is too much of a safety risk for the client, then we don’t arrange it.”
Sometimes Aapakallio and Koskela meet a family together at the police station. In this case, there may be many family members and relatives as well as several police officers in order to ensure everyone’s safety. In some cases the victim may arrive to the police station straight from a safe house, Aapakallio explained.
Success is measured by safety
Aapakallio said a case is considered successful when a child no longer needs to be estranged from their family.
“These situations can be very difficult, but they have often produced good results when the young people in these families no longer have to fear and feel threatened,” Aapakallio said.
“We feel that we can be the bridge builders between children and youth and their parents in these conflict situations. The family receives help and support in raising their children,” Aapakallio said.
Sopu handled some 60 honour-related violence situations in Finland last year.