Reported cases of rape and sexual abuse cases by 28 percent in the first three months of the year compared to one year earlier, according to new figures released on Wednesday by Statistics Finland.
The data jibes with the experience of the Tukinainen rape crisis centre, which supports victims of rape and sexual assault across Finland.
"There are lots of reports but few convictions," said Riitta Silver, a lawyer at the Tukinainen rape crisis centre. "One big reason for this is the lack of legal help for victims in police interviews. Victims have the right to free legal advice when they report a crime and to free legal assistance when they’re interviewed by police."
"Police have the obligation to direct victims to support services but that often happens too late, as the victim has already given an interview. It would be better if they were informed about support services before making the complaint."
One in six reports lead to conviction
Amnesty International reported recently that in 2017, the last year for which figures are available, police received 1,245 rape reports but just one in six, 209 cases, resulted in convictions. Police concluded investigations and sent cases to the prosecutor in 70 percent of reported rapes, with 29 percent going to trial and just 17 percent resulting in a conviction.
Chief Superintendent Mons Enqvist of the National Police Board says that officers are required to inform victims of their rights, and mostly do so.
"We do tell victims about right to free legal assistance, that’s part of our guidelines," Enqvist said. "This right has been expanded in recent years to include potential victims of trafficking."
"For the past few years we have proritised sex crimes because we cannot investigate every crime, but sex crimes are a priority," he added.
Training programmes and specialist sex crime investigators are also cited by Enqvist as evidence of police efforts in the area, but Silver argued that more needs to be done. She mentioned a "lack of expertise" in the police force.
"Police have made general decisions about where to direct resources, and it's clear that some criminal reports are not investigated right to the end," Silver noted. "Only some cases proceed to the prosecutor, or the prosecutor brings a charge like sexual harassment which is the mildest sexual offence, and quite often the case will be closed early and then it’s not investigated to the end."
Statistics Finland reported that altogether 379 rapes were reported to police over the first three months of the year, which was 27.6 percent more than the January-March period in 2018. There were 417 reports of child sexual abuse, a rise on 2018 of 28.7 percent.
The stats agency reports that during the 2010s the highest level of reported child sex abuse cases during a three-month period came in April-June 2013, when police received 612 reports.
Overall, the number of criminal complaints received by the police, Customs and the border guard dropped three percent this year compared to the first three months of last year.
New laws toughening the maximum jail terms for child sex abuse came into force in Finland this week.