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Study confirms many teen girls face sexual harassment or violence

Female teens are more likely to face sexual harassment online than boys. More than a quarter of girls said they had, versus less than one in 10 of their male peers.

Huolestunut nuori nainen.
Image: Eila Haikarainen / Yle

A study carried out by the Police University College indicates that one in three Finnish girls aged 15-16 has experienced some kind of sexual harassment or violence. The same goes for 22 percent of boys of the same age.

The results, published on Wednesday, are based on a survey of ninth graders last year, which received just over 5,000 responses. According to the results, teenagers are most often harassed and taken advantage of in dating relationships, online and through their hobbies.

Respondents said that sexual abuse was more likely to be perpetrated by adults than by age-mates. Six and a half percent of girls said they had been abused by adults, as compared to 1.8 percent of boys.

The rates of abuse from other teens of the same age were 3.6 percent for female teens and 1.3 percent for males. However a higher proportion of incidents involving others of the same age were serious, involving intercourse.

Crossing a line

“Abuse from adults may take the form of touching or online propositions. When it involves young people of the same age, it’s usually an acquaintance or dating partner who crosses a certain boundary,” says Police University researcher Monica Fagerlund.

Female teens are more likely to face sexual harassment online than boys. More than a quarter of girls said they had, versus less than one in 10 of their male peers.

“Girls are, for instance, asked to perform before a webcam or subjected to obscene language,” Fagerlund says.

Coaches tell dirty jokes, boyfriends go too far

Some are also offered pay for sex.

“A random online acquaintance may quickly suggest sexual interaction or use sexually-charged language, which may be distressing for a young girl who is still really a child,” comments Pia Puu Oksanen, director of Naisten Linja (Women’s Line), an NGO that combats violence against women and offers counselling and support for abused women.

Boys are more likely to face harassment than girls through sports teams or other organised pastimes.

“Coaches or other leaders may tell sexually-charged jokes or stories that are inappropriate as part of minors’ hobby activities,” Fagerlund says.

Male teens find it difficult to talk about sexual harassment. “It’s still taboo,” says Mika Lehtonen, head of the centre for boys and young men run by Väestöliitto, the Family Federation of Finland.

Oksanen says calls and emails to the Women’s Line show a wide range of sexual harassment and violence. 

“For instance, there is a lot of dating violence. A young woman may start out by saying ‘I don’t know whether this is rape, but my boyfriend doesn’t respect my wishes when we’re having sex,” Oksanen says.

She adds that there is still a strong double standard concerning men’s and women’s sexuality, noting that “if a young girl is sexually active, for instance, if she has many partners and doesn’t make a secret of it, then she may easily labelled and insulted.”

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