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Teen prostitution a silent problem in Finland

Teen prostitution is a commonplace yet hidden occurrence in Finland says the anti-prostitution NGO Exit Prostitution. The phenomenon has not been well-researched in Finland although organisations that work with teens encounter the practice fairly often. Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson has promised a speedy probe into the issue.

Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson has promised to investigate the hidden problem of teen prostitution. Image: Yle

There are attempts to buy sex from minors everywhere in Finland, says Tanja Auvinen, a project manager with the anti-prostitution organization Exit Prostitution.

“We know that there are many such cases. It’s something that young adults encounter online, or in shopping centres and other public places. Of course some of these under-age children end up becoming prostitutes,” Auvinen said.

Auvinen added that research data about the number and backgrounds of teen prostitutes is completely non-existent in Finland.

Buying or attempting to buy sex from a minor is a crime in Finland and legal responsibility for the deed always lies with the buyer, usually an adult male.

Young adults are often lured into having sex as a form of barter in exchange for items such as new clothes, drugs or even a place to sleep at night.

Young people craving acceptance from any quarter often end up trading their bodies.

“Impulsiveness and above all risk taking are all a part of youth. And this can be expressed in this way and that’s why one of our central messages is that this is an adult responsibility. Adults cannot take advantage of young people in a delicate position and that time of risk taking,” the youth worker said.

Domestic data don’t recognize the problem

The problem of teen prostitution has been studied in neighbouring countries for many years, but not in Finland.  Youth workers are concerned about the lack of official statistics, because reality tells a different story about the phenomenon. 

Kirsi Porras, a specialist working with the Sexual Health Clinic of the Family Federation of Finland (Väestöliitto), says one issue could be that the problem is related to the secret nature of the crime.

“We definitely need more research. If we ask the police for statistics about trading in sex or teen prostitution, then the phenomenon doesn’t show up that much. It is quite understandable because few young people will go to the police to make a criminal complaint saying that they traded sex for something," Porras said.

"By the same token, the customers won’t go to the police and say that they bought sex from a minor.  This dimension only comes out in relation to some other kind of research. And that’s the reason this is so much a hidden crime,” Porras added.

Justice Ministry to investigate scope of problem

Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson is taking the problem of teen prostitution seriously. She has promised to launch an investigation into the issue in the near future.

“The reality is that it probably does exist. And it could also be wider than we estimate and because of this it’s now high time to conduct a thorough study into the matter, so that we know exactly how widespread the problem is,” Henriksson concluded.

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