1. Government
March 4, 2016updated 09 Jun 2022 9:26am

Finnish police officers can now issue on-the-spot fines for sexual harassment

By Barbara Speed

Until now, street harassment in Finland has been “kept under wraps too often”, according to high-profile politicians

But since New Year’s Eve, when women in Helsinki were harassed in a similar way to more-publicised attacks in Cologne, the issue has leapt to the front of public consciousness. This has had both good, and less-good effects: ministers have announced a “zero tolerance” policy to harassment; but civilian patrols have also sprung up to “protect women” on the capital’s streets.

Thanks to reports that some of the attacks at New Year’s were carried out by asylum seekers, some of these patrols were founded by Neo-Nazi groups and have less-than-ideal intentions. One mother told Helsinki Today that she was more afraid of the patrols than of street harassment. Petteri Orpo, Minister of the Interior, has released a statement telling the patrols to leave law enforcement to the professionals. 

Now, according to the Hufvudstadsbladet newspaper (and translated by Sputnik News), officials have decided to empower police officers to issue fines for sexual harassment. This is apparently based on the fact that at the scene, it’s often clear that harassment has taken place, especially if police saw the incident; yet pressing charges in court is a disproportionately long and complex process. 

Helsinki police chief Lasse Aapio said:

We’ve attempted to find a quick solution to the problem. The existing threshold for sexual harassment complaints is pretty high, but perhaps we’ll be able to decrease it if police will be able to act immediately,

Victims can then also press charges following a crime, which would be slightly more straightforward given that police would already have the perpetrator’s details.

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What’s striking about the new policy is that it does not rely on the victim to press charges: harassment is being treating as a general anti-social behaviour, like littering or shouting in the street. It could well act as a deterrant, and encourage bystanders to see harassment as a crime.

Yet it could also play down the severity of more serious incidents, if they’re seen as little more than dropping a cigarette butt in public. And it relies on the presence of police officers, or their belief in a victim’s statement. 

If nothing else, it’s new. Cities around the world have been struggling to find ways to crack down on sexual harassment, especially on public transport. The British Transport Police have introduced a text and call number to report harassment, while other cities use women-only carriages to protect female travellers. If Helsinki’s fines act as a deterrent, they could represent one more tool to keep everyone safe in public places. 

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