Final Report on National Campaign action carried out within the framework of the Council of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence
1. Legal and policy measures
Several measures to prevent violence against women are included in the Government’s Internal Security Programme, in which one section deals with reducing violence in intimate partner relationships, especially violence towards women, among them. Also some initiatives to amend the criminal legislation in order to prevent violence against women have been taken. The Ministry of Justice is examining the possibility of revising the right to institute criminal proceedings for petty assault so that petty assault in a close relationship would always be an offence subject to public prosecution not a complainant offence as it is currently.
2. Support and protection for victims
The local and regional organisations responsible for municipal social and health care services are intensifying their effort in the prevention of and early intervention in interpersonal and domestic violence. Recommendations for municipal social and health care services on how to guide and lead local and regional actions in the prevention of interpersonal and domestic violence were issued in April 2008. The recommendations aim at supporting and promoting local and regional work for the prevention of interpersonal and domestic violence, and reducing problems caused by it.
The Government’s Internal Security Programme includes also initiatives to improve the services for victims, for example the coverage of shelters and a 24-hour free helpline.
3. Data collection
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is at present coordinating a project the aim of which is to define what kinds of information is to be collected nationally in the social services in the future. One part of this project is to define the information that is to be collected in each agency of the social welfare services. The idea is to create a data system that is used in every social welfare office throughout the country. The ‘violence questionnaire’ has been drafted and it’s field testing started in a couple of municipalities in the autumn of 2007.
A second study on male violence against women was conducted in 2005. The results indicated that the extent of violence against women is still a serious societal problem in Finland, and that there is no significant change in the extent of violence since 1997. The study of 2005 showed that 44 percent of all women aged 18-74 have been subjected to physical or sexual violence or threats of violence. It showed that 8 percent of women had experienced some kind of physical or sexual violence by their current married or cohabiting partner during the last year.
4. Awareness Raising
The implementation of the campaign in Finland started in February 2007. Multiprofessional cooperation has played an important role in the planning of the Finnish campaign. The governmental, parliamentary and local levels, as well as NGOs have been represented in the planning. A national advisory group was set up for the planning of the campaign. The group consists of representatives from organisations dealing with violence against women, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities. Also the Parliament of Finland appointed a representative to the advisory group.
The campaign consists of two parts. The main focus has been on awareness raising. The Government allocated funds for an awareness raising campaign, which was launched in March 2008. The campaign aims to strengthen zero tolerance to violence against women. Its goal is, not only to raise public awareness so as to encourage action against violence, but also to urge men to speak out against violence and decision makers to take actions to prevent violence. The Family Federation is carrying out the awareness raising campaign in coordination with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the organisations represented in the advisory group.
The advisory group has, among other things, identified the national development needs relating to prevention of violence against women in Finland. The needs that were highlighted concerned development of legislation to identify and recognise the recurrent and repressive nature of violence in inter-personal relations. Another important reason for preventing violence against women in Finland that the advisory group pointed out is developing services for victims of violence (e.g. 24-hour telephone line, more shelters). These initiatives have been presented in several action plans, i.e. the Government’s Internal Security Programme, where one section deals with reducing violence in intimate partner relationships, especially towards women. A working group comprising representatives of NGOs will give a report on the 24-hour telephone line to the campaign advisory group.
In connection with the implementation of the campaign the Parliament arranged a seminar titled “Violence Against Women. What measures do we need to combat violence against women?” The advisory group took part in organising the seminar. There were 140 participants in the seminar consisting of members of Parliament (30), decision makers from the municipal administration, representatives of the State Provincial Offices, high-level officials and other governmental representatives. President Halonen opened the seminar. The themes of the seminar were the same as the advisory group had identified as important in preventing violence against women in Finland. The seminar was a great success also in the media. Three TV-channels were broadcasting news about it and several newspapers referred to the seminar.
The advisory group will continue its work until the end of 2008, assessing the needs to prevent violence against women. The awareness raising campaign will also go on until the end of 2008.
5 National Plans of Action
In the last few years Finland has been implementing (or drafting) several action plans including measures to prevent violence against women. The Government Programme 2003-2007 highlighted violence as a gender equality issue and a phenomenon that weakens people’s personal safety in society. During the Government term 2003–2007 the means to tackle domestic violence were intensified. The National Council for Crime Prevention prepared an extensive, cross-sectoral National Violence Reduction Programme. The most important components in the Action Programme to Prevent Intimate Partner and Domestic Violence (2004-2007) of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health were preventive actions carried out by social policy measures and the development of the overall social and health care service system. The objectives of these programmes were co-ordinated and mutually supporting.
Several measures to prevent violence against women are included in the Government’s Internal Security Programme, in which one section deals with reducing violence in intimate partner relationships, especially violence towards women. The Government will decide on these initiatives in May 2008. Preventing violence against women is one of the main issues also in the Government Action Plan for Gender Equality, which is being drafted at the moment.
Assessment of the impact of the Council of Europe Campaign
The Task Force will partly base its assessment of the impact of the Council of Europe Campaign to Combat Violence against Women, including Domestic Violence on the following indicators. Please respond by ticking on the boxes.
1. Is any and every act of violence against women criminalised in your country?
YES xq NO q
At the end of the 1990's Finnish legislation was amended as a measure to influence violence against women. Marital rape was criminalised in 1994, assault taking place in a private place has been subject to public prosecution since 1995, the Act on Restraining Order entered into force in 1999 and it was amended to enable imposition of a restraining on a person living in the same household in 2005. Around the same time the so called "own accord" provision, by virtue of which charges in assault cases were often dropped on the victim's own accord, was abolished. The legislation on sexual offences was revised at the beginning of 1999. In trials the victims of sexual offences and domestic violence are entitled to a support person and a counsel at the expense of the state.
The Act on Restraining Order came into force on 1 January 1999 (issued on 4.12.1998/898). A restraining order means that in order to protect the life, health, freedom or peace of a person, another person, for instance the former spouse or an adult child extorting money from his/her elderly parent, can be ordered not to contact the protected person. A basic restraining order means that the person on whom it has been imposed may not meet the protected person or try to contact that person. An extended restraining order signifies that the person is also forbidden to be in a certain area, such as in the vicinity of the home or workplace of the person being protected. The application for a restraining order is submitted to the police or the district court; the order is imposed for a maximum of one year at a time. The punishment for a breach of the restraining order is a fine or imprisonment not exceeding one year. In 1999, over 1000 restraining orders were imposed. In 2004, there were approximately 1,700 restraining orders issued. As of 1 January 2005, the Act was supplemented with new provisions under which a restraining order may also be issued against a family member living in the same household.
At the beginning of 2005 the Act on Restraining Order was supplemented to the effect that imposing a restraining order is also possible when the person protected by and the person subject to the order are living in the same household (30.7.2004/711). The new provisions on a restraining order concerning family members living in the same household can also be applied when the persons are living together for reasons other than intimate partner relationship.
A person subject to an intra-family restraining order must leave the joint home and may not return to it. Neither may the person meet or even otherwise contact the person who is protected by the order. It is also forbidden to follow and monitor the protected person. An extended restraining order may be imposed to apply to staying in some other place, for instance in the vicinity of the joint home.
2. Is violence committed by a partner or former partner punished more severely than violence among strangers (eg. gender based violence as such or the abuse of power will be considered an aggravating circumstance)?
YES q NO xq
It is characteristic of the Finnish criminal legislation that penal provisions are very general in nature, and, for example, the sex of a victim is not relevant as regards determination of punishment. In addition, including the repetition of offences as essential elements of an offence could also lead to problems of interpretation of the principle of ne bis in idem. Offences against a person’s life or health are punishable under the Penal Code, chapter 21, which includes e.g. penal provisions on assault (section 5) and aggravated assault (section 6).
At present the mode of committing an offence and its harmful effects as well as circumstances related to the victim can be paid attention to according to the provisions on imposing a punishment in chapter 6 of the Penal Code. According to the said provisions a punishment more severe than the normal punishment can be imposed in cases where the assault is aimed at a person that is in a weaker position than the perpetrator or where the person has otherwise limited capacity to defend herself or himself, i.e. at a woman or child and/or in which the assault is repeated.
3. Are victims enabled to seek justice in a human manner (eg. specialised courts on domestic violence, specialised units within the police, the public prosecutor or the judiciary)?
YES q X NO q
In the basic training of police officers particular attention is paid to cases of domestic violence and meeting child victims. The Office of the Prosecutor General organises training for prosecutors regarding sexual and violent offences against women and children, including offences related to trafficking in humans. Furthermore, in order to promote the effective and fair enforcement of criminal liability there is a so called key and special prosecutor system in the prosecution system that is based on specialisation of the prosecutors. The duty of the prosecutors specialised in certain issues is to maintain and develop the professional skills of other prosecutors in a certain field of crime requiring special skills and expertise. This involves, among others, instructing and advising and acting as a trainer at different occasions. Violent offences against a person and in particular women and children are one of the areas of focus in the operation of the prosecution system in 2008. From the beginning of 2008 there have been five special prosecutors acquainted with offences against women and children.
There is no specific court for cases of domestic violence in Finland. In the education of judges this theme is dealt with as a component among others e.g. in further education dealing with criminal law and fundamental rights and human rights law.
4. Does a national emergency 24/7 help-line exist free of charge for victims of domestic violence in your country?
YES q NO Xq
5. Have safe shelters been set up for victims of domestic violence in an adequate ratio in your member state? 1
YES q NO q X
There are 28 shelters, providing altogether about 120 places for victims (including children and also male victims). One shelter is secret.
6. Is administrative data being collected on victims of domestic violence?
YES q X NO q
The police, health services etc. gather information.
7. Is domestic violence considered as a human rights violation to be addressed in your legal system?
YES q NO xq
Note 1 The Blueprint of the Council of Europe Campaign recommends a ratio for one place in a woman’s shelter per 7.500 inhabitants.