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Home - Tuesday 22.8.2000

Foreigners figure high in rape statistics

 Threshold lower for women to report rapes by non-Finns

By Anu Partanen

Last Wednesday two black men raped a young woman in the Helsinki suburb of Malmi. The woman had been pushing her two-year-old daughter in a buggy when the two men attacked her. The daughter sat in the buggy the whole time.
   
In the midst of all the summer news items about rapes, date-rapes, and attempted rapes, this particular story stopped people in their tracks. A woman pushing a child in a stroller? Black-skinned men? Is NOTHING sacred to these people?

"Unless the perpetrators' intention
was to harm the child as well as the mother, they may simply not have been aware that interfering with a child in this way or subjecting a child to witnessing sexual violence carries with it a powerful taboo in our culture", notes researcher Sari Näre.
   
Sociologist Näre has investigated both sexual violence and the sexual mores of different cultures. She, too, is at a loss to explain the Malmi incident, but when asked she observes that the different cultural background of the two men may have influenced their actions.
   
"In some cultures, for instance, there are practices in initiation rites that would in our society be regarded as egregious examples of the sexual abuse of a minor. Such practices include for instance the circumcision of young girls", says Näre.
   
Psychologist Niina Nurminen is responsible for a rehabilitation programme for convicted rapists that has been launched in Kuopio District Prison. Nurminen knows a good deal about the way that a rapist's mind works. Can cultural background be a determining factor?

"Sex-related crimes
are always a question of the need to control and intimidate the victim. These acts can be explained in a number of ways, and cultural background is just one factor in the equation. It does not of itself make anyone a rapist, but if the rapist has grown up in a culture that accentuates or condones violent behaviour or male supremacy, then the background can come into play."
   
In Uganda, for example, it has been estimated that as many as one in four schoolgirls has been the victim of rape. According to Ugandan law rape can be a capital offence, but nevertheless it is the way of the world down there. John Karara - who achieved notoriety in Finland in the early 1990s after raping several women when he knew himself to be HIV-positive - was from Uganda. On his release from prison he was deported back to Africa, despite his claims that the action was an infringement of his human rights.

A rape committed by a foreigner
in this or any country can label all immigrants at a stroke. When some immigrant youths gang-raped a Swedish girl, anti-immigrant feeling jumped upwards in opinion surveys, and we have also seen the damage done to the American forces' presence in Japan by a number of similar cases involving soldiers and Japanese girls.
   
But the big question is: do foreigners really commit rape exceptionally often, or is it simply that more attention is paid to their doings? Of the rape cases reported to the Finnish police, in some 8-10% of cases the assailant is shown to be a foreigner. When the victims file their accusations, as many as 17% of the women involved believed the rapist to be of foreign extraction.
   
This is a pretty huge figure, given that there are only some 85,000 foreigners living in Finland, or just 1.65% of the population. The figures do not tell the whole story, however. The police receive slightly fewer than 500 reports of rape annually, but experts have estimated that the yearly total of rapes is in the thousands, perhaps even the tens of thousands of women. The great majority of rapists are the Finnish relatives, friends, and acquaintances of Finnish victims, and crimes committed by such persons are not generally reported to the police.

The helpline of a rape victim crisis centre
known as Tukinainen has recorded that around 6% of callers say that they were sexually assaulted by a foreigner. Considerably more of those women attacked by foreigners have come forward and filed charges than those who were victims of the unwelcome attentions of Finnish men.
   
"It may be that a Finnish woman regards it as more of a crime when the perpetrator is foreign. If the rapist is a Finn, the woman might perhaps think more about her own role in what has happened", ponders Chief Inspector Kalle Kekomäki. Kekomäki has put together a Ministry of the Interior memorandum on violent crimes committed by foreigners in Finland during 1998. The statistics do not specify the individual nationalities of foreign rapists, since there is no wish to tar a particular group with the rapist brush.
   
Nevertheless, Kekomäki scans the data on his computer and lists the rapists' nationalities and places of birth: Angola, Brazil, Egypt, England, Iraq, Iran, Macedonia, Morocco, Pakistan, Poland, Sweden, Somalia, Turkey, Russia, Estonia...

In the worst instances
, one nationality has 5 or six rapes against its name, and in the other cases the numbers are restricted to one or two. Some nationalities are conspicuous by their absence from the statistics: not even the police can recall having heard of rapists hailing from Vietnam or China.
   
The victims and the crime-scenes of Finnish and foreign rapists differ from one another quite demonstrably: a Finnish man is much more likely to rape someone known to him in the victim's own home, while foreigners attack either complete strangers or a woman they have only just met, either outdoors or after an evening in a bar or restaurant.
   
Studies examining the emotional traumas caused to victims indicate that rape by a fellow Finn can be an even worse experience, since the victim is left with deeper wounds when the perpetrator is either closer or more familiar, and not a complete stranger.

The victims of rape by foreigners
are more often young girls than mature women. Young women are more likely to go off with a man either straight off the street or after a liquid evening in a restaurant, and according to Sari Näre's studies, some 12% of women between 10 and 20 years of age have met their assailant only shortly before the attack. Of these cases, a substantial number - 40% - feature a foreigner in the rapist role.
   
So why is it that a foreign man assaults his female company like this at the end of a short acquaintance that has begun in congenial circumstances? "In many cultures a woman would never go off with a man in this way on their first meeting", notes Näre. "In this country, the relationship between the sexes is based to a large degree on trust, on the trust that the woman has that the man can control his desires. In societies where the difference between the sexes is accentuated, the time and the place are stronger determining factors for the way in which a man interprets a woman's sexual willingness or motives."
   
A foreigner in such circumstances might think that if a woman is prepared to accompany a man to his apartment in the middle of the night, the woman herself is responsible for what happens next. The man considers the time and the place and does not listen to the woman's actual message.

A man coming from a strikingly different culture
may view a woman through the filter of his own culture - and in so doing may misinterpret the signals totally. Sari Näre has for instance heard that in Turkey some men take the view that a circumcised male can satisfy a woman better than a man who is uncircumcised. "A man who thinks in this fashion might draw the conclusion that a woman who is scantily and alluringly dressed is looking for casual sex, because the uncircumcised man or men in her life have not been able to satisfy her."
   
It can even be that the rapist imagines he is satisfying the woman's needs and doing her a favour, however much she might appear not to appreciate his attentions.

In war-zones
, women belonging to "the enemy" are constantly being raped somewhere around the world. Even if there is no state of war as such, the rapist may believe himself to be at war. Näre cites the example of Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver: "Cleaver raped white women and only after he was incarcerated in prison for it did he come to interpret his actions as a means of opposing the supremacy of the white male. He regarded woman as objects and rape as a political weapon", she says. A man who finds himself the underdog in society can work out his aggression through subjecting a woman.
   
More often, however, a foreign man mistreats women in cultures that he believes to be intrinsically inferior to his own. It is a well-known though not very palatable fact that Finnish men are among those who engage in sex tourism to places like Thailand, or buy sex from children just over the Russian border in Sortavala, even if they would not dream of doing such things here in Finland.

The callers to the rape victims' helpline
include immigrant women who have been raped by a Finnish man. "Some female immigrants have said that Finnish men treat them with no respect whatsoever and simply assume their sexual needs will automatically be met. Some of these women have reported that they find they unwittingly fit the bill of Finnish males' sexual fantasies", says Riitta Rajas, one of the helpers at Tukinainen.
   
Sari Näre points out that some men who have moved here from abroad are used to seeing blonde and fair-skinned women only in the pages of porno magazines. "If you live in a culture in which all the respectable women - those who have a standing in society - are dark, and where blonde women only show up in porno mags or as gorgeous pouting pin-ups in the tabloids, as is the case in a country like Turkey, well, this can quite easily affect attitudes."

Here in Finland
people are horrified about the behaviour of foreigners and the things that happen in countries such as Uganda, but Sari Näre is not slow to point the finger at the Finns themselves: "We should not forget that rapes within marriage have been "acceptable" right up to just a decade ago. Rape as a crime is still in a class by itself, in which the victim is discriminated against, demeaned, and has precious few rights. Nobody could say that women are well-protected even here."

Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 20.8.2000

More on this subject:
 Foreigners figure high in rape statistics
 Acts of sexual violence as reported to the Tukinainen Rape Crisis Centre helpline

Links:
 FINLAND'S FLAWED UTOPIA - an article on the surprising level of violence against women
 Sari Näre: Sexual Violence against Adolescent Girls
 The Rape Crisis Centre Tukinainen


ANU PARTANEN / Helsingin Sanomat
anu.partanen@sanoma.fi

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