'75% of Conversations About Sex': Finnish Ministers Condemn Sexual Harassment Among First Responders

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Firefighters - Sputnik International, 1920, 28.10.2021
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An investigation by national broadcaster Yle has uncovered that sexual harassment, misogyny, and even overt hatred of women are rife within the "macho" emergency services, traditionally dominated by men. Furthermore, a widespread culture of silence was also exposed, as complaints are seldom filed.
The Interior Ministry, the Finnish National Rescue Association (SPEK), and the Finnish Association of Fire Officers (SPPL) have all strongly condemned reports of sexual harassment in the emergency services sector.
An investigation conducted by national broadcaster Yle earlier uncovered evidence that "sexual harassment, misogyny, and even overt hatred of women" were rife within the sector. Most interviewees said they have experienced or witnessed verbal harassment. About half of them admitted to also having experienced physical harassment.
Groping and unwanted proximity was found to take place not only in the workplace, but also at evening events and seminars. Many admitted that they felt it impossible to intervene because sexist language is "widely accepted in the industry". According to the report, harassment is often motivated by the hard work requiring dark humour or "fire brigade humour" to cope.
Among other things, coffee breaks are reportedly used to discuss co-workers' sex lives, appearance, and sexual orientation.

"Seventy-five percent of the conversations during coffee breaks are about sex", a woman who has worked as an ambulance staff for over ten years, said.

In addition to harassment, many reported racist comments and insults levelled at sexual minorities.
Furthermore, an Instagram account called Emergency Services Too has compiled over one hundred anonymous reports of verbal harassment, sexual harassment, and even rape associated with emergency service operations.
At the same time, Yle discovered that official complaints have rarely been filed with employers or management, which is seen as proof of a widespread culture of silence.
Per the broadcaster, this seriously tarnishes the image of the rescue service, which is seen as by far the most reliable authority in the country, trusted by nearly 100 percent of Finns.
Interior Minister Maria Ohisalo of the Greens said she was outraged by the culture within the rescue industry that allows sexual harassment, discrimination, and pornography and pledged to take the matter seriously.
Minister of Social Affairs and Health Hanna Sarkkinen of the Left Alliance announced that she will convene representatives of the rescue industry to discuss preventive measures.
"The matter is very serious and I am very sorry that all of this has happened", Kimmo Kohvakka, director of the Interior Ministry's Emergency Services Unit, said.
However, while pledging to eradicate all forms of harassment, the branch organisations involved admitted that this would require a huge amount of work, as the problem appears to affect the entire industry's workplace culture.
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Finland's rescue industry has traditionally been dominated by men. The share of women has grown steadily since the 2000s, but women still make up only 12 percent of the rescue service's 5,700 employees. Among those who work within the first response sector, 40 percent are women.
"Masculinity is so ingrained in the industry that even men feel anxiety. The macho culture that the interviewees describe leads to the fact that asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness", the reported concluded.
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