Finland's Justice Ministry is set to change rape laws to ensure that sex without consent is always a crime, in line with previous demands from a citizens' initiative, reports national broadcaster Yle.
The changes, largely influenced by neighbouring Sweden, are expected to tighten legislation concerning sex with minors and give more consideration to victims in helpless situations. In the future, sex with a child will always be considered rape, which is not the case nowadays. At present, intercourse with someone below the age of consent is classified as aggravated child abuse. This led to massive outrage when Finnish prosecutors last year failed to charge a man convicted of sexually abusing a 10-year-old with rape.
Previously, a citizens' initiative on consent law gained 57,000 signatures, but was initially met with a cool reception from Justice Minister Antti Häkkänen and was given the cold shoulder by parliament. However, following last week's series of arrests over child sex abuse featuring migrant suspects, Häkkänen changed his tune, which campaigners see as their victory. By his own admission, Häkkänen was shocked by the recent reports of rape and sexual abuse. Nevertheless, he stressed that the changes should be made after more careful consideration.
A similar consent law has been implemented in several countries, including Germany and Sweden. In Sweden, it has led to more convictions of rape, with more severe punishments handed out, according to Swedish Radio.
Additionally, the changes will affect police rules on data gathering to allow them to better track individuals suspected of grooming online. Furthermore, the government is to look at whether aggravated sex crimes constitute sufficient reason to rescind Finnish citizenship.
However, another, more radical petition demanding the deportation of foreign sex offenders is still gathering signatures in light of the recent grooming gang scandal. At the time of writing, it has amassed close to 104,000 signatures, almost double as the consent petition.
This initiative is backed by the right-wing Blue Reform party, who want the Finnish government to interpret international agreement more freely than before. The party's requirement is to be able to deport refugees convicted of sexual offences, regardless of whether their home country is considered safe or not. This would require a constitutional change, an unlikely measure. Still, a number of Finnish politicians, including Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen, call for harsher penalties for foreigners convicted of sex crimes.
Meanwhile, the number of reports of sexual offences against children increased markedly last year, reaching 1,400 and topping 2017's figure by 18 percent, Yle reported. About a quarter of all reported sexual offences were carried out by people with a foreign background, police inspector Pekka Heikkinen informed, which signals clear over-representation.