The majority of Finns believe that the sexual offences are closely linked to immigration, a gallup poll by Finland's largest daily has indicated.
A total of 65 percent of respondents polled by Helsingin Sanomat said that "the different culture and religion of immigrants" were the most important reasons for the sex crimes that have swept through the Nordic country.
At present, several men with an immigrant background are being investigated for sex crimes involving girls as young as 10 in the northern Finnish town of Oulu. All of the suspects are either migrants or asylum seekers. In January, similar cases came to light in Helsinki.
Helsingin Sanomat stressed that a disproportionately large number of sex offenders have immigrant backgrounds. According to the newspaper, it commissioned the poll, because the link between sex crimes and immigration has become a divisive issue on the national political agenda ahead of the general election.
The looming division is evident from Helsingin Sanomat's poll. While the absolute majority of the nationalist Finns Party's voters hold the view that cultural factors are the single most significant reason for the spike in sexual offences, left-wing voters tend to downplay nationality and stress that native Finns are guilty of sexual crimes as well. By contrast, only 13 percent of the Greens voters and 14 percent of Left Alliance voters believe that culture and religion are an issue here.
Still, about half of the respondents supported the idea that refugees and asylum seekers were a problem for Finland and Finns.
The poll also asked Finns about measures to counter sex crimes. Tougher sentences became the most-favoured option (26 percent), following by a greater emphasis on drilling immigrants about Finnish laws and values, such as equality and respect for women (19 percent). The next favourite measures were a reduction of immigration on humanitarian grounds and curtailing immigration in general (10 percent each).
As of now, the Finns and the Blue Reform (formed by former Finns after a schism in 2017) remain the most appealing to right-wing voters, as both are in favour of immigration restrictions. Finns leader Jussi Halla-aho ascribed the sex attacks to immigration from "backward Islamic countries", whose attitude toward women and underage girls greatly differs from Finland's, while Blue Refrom leader Sampo Terho called migrants' over-representation in sex crimes a "security threat".
However, Finland's outgoing centre-right government has responded to the sex crime wave as well. Recently, legislation was passed to classify all non-consensual sex as rape. The idea of withdrawing migrant rapists' Finnish citizenship, lobbied by Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen, is also under consideration.
According to Finnish police, people with a foreign background are responsible for a quarter of all reported sex crimes, despite constituting only 6.9 percent of the Finnish population.