According to Justice Ministry spokesperson Sami Kiriakos, the draft legislation would expand the definition of sexual harassment to include “harassment verbally, through pictures or messages, taking photos of another or exposing oneself,” AFP reported.
The punishment could range from a fine to a prison sentence depending on the severity of the offense.
Under Finland’s current laws, sexual harassment only involves physical touch. While explicit photographs can be sometimes prosecuted under defamation laws, they are not currently considered sexual harassment in the Nordic country. The proposed law will be submitted to the government “sometime next year,” Kiriakos confirmed to AFP.
Various studies have revealed the prevalence of online harassment, which includes the sending of unsolicited sexual images.
In a recent global survey, children's rights charity Plan International found that 58% of the 14,000 girls and young women surveyed said they have experienced online sexual harassment.
“These attacks may not be physical, but they are often threatening, relentless, and limit girls’ freedom of expression. Driving girls out of online spaces is hugely disempowering in an increasingly digital world, and damages their ability to be seen, heard and become leaders,” the organization concluded in a news release.
Such studies suggest that sexual harassment should be “dealt with in law,” Kiriakos explained.
“The studies based on questionnaires show that sexual harassment is quite common and that the victims of this type of behavior are most often female, so it is very relevant to consider how it should be dealt with in law,” Kiriakos said.
Other countries have already taken similar steps to outlaw online sexual harassment. Scotland in 2010 banned the sending of unsolicited sexual photos, whereas the US state of Texas instituted a $500 fine last year for sending unsolicited sexual images, AFP reported.
However, many other countries have not followed suit, especially because of the issues that can arise in enforcing such laws
“These types of offenses, or virtually anything that occurs on the web, may be very difficult to investigate,” Kiriakos explained, though he added that “investigative authorities do have coercive measures which apply to sexual offenses if certain conditions are met, such as access to telecommunications data.”
Finland is also in the process of redrafting its legal definition of rape to mean sex without consent rather than sex in the presence of physical violence or the threat of physical violence, which is the current legal definition.