Not Just Numbers — the Prevalence of Domestic Violence against Women in Finland
Finland is often in the news when it comes to gender equality and wellbeing. The happiest country in the world, second best country to be a girl, second best country for mothers’ wellbeing, and other praising titles are given to Finland. However, even with all the societal achievements, current problems should not be ignored. Finland is the 2nd most violent country for a woman in Europe, and 77% of victims of domestic violence in Finland are women.
Finland is a country often credited for all things wellbeing. The happiest country in the world (WHR 2021), the third most gender-equal country, the second best country to be a girl, the second best country for mother’s wellbeing (IGEP 2021), and so on.
However, there is a big problem in Finland that often gets swept under the rug: gender-based violence against women, especially that committed by intimate partners.
Finland’s domestic violence problem is one of the worst in the EU: according to EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) Finland is the second most violent country for women in the EU. According to the Europe-wide study conducted by FRA, 47% of Finnish women over 15 years old had experienced physical or sexual abuse, when the European average was 33%. The percentage of Finnish women who had experienced physical abuse by a partner was 27%, while the European average was 20%. (Yle 2015, FRA 2014 pp. 179–190.)
From many perspectives, the statistics of domestic violence against women in Finland tell a sad story. In 2018, 5.1% of Finnish women were emotionally or physically abused, or threatened with violence by their current or former partner. The numbers show that there is a problem of gender-based violence against women: in 2019, 77% of intimate partner violence victims were women. 60% of all female homicide victims (considering years 2013–2019) were killed by their former or current partner (Riku 2021.) Services offered to domestic abuse victims are most often used by women: in 2019, 91% of adult shelter home residents were women and 87% of callers to Nollalinja, a helpline for domestic abuse victims, were women. (THL 2021.)
A study about domestic abuse against women conducted in Finland in 2005 shows how wide and versatile the problem of domestic abuse is. Domestic violence against women differs in many ways: what type of abuse is used, how long the abuse lasts, does it escalate, change, or end? Different forms of violence in the study were the following:
- Preventing the victim from moving
- Pressuring/forcing to sexual activity/attempt
- Beating, kicking
- Throwing with an object
- Beating the victim’s head
- Use of weapons
- Forcing to sex
- Attempt of forcing to sex
- Sexual abuse/attempt
In 2005, the most common types of abuse were preventing the victim from moving, slapping, threatening with violence, and sexual abuse. Experiences of domestic abuse were twice as common in former relationships compared to current relationships. (Piispa et al. 2005, pp. 45–46.) It is important to note that while the forms of abuse studied in this particular study are among the most common forms of abuse, the list is not exhaustive.
Humans, not Numbers
Looking at statistics, it is easy to forget that there are real human beings behind the numbers. While the numbers are daunting, the focus should be on understanding and lessening the pain and misery of human beings. Appreciating the fact that violence against women is a phenomenon that affects the lives of millions of people — how they live, what choices they make, what they believe in, how they behave — is important. Being a victim of domestic violence is not a separate unfortunate event in one’s life, it is an experience that affects all aspects of the victim’s life.
Both physical and emotional consequences of domestic abuse have been studied in the Finnish context. A study by Piispa et al. (2005), studied both physical and mental consequences. Nearly half (47%) of respondents in the study had suffered physical injuries resulting from domestic abuse: bruises and wounds were the most common physical injuries. As for emotional injuries, 66% respondents reported emotional injuries as a result of the most serious violent incidents. Hatred, anger and shame were the most common emotional burdens resulting from the most serious incidents. (Piispa et al. 2005 pp. 64–65.)
While bruises, wounds, shame and anger are among the most common consequences, they are not the only consequences. According to the World Health Organisation, the range of health consequences resulting from abuse is broad, affecting women physically and mentally, directly and indirectly. Moreover, health consequences might persist even after the abuse itself has stopped. The different types of health consequences of intimate partner violence can include:
- Physical injuries, such as but not limited to: bruises, fractures, broken teeth and head injury. In addition, abused women might suffer from “stress- related conditions”, conditions difficult to diagnose or to link to abuse. These conditions can also vary, examples are gastrointestinal symptoms and chronic pain.
- Mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and phobias are more common among women who have suffered from abuse compared to women who have not. Various other consequences of abuse have been reported, such as eating and sleeping disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and self harm. Suicide tendency is higher in women who have been abused.
- Problems in sexual and reproductive health. Forced sexual interaction can result in various consequences on the sexual and reproductive health, such as sexually transmitted diseases, sexual dysfunction, unwanted pregnancy, and unsafe abortion.
- Violence during pregnancy can result to serious damage to the mother and the baby, such as fetal injury, miscarriage, and stillbirth.
- Homicide victims: sometimes abuse results in death of the victim. (WHO 2012.)
As can be seen, abuse has serious consequences on the victim’s physical and mental health. Sometimes abuse can result in death. It is important to be aware of the multitude of injuries victims of abuse might face — too often, we think abuse results in mere bruises — in reality, bruises are often the least serious consequence.
Progress to Make
The government of Finland recognises the problem of domestic and intimate partner violence. The Finnish government has a plan for combatting violence against women for the years 2020–2023. The report notes that violence against women in Finland is a significant problem. The report also refers to the Programme of the Prime Minister, which emphasises reduction of crimes against children and of domestic violence. The action plan for violence against women is one way of developing a safer state. (Oikeusministeriö 2020, pp. 8, 14.)
The action plan includes several themes for combatting violence against women:
- Increasing awareness
- Training and educating officials
- Studies and reports
- Preventing domestic violence with collaborative infrastructures
- Honour based violence
- Digital violence
- Working with perpetrators of domestic violence
Concrete actions in the plan combatting domestic violence include for example training the police and other officials about the dynamics of intimate partner violence, directing government grants towards programmes helping perpetrators, and delineating procedures for municipalities to follow. (pp. 48, 52, 53). Considering these measures, it seems that the Government wants to shed light on the issue of domestic and intimate partner violence, its different forms, and train officials to better understand and confront it. Efforts are also directed at helping both the victims and the perpetrators. Needless to say, a lot remains to be done in preventing domestic and intimate partner violence in Finland.
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