People of foreign background over-represented in Helsinki violent crime figures
A relatively small group of miscreants can skew the statistics
Violent crimes committed by persons of foreign background are relatively common in Helsinki. They are quite clearly over-represented in the police statistics.
Of the cases of rape that have come to the attention of the Helsinki Police Department in the current decade, in 40% of cases the suspected perpetrator has been of foreign extraction. In the case of muggings and extortion the figure has been around one-third.
Helsingin Sanomat went through the homicides and manslaughter cases, aggravated assaults, rapes and muggings filed by the Helsinki police in which a suspect had been caught.
For the purposes of the police statistics, "of foreign background" indicates someone not born in Finland. There is no breakdown in the figures according to the actual nationalities.
During the current decade the proportion of Helsinki residents made up by persons born abroad has risen from 6.1% to 8.3%.
The age-structure of the immigrant population in the capital differs appreciably from that of the mainstream Finnish population: there are a greater number of young adults in the cohort. This can skew the statistics, since crimes are often committed while young.
If the age-factor were to be adjusted in the statistics, the percentage figures of crimes committed would decline - in the case of rapes by as much as 10 percentage-points, indicates
Juhani IIvari of the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES).
At the same time, Det. Chief Inspector Kari Tolvanen of the violent crimes unit of the Helsinki Police Department notes that crimes of violence committed by persons of foreign background are often more brutal than those carried out by Finns.
In over 17% of aggravated assault cases, the suspect was of foreign extraction.
The figures are again somewhat warped by the fact that often the perpetrators are the same individuals who are charged with muggings or offences of demanding money with menaces. According to Tolvanen, it is a relatively small group, and the same faces keep resurfacing.
For example in 2005 the number of muggings by immigrants more than doubled when a group of just under 20 Somali-born youths went on a spree of violent muggings in the downtown area.
The police set up a task force in collaboration with the City of Helsinki to tackle the problem, and by the following year the numbers had halved once more.
Helsinki police are particularly troubled by the high incidence of foreign perpetrators among the rape figures. The numbers since 2000 indicate a share of greater than 40%, and there are no obvious signs of a decline.
According to Juhani Iivari, in the background to sexual crimes of this nature there is often a cultural collision of some kind that manifests itself in attitudes towards women.
Signals of friendliness are misunderstood and the consequence can be a false perception of the availabilty of the woman.
A typical rape case is one in which a man and a woman have left a bar together and the rape takes place either in a car or at the home of either party.
So-called "bush-rapes", in which a previously unknown person jumps out on a passing victim and drags her off into the undergrowth are rare both among the immigrant population and amongst native Finns.
According to Iivari, it would be necessary to ascertain whether there might be elements of hatred towards women involved in some cases.
He points to the fact that the freedoms granted to women in this country are very different from those for instance in Muslim countries.
Persons of foreign extraction have committed a total of 15 murders or other homicides during the current decade, accounting for 14% of the total figure.
There have been no honour-killings that have come to light, according to Kari Tolvanen.
In many of the cases of capital crime, the pattern has been not at all dissimilar to that found painfully often in Finnish households: violence stemming from jealousy in a relationship or arising from alcohol or drug abuse or mental problems.
The section of the immigrant population that finds its way into the crime figures is distinguished by marginalisation.
Many were unemployed and/or on low incomes. These two features were significant indicators relative to the number of convictions.
The very same social factors are also to be found among crimes committed by the native Finnish population.
Juhani IIvari finds two distinct groups among the convicted immigrants.
On the one hand there are those who have found themselves committing some crime from a relatively comfortable social position, and then there are those "drifters" who have at no point found themselves a place in Finnish society.
In the former instance, he cites those who have come to the country with the sincere purpose of improving their living standard through work.
In many cases they start off in low-paid jobs, often in restaurants and bars run by others of foreign extraction.
Then the companies start to go downhill and the staff are laid off.
In many cases the final trigger is break-up of a marriage or relationship and loss of custody of any children that may have been produced. At this point they "lose it" and at the same time lose their self-respect as men.
The "drifters", on the other hand, do not seek to enrol on language courses or employment programmes on their arrival in Finland, but stay with their own extended families and hook up with others in similar circumstances.
Crimes are often committed for lack of money, notes Iivari, who interviewed more than 40 immigrants who had been convicted of crimes in Finland in 2001 and 2002.
The language wall is regarded as a major factor for generating problems in Finland.
Equally, Iivari discovered that those who had been convicted of crimes also encountered racism and discrimination in Finnish society to a greater degree than other immigrants in general.
"They congregate in the sort of places and at the sort of times - evenings and weekends - that make them more prone to attacks. Initially they are the subject of verbal abuse, with racist name-calling, and then they are threatened, mocked, and physically assaulted."