What to do if you are harassed in public in Finland?

by , under All categories, Enrique

By Enrique Tessieri

Migrant Tales wrote back in May about how policemen in Pieksämäki and Mikkeli recommended against reporting racist harassment incidents in public to the authorities. The Ombudsman for Minorities was in the dark as well about what to do but called the next day and said that harassment cases should be reported to the police. 

An African was shoved and hit on the back by a young Finnish man on a bus in Jyväskylä. Nobody reacted, not even the drive. The African walked away from the incident evidently shaken by what happened.

What should one do if somebody begins to harass you in public because of your ethnic background, shoves and hits you?

A policeman from Mikkeli, who came to speak to a group of students from different countries, said that racist harassment in public should not be reported to the authorities.

Another policeman from Pieksämäki gave the same advice to Migrant Tales: ”I have been on the force for 35 years and my advice is to walk away. It’s not worth (reporting the crime)  because we’ll never catch the person. My advice? Just walk away.”

Even though I agree that the safety of the victim is the first priority, it is a different matter whether not the incident should be reported to the police.  If you do, at least it will show in police statistics revealing a wider problem that isn’t addressed enough by the authorities and community.

The response by the policemen is a disappointment and shows that they aren’t apparently too concerned by this type of harassment. The silence of the authorities on this front could shed light on a wider problem concerning police relations and immigrants.

Reporting harassment cases to the police can turn into a challenge for the victim. If you do it by phone, get ready to be put on hold indefinitely in some cases. Add to this the lack of communication skills, cultural differences and mistrust of the police, and we see how difficult it may be for an immigrant to report such cases.

Visiting the police station may be a faster and more effective way of reporting such a crime.

One problem with reporting harassment and hate crimes in Finland is the lack of clear standard procedures that are readily understood by all immigrants. In the harassment cases it isn’t  clear and their are conflicting opinions on what one should do.

Contrary to the policemen’s advice from Pieksämäki and Mikkeli, however, the Ombudsman for Minorities recommended: ”It (harassment) should be reported to the police because they may catch the suspect one day (because the person may be caught and identified).”

What should a person do if the policeman says not to bother but the Ombudsman’s office says you should?

Here lies the problem: What to do and whom to believe.

  1. Jaakko

    All assaults should be reported to police, that’s a no-brainer. I don’t see how racist assault is any different or more serious than “normal” one.

  2. Mark

    If there is no arrest or suspect, does it even get a mention anywhere in official statistics? Also, without an overt racist element, it could be dismissed as a ‘random assualt’.

    But isn’t this why one government official called for all assaults involving people with ethnic origin to be reported as ‘racist assault’. It’s not a great solution in terms of accuracy, but it’s better than having a problem that is otherwise COMPLETELY invisible in the statistics.

    It should also be reported to the Ombudsmen, who should encourage individuals to give details of such assaults for their own statistical purposes and to cross-reference against police-reported assaults. This might also actually act to curb institutional racism within the police, where it occurs.

  3. Jaakko


    Does it matter if it is a ‘random assault’ or ‘racist assault’? Why there is even a need to separate these? I think in both cases both person feel as much as pain and bleed in the same way.

  4. Risto

    “I don’t see how racist assault is any different or more serious than “normal” one.”

    In many countries – I’m not sure about Finland, maybe someone else on this blog is better informed in that respect -, e.g. in my home country Belgium, “hate crimes” as they are called are punished more severely. Racism (be it “common racism”, homofobia or sexism) as a motivation for an attack on somebody is taken into consideration as an aggravating factor. And that’s a damn good thing, since racism as such is considered a crime.

  5. Niko


    I guess Jaakko meant why two same crimes are treated differently? In both cases there is a Person A who assaults Person B. Why does it matter if Person B is foreigner/immigrant/non-white? This is just increases the line between “us” and “them”.

  6. justicedemon

    I’m not sure that “random assault” is even a crime. If it emerges that an offence was committed for no specific reason at all, then we should normally infer that it was the outcome of mental illness and confine the perpetrator in a secure facility until expert opinion finds the patient cured. This is just another way of saying that a criminal offence must be deliberate and that motive is an essential element in understanding it as such. Even offences due to recklessness or depraved indifference are not random.

    Determining the motive for criminal conduct is an important function of the criminal justice system, and it is quite commonplace for the scale of penalties to vary according to the motive for the act in question.

    Hate crimes proper are classified as crimes against humanity and are included in the offences listed in chapter 11 of the Finnish Penal Code. Other correspondingly motivated offences are subject to more severe penalties under section 5 of chapter 6 of the Finnish Penal Code, which specifies various reasons for regarding an offence as agravated. Such reasons include offences committed in an organised and systematic manner. It seems to me that offences that target the victim based on membership of a population group are merely a certain subset of organised and systematic criminal acts.

  7. Jaakko

    I still don’t get it. Maybe I didn’t explain it clear enough, but let’s try again: If a native, white Finn attacks to a foreigner/non-white Finn it is a “hate crime”. But when a native Finn / foreigners attacks a native white Finn, it is “just” an assault. Why attacking a foreigner / minority is worse than attacking the natives?

    Same thing if somebody verbally assaults you. If some douchebag calls me (a white native) as a “h*ntti” on the street and then the same person says “n*ekeri” to so black foreigner, why it is worse when it is said to the foreigner? Shouldn’t these be equally bad?

  8. justicedemon


    The imbalance that you allege is not in the statute. Offences motivated by the victim’s membership of a population group are hate crimes quite regardless of whether the population group in question is a minority or majority. To borrow a Star Trek expression, if you are beaten up for being a “pink skin”, then that is racially motivated assault and should be reported and understood as such.

    Homophobic insults, discrimination and physical violence are also hate crimes, irrespective of skin colour.

  9. Mary Mekko

    I can testify that here in San Francisco, growing up in the late 60’s and into the 70’s, I was often as a white girl the target of hate crime and racist attacks by both male and female young blacks and Latinos. We were told at our school that we should “ignore it” and they will stop. Well, they never stopped, they kept it up and the torture was unbelievable. When this was done to the Jews in Germany before the real round-ups began, it was called the Holocaust, not just street harassment.

    If you are a Finnish woman or girl getting harassment by a nonwhite Finn or foreigner, by all means report it again and again and again! Use your cellphone camera to take pictures, post them all over the internet, inform the police until they get fed up with you. Phone them and email them daily about their action on the case of your public harassment.

    Police respond to public outrage. If you are a victim of racist harassment or sexual/racist harassment, react. Do not be the stupid and helpless types we white girls were in 1970’s San Francisco. If nonwhites (the majority) understand that there are instant consequences for their crimes, they will cease and desist sooner or later. Left to their own devices, criminals of this type graduate to rape and physical assault.

    Let the Finnish public beware. These problems will never stop until the public reacts LOUDLY and WITH THE INTERNET!!!! Photos of perpetrators and exact descriptions of their filthy words and actions will have more impact than anything else.

    If you ARE a foreigner minding your own business and the attack comes out of nowhere, then you have a right to a grievance and can take similar action. But if you have provoked such an attack by staring at Finnish women, saying nasty words to them or touching them, do not be surprised if the Finns around you attack you. It is their right to defend themselves.

  10. Mark


    – “When this was done to the Jews in Germany before the real round-ups began, it was called the Holocaust, not just street harassment.”

    As usual, your attempts at rational debate are source for amusement, even though you manage to distort the most obvious and serious elements of history along the way. The holocaust name did not derive from ‘street harassment’, it derived from the murder of 6 million Jews, gypsies and other ‘undesireables’. Or would you like us to call it something else? Are you upset that the Jews have had some special treatment when it comes to their experience of ‘harassment’?

    – “Police respond to public outrage”. So you would like to see racism outrage the public? Or is it only racism against whites that should lead to public outrage? It seems that you are very much against racism, but only racism against whites. Correct me if I’m wrong? Or is it that you have racism blindness, so that you only see racism against whites, perpetrated by blacks and latinos and do not see racism against those groups?

    While racism against any group is an outrage, there are special circumstances when one of those victim groups is in the minority and that racism extends to institutional racism, Mary. This is the kind of racism that keeps you poor, jails you for longer periods, executes you more often for terrible crimes, keeps you out of public office, keeps you in deprived neighbourhoods, or keeps you in very low paid jobs with no security and no health insurance.
    There is simply a much larger element to this kind of majority vs minority racism than to racism that goes the other way, or ‘hatred of the whites’. That is not to say that any racism is justified, and I welcome your outrage at racism against whites. However, I ask you to understand that there is more to racism than attacks or insults on the streets or public transport.

    Let’s see if you can give me a nice measured reply, eh? 🙂

  11. Mary Mekko

    I’ve read plenty of books on the Holocaust in English and German. Experts agree that the harassment beginning before 1936, ceasing only temporarily for the Olympics, was all included in what we call “The Holocaust”, since it LED TO VIOLENCE. Why dispute such a silly thing?

  12. Mark

    Mary Mekko

    – “Experts agree that the harassment beginning before 1936, ceasing only temporarily for the Olympics, was all included in what we call “The Holocaust”, since it LED TO VIOLENCE. Why dispute such a silly thing?”

    Yes, why dispute it. You are comparing your treatment in the playground at school to the treatment of Jews by the German state and people, a situation that led to the death of 6 million people.

    Does the word ‘trivialisation’ mean anything to you?

  13. Mary Mekko

    To me, the death of one man is a tragedy, as is the rape of one Finnish woman. Trivialization is what dictators like Stalin are famous for – saying that millions die, who cares? I say, when the harassment is still verbal at the street level, react strongly. The Jews, gays, and so on did not react when Brownshirt harassment began in public, and the Nazi party correctly interpreted the passivity of the general public to be either indifference or approval. That is what street harassers assume anywhere on this planet.

    Did you know that before the Jews were thrown out of government and professional jobs in Germany, the first action against the general public was the firing of 800,000 women in government jobs? Did the Jews, gays, Communists or others in Germany react to this unlawful and outrageous move to “create jobs” (for the males)? I have never heard a word in any book about the Holocaust about the first most obvious move of the Nazis: their belief that ANYONE can be harassed or fired, depending if those around react. If ONE JEW had been fired or harassed on the street, and a lot of people present reacted loudly and physically to the perpetrators, how could the Nazis have gone ever further?

    I say, think about what I am saying carefully. If Finnish women continue to take immigrant male harassment as inevitable, that the police and general society will not react, then it will soon be everyone who has to be on guard, afraid to go out at night, locking all doors, etc. etc. Jews everywhere know that injustice must be stopped, nipped in the bud.

    Mark, if you live in Helsinki, riding the Metro and so on, watch for these “trivial” events and the lack of reaction of the average Finns, especially the males. Think about it carefully. Are you complicit in these crimes? Average Germans after the war were accused of complicity!!! Simply because they turned their heads and pretended not to see or know! Why not Finns who today do not defend their own female victims on the street?