Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Finland's immigrants most affected by online hate crimes in 2012

The Police College of Finland (Polamk) annually releases the country's hate crime report. The 2012 hate crimes report shows that immigrants were most affected by online hate crimes in 2012. This revelation is by no means surprising to anyone who follows and participates in or reads comments posted in some Finnish online discussion forums, blogs, social media and news websites - where immigrants are commonly demonized and reviled. 

The police college defines hate crime (in Finnish) as a crime against a person, group, property, an institution or its representative - motivated by prejudice or hostility against the victim's real or perceived ethnic or national background, religious belief or view of life, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or disability.

Out of all the groups vulnerable to hate crime, immigrants were most targeted in 2012. According to Finnish police, 732 suspected crimes were classified as hate crimes by the police academy in 2012. Majority of the hate crimes - 641 cases - had racist traits. Most hate crimes in the previous years also had racist traits and the most common manifestation of hate was through assault. Hate crimes are also committed online.

According to Marko Forss, internet police officer in Helsinki, of all the hate crimes reported last year, 26 were classified as internet hate crimes. Most of the crimes were committed on Facebook and Suomi24 - one of Finland's largest online social networking sites. Most victims were immigrants. Other cases were related to victims' religious belief and sexual background.

It's worthy to note that only a small number of hate crimes are reported to the police - as clearly stated by Tero Tihveräinen, researcher at the police academy. Hence hate crime figures paint an incomplete picture.

In my view, it isn't surprising that immigrants were most affected by hate crimes. Finnish public discourse on immigration is sour -- compounded by the spread of anti-immigration sentiments and extreme nationalism. The media also puts immigrants in harms way by, for instance, highlighting the background of "foreign" suspects of alleged crimes -- while on the other hand not mentioning the background of non-foreign suspects. Ita-Sanomat for instance reported a bizzare home intrusion in Rovaniemi by a "foreign man". The next day, the same tabloid reported another crime in which a man allegedly assaulted teenagers in Vaasa. The background of the man in the second case was not mentioned -- perhaps because it wasn't a foreign man.

In my opinion, media reports that highlight the foreign background of suspects incite negative sentiments against immigrants and perceived foreigners - as evidenced by some readers' comments under the home intrusion Ilta-Sanomat news report. One reader actually commented that, "thank you [Iltä-Sanomat] once more for giving me a good reason to hate...". Such reports go a long way to contribute to the way immigrants are perceived and treated.

I submit that immigrants were affected by hate crimes partly because they are perceived and portrayed as threats to Finnish society. Hate crimes against immigrants would reduce significantly when the media and other players, including members of far-right and populist political parties and groups stop demonizing immigrants.

The highest number of racially motivated hate crimes in Finland were recorded in 2011 than at any other time in more than 10 years.

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