Monday, December 21, 2015

Asylum-seekers in Finland apologize for rape they didn't commit

Minority groups are often collectively castigated for crimes committed by a few members of the group. When an asylum-seeker, for example, is involved in a crime all asylum-seekers and immigrants in the country bear the brunt, and in some cases are forced by circumstances to apologize on behalf of criminals - although, it's worth noting, the ethnic majority never apologize for crimes committed by a few bad apples in the privileged group.

A group of asylum seekers took to the streets of Oulu in northern Finland on 1 December 2015, according to Ilta-Sanomat (video included), to apologize following a case of rape in Kempele involving asylum-seekers. The aim of the march that drew participants from a refugee reception centre in Hiukkavaara was reportedly to apologize on behalf of all immigrants for the crime committed in Kempele.

A 14-year-old girl was raped in Kempele and police arrested two foreign young men, according to Yle, on suspicion of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual exploitation of a child. The two suspects were reportedly asylum-seekers from Afghanistan. One of the suspects was later released after police reportedly established that he had nothing to do with the crime. The other suspected, a 17-year-old, was remanded in custody by Oulu district court.

Following the criminal incident in Kempele Prime Minister Juha Sipilä convened a crisis meeting to address the issue. Then Justice and Labour Minister Jari Lindström from the right-wing Finns Party came out and said asylum-seekers are a security threat to Finland. In addition to the antics by politicians, an anti-immigration demonstration was organised in Kempele during which the slogan "Suomi Suomalaisille" (Finland for Finns) was frequently heard, according to Yle.

Then came the apology by asylum-seekers in Oulu on behalf of immigrants. Theirs was, according to Kaleva, a "thank you march" designed to thank local Finns for accepting refugees, and to remind them that not all asylum seekers are criminals.

My take

Rape is a horrendous crime and it's even more heinous when it involves a minor - like in the Kempele case. Perpetrators of rape and other forms of violence against women should be punished to the full extent of the law. What shouldn't be done is coerce innocent people into apologizing for crimes they didn't commit. People normally don't take responsibility for crimes they didn't commit - unless they're coerced, directly or indirectly, into doing so. The asylum-seekers who organised the march in Oulu were forced by the hostile environment in their host town to apologize for a crime they didn't commit. And it's easy to see why: they live in a town where they're not wanted; a town where an intimidating demonstration was held against them; a town where a reception centre was hastily evacuated overnight in order to ensure the safety of residents. Asylum seekers in Oulu don't feel safe hence they feel the need to apologize in a bid to "clear their name" and ease tension.

The response to the Kempele incident was plainly racist and discriminatory but it certainly wasn't surprising. Whenever rape is reported in Finland the response on social media hugely depends on the origin of the suspect. When the alleged perpetrator is a foreigner the response is scathing, and all non-white immigrants are collectively branded "rapists". On the other hand, when the suspect is an ethnic Finn the response is subtle and the case is quickly forgotten. There was no backlash when a 24-year-old nurse sexually violated numerous elderly people and was found guilty of 27 rapes and eight forced sexual acts. There was no massive outrage when a 45-year-old man repeatedly raped an 11-12-year-old child numerous times. Rape cases involving Finnish perpetrators abound, and are usually treated with kid gloves by both the media and members of the public, and Finnish politicians never feel the need to convene a crisis meeting. Such a double-standard response to a reprehensible crime sends a despicable message that rape isn't outrageous - unless the perpetrator is a foreigner.

It's true that immigrants are over-represented in rape statistics - as stated by criminal law professor emeritus Terttu Utriainen but it's equally important not to loose sight of the fact that majority of rapes reported to the police are still committed by ethnic Finns. Statics can be interpreted in many ways and too often they're interpreted to the disadvantage of minority groups but the bottom line is, rape is rape. All cases should be loudly condemned - irrespective of the perpetrator's ethnicity. Highlighting only cases involving foreigners is racist, xenophobic and designed to demonize a group of people. By the way, foreigners in Finland aren't a homogenous group - so it doesn't make sense to lump all foreigners - from more than a hundred different countries - and compare them to a homogenous group of Finns.

I understand the predicament of asylum-seekers who organised the apology march in Oulu. It feels like they're "behind enemy lines". But I think they shouldn't have apologized for a crime they didn't commit. Finns don't apologize when individual members of the majority group commit crimes. Some Finns might condemn a crime committed by a compatriot, and maybe distance themselves from the perpetrator - but they certainly don't apologize for for the crime. Asylum-seekers should have simply organized a march against rape and sexual violence.

After the Paris terror attacks that left 130 people dead, three Muslim comedians in Pakistan took a stand against the violence in a video that went viral online. What comedians refused to do is apologize for the actions of terrorists. That's the way it should be.

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