Human trafficking in Finland
In the past, Finland was considered to be a destination and transit country for human traffickers. This would mean that trafficking victims are brought to Finland from elsewhere (country of destination) and moved across Finland for exploitation in another country (country of transit). However, trafficking in human beings also takes place within the Finnish borders, and both the offender and the victim may be Finnish nationals.
Forms of human trafficking observed in Finland
The form of human trafficking most often observed in Finland is trafficking related to exploitation of labour. Usually the victim is a foreign national who has been forced to work on poor terms and often in degrading conditions. This form of exploitation has been identified in several areas, such as restaurants, cleaning, domestic work (home help, nannies), farming and greenhouse work, berry picking and construction. Exploitation has been observed in companies owned by Finnish and foreign nationals alike.
A few cases of human trafficking related to sexual exploitation, for example forced prostitution, are identified in Finland every year. Usually a female victim has been pressured into selling sex using means such as forced indebtedness, threatening the victim or her loved ones with violence, exploitation of the victim’s illness or substance abuse or other exploitation of the victim’s vulnerable position. The victims have included children. Both Finnish nationals and foreign nationals have been found among the trafficking victims as well as the offenders.
A few cases of forced marriage related human trafficking has also been identified in Finland. This has normally involved foreign nationals, but some circumstances resembling a forced marriage between a Finnish man and a foreign woman have also been identified.
The least identified forms of trafficking in Finland include forced criminal activity and forced begging. This may be due to the fact that they are fairly new concepts. Furthermore, it is especially difficult to identify trafficked persons who have fallen victim to forced criminal activity. Often the victims may seem like petty criminals but they cannot defend themselves by revealing the people who have forced them to commit crimes. Observations related to the removal of organs have not yet been made in Finland.
The Assistance system’s customers include both Finnish and foreign nationals
The Assistance system for victims of human trafficking took up its activities and admitted its first customers in 2005 and 2006. At first there were only a few new customers each year. However, the number of customer has increased, and between 2006 and 2017 the Assistance system has helped 630 potential victims of trafficking in human beings. In 2017, there were 127 new customers admitted to the system, 14 of them children. The number of customers continues to increase.
Foreign nationals make up the majority of the customers admitted to the Assistance system. Most of them have fallen victim to human trafficking outside Finland. For example, they may have been forced into prostitution in the countries around the Mediterranean, into conditions similar to slavery while travelling through Libya, or into heavy manufacturing labour as children in their native country.
However, a significant part of the customers have been forced into conditions indicative of human trafficking in Finland. Of the customers admitted to the assistance system in 2017, 38 percent were thought to have fallen victim to human trafficking in Finland.
However, the Assistance system’s statistics do not reveal the whole truth about the trafficking in human beings taking place in Finland. In addition to the Assistance system, some NGOs assist trafficking victims who may not have become known to the authorities. Sometimes trafficking victims are afraid to, cannot or do not want to seek any kind of help and therefore will not show in any victim statistics.
The first criminal conviction in a human trafficking case was given in 2006
The provisions of the Criminal Code on human trafficking entered into force on 1 August 2004. They were included in chapter 25 concerning crimes against freedom and replaced the earlier provision on abduction. The Criminal Code has since been amended, for example to make a clearer distinction between procurement for prostitution and trafficking in human beings. Sexual exploitation of trafficking victims, such as buying sex from a victim, has been illegal since 2006.
The first criminal conviction in a human trafficking case in Finland was given in Helsinki District Court in July 2006. The judgment was issued for aggravated trafficking in human beings and was related to the activities of a criminal gang with Finnish and Estonian members. The gang had forced an Estonian woman to sell sex in Finland. The woman had been locked in an apartment and forced to take up to 15 customers per day.
However, providing evidence of human trafficking in court is challenging, and often the parties do not want to talk about their experiences or are afraid to do so. In order to bring the criminals to justice it is therefore imperative that the victims have access to an effective support system.
You can do your part in identifying victims
Many victims remain unidentified. The Assistance system has expressed concern particularly for the exploitation of persons addicted to substances, as this form of exploitation is rarely identified. Persons staying in the country irregularly (paperless persons) can also be vulnerable to exploitation indicative of human trafficking.
Everyone can play their part in identifying and helping trafficking victims, including you. Before anyone can help the victims, you must be able to identify them. By finding out more about human trafficking, you can spot the signs of trafficking and try to guide the victims to seek help. Every pair of eyes is needed.