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Identifying and preventing harmful practices   

Victims of human trafficking 

Human trafficking is a serious crime against an individual’s freedom that violates human dignity and integrity. The offender subjugates the victim in order to gain financial or other benefit. The victim’s freedom to make decisions on his or her own life is restricted. 

Human trafficking may be related to, for example, sexual abuse, exploitation of labour, forced marriage, begging or forced criminal activity. Trafficking in human beings and its aggravated form are punishable under the Criminal Code in Finland. However, human trafficking is often a hidden activity, which makes it difficult to identify and help victims. The threshold to seek help may be high, because the victims do not necessarily know their rights or trust the authorities. 

An authority, organisation or a parish may refer a potential victim of human trafficking to the assistance system. The victims may also seek the assistance system themselves or an individual citizen may help them to access the system. The assistance system may be contacted even if there is no certainty that the person is a victim of human trafficking. If you suspect human trafficking, you can also contact the police. 

In Finland, victims of human trafficking have special rights, such as the right to safe accommodation and health services. The system of assistance is confidential and takes into account the victims’ individual needs. The system of assistance serves clients in Finnish, Swedish and English and arranges interpretation into other languages if necessary.  

Female genital mutilation

Female genital mutilation is a form of violence against women. Under Finnish law, female genital mutilation is a punishable act. Female genital mutilation has harmful physical and psychological effects on women’s health. 

Female genital mutilation may be encountered at a prenatal and child health clinic, day care, school, educational institution or social work, for example. Although the matter is delicate, please take a culturally-sensitive and confidential approach if you suspect that a girl has undergone or is planning to have undergo genital mutilation. 

Intimate partner violence and honour-related violence

Domestic violence is physical or mental violence, or a threat of it, by a family member or another close person. Violence is not always visible, which makes it difficult to detect. After identifying victims of intimate partner violence, it is imperative to ensure their safety.

Violence is not related to any culture as such, but there may be strong cultural traditions of violence and its use. Certain forms of intimate partner violence can, for example, be part of accepted practices customary in certain cultural contexts (such as certain countries or environments), and religion and culture can justify the use of violence. 

One way to exercise power over women is to restrict their participation in activities outside the home and to prevent them from creating or maintaining social relationships. Young people may also be subjected to excessive and inconsistent control and pressure. An extreme form of such violence is honour-related violence, where the victim is controlled and punished for behaviour deemed dishonourable by the family or community.  

Forced marriages

Forced marriage refers to a marriage or a similar relationship in which one or both spouses could not influence the choice of spouse or whether the marriage takes place. Forced marriages are often associated with pressure from the family or community. 

Identifying victims of forced marriages may be challenging. A victim may be brought to the attention of the authorities, for example, when they intervene in an assault. Forced marriage or a threat of it may surface, for example, in schools, child welfare, youth work, social work, healthcare, the police, the Finnish Immigration Service and shelters.

Forced marriage has been criminalised in Finland as trafficking in human beings, aggravated trafficking in human beings or coercion.

Victims of torture

Torture has severe effects on health, particularly mental health, and wellbeing. The different forms of torture include physical, psychological and sexual torture.

Identifying torture is challenging. For many victims, experiences of torture only emerge at a later stage in their lives. Above all, discretion and correct timing are important in identification of victims of torture. 

About every fourth person with a refugee background has experienced torture and that is why special attention should be paid to identifying such victims.

Torture may cause distrust towards the authorities or healthcare professionals. In order to build a trustful relationship, the client should always be listened and interviewed and examined in a particularly sensitive manner.

The PALOMA handbook for supporting the mental health of refugees in Finland contains information on factors affecting mental health, such as war-related traumas and various forms of risk behaviour related to mental wellbeing, such as violence. The handbook contains information on, for example, assistance for victims of torture, intimate partner violence and forced marriages. 

The online PALOMA training course provides good basic information on encountering clients with refugee background and supporting their wellbeing.