Sexual violence

Sexual violence against children and young people is a serious hidden crime.

The service system and cooperation between authorities must work at a low threshold and early enough to prevent and reduce severe psychological, social and physical harm caused by sexual violence. The harm caused by sexual violence is reduced by the fact that victims receive effective and equal assistance.

Quality sexual and safety skills education that is started early on can protect children from sexual violence. Safety skills and sexual education must be tailored to the needs of a child and young person. It must take into account particularly vulnerable children and young people, such as children and young people with disabilities and reduced functional capacity. 
Vulnerable groups

It is necessary to improve among professionals working with children and young people on sexual violence and its prevention so that they can easily recognise the phenomenon and can handle cases effectively and in a child-sensitive manner. 

Sexual violence also takes place in digital media

Children rarely report the sexual violence they have experienced to the authorities.

It is even more difficult for a child to report sexual violence if

  • the act has been saved as an image or video
  • the child needs special support in reporting the matter, for example due to a developmental disability.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, teaching at schools was predominantly transferred to an online environment, as were many hobbies for children and young people. The time spent by children and young people online increased, which may have exposed children to sexual violence in digital media.

If illegal image material proving a sexual offence against a child is uploaded online, it may be difficult to remove it from the web completely. The victim of such an act is at significant risk of experiencing serious mental illness, behavioural disorders or even self-harm.

Protecting children from sexual violence requires expertise and multiprofessional cooperation between authorities and organisations both nationally and internationally. Sexual offences against children through digital media do not respect national borders. International cooperation to eliminate illegal image material is fast and effective.

The quality of the harm assessment varies

The assessment of harm caused to a child by sexual violence refers to individual psychiatric examinations of the child, which include psychological examinations if necessary.

Children experience inequality at the national level with regard to the assessment of harm, as the competence of health care experts preparing assessments of harm varies. In Finland, we also do not have information on whether the child's legal protection is realised in the assessment of harm.

Doctors and psychologists need continuous training to ensure the high quality of assessment of harm.

A person can recover from sexual violence. Society has a specific obligation to take all necessary measures to support the recovery of child victims.

Examples of measures put together in the theme (19 measures)

  • In the first phase, training related to sexual violence and its prevention will be increased in the content of basic and continuing education for public health nurses and midwives, also taking into account children and young people in a particularly vulnerable position.
  • Children and young people must have information and instructions on where they can get help for sexual violence. They must know where they can report sexual harassment, grooming and sexual violence also in digital media.
  • National guidelines will be drawn up for doctors concerning the assessment of medical harm in a situation where they assess the harm caused to an individual child by a sexual offence.

Additional information

Joki-Erkkilä M, Salmivalli A-M, Tenhunen T, Darth M. & Lehrbäck H. 2019. Prevention of sexual violence against children and young people and minimisation of harmful effects of child sexual abuse. Chapter 10. In: Korpilahti et al. 2019, 273–341.

Peltola M, Lahtinen H, Peltola J. & Puura K. 2019. Harm assessment in sexual offences against children. Chapter 12. In: Korpilahti ym. 2019, 517–528.

Vaaranen-Valkonen N. & Laitinen H-L. 2019. Sexual harassment, grooming and sexual violence in digital media. Chapter 11. In: Korpilahti ym. 2019, 517–528.