Racist crimes account for most hate crimes

There is no single universally agreed definition of hate crime. A hate crime is generally taken to mean any criminal act which is motivated by prejudice or hostility against groups of people that the victim represents. The group may be an ethnic group or a group based on sexual orientation. The victim does not necessarily have to be a member of the group. It is enough that the perpetrator assumes so. The victim may also be targeted because he or she has a close relationship with someone belonging to the group or some other connection to the group.

The act can be any criminal offence specified in Finnish legislation. What is critical is the motive behind the act. The act can be, for example, slander, discrimination, assault or criminal damage. A harsher sentence may be imposed when the motive for the act is the victim's race, skin colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, religion or conviction, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Hate crimes in decline in 2019

Most hate crimes reported to the police in Finland are racist crimes. Religion, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity also appear in police statistics as motives for hate crimes. 

The Police University College publishes yearly a study of hate crimes reported to the police. In 2019, the police recorded 899 reports of an offence that were defined as suspected hate crimes. Most of these crimes involved racist elements with the most common offence being assault.

Online humiliation, threats and libel, for example, have increased and become more visible in the last couple of years. More than half of hate crimes are verbal abuse, threats and harassment. This number has risen compared with 2018. 

The number of suspected offences of ethnic agitation, that is incitement against a population group, tripled in 2019. The police received 105 reports of such, compared with 34 the previous year.

When looking at hate crime statistics, it is important to note that only a small percentage of offences are reported to the police. A study carried out a few years ago revealed that only around 20 per cent of hate crime victims reported the offence. Therefore, the police encourage people to always notify the police if they are the victim of a hate crime.

The Ministry of the Interior and the police are involved in the EU-funded Facts against Hate project, which encourages hate crime victims to report offences to the police. The project aims to intensify the work against hate crime and hate speech. The project will also develop data collection related to hate crimes and hate speech, and improve cooperation at local level. Additionally, the project will produce material to support work against hate crime and hate speech. 

Hate speech and online shaming are growing problems

Hate speech and online shaming are growing problems. Hate speech also threatens democracy and erodes trust in the authorities and the legal system. Studies show that hate speech reduces decision-maker participation in public debate (Viha vallassa, 2019). A third of municipal decision-makers and almost half of the Members of the Finnish Parliament or their assistants have been subjected to hate speech due to their official duties or positions of trust. Many of those who participated in the study said that they had left or were going to leave politics or were at least considering doing so.

Hate speech involves the use of words in which the purpose is to exclude a specific group from a community and create the impression that the people belonging to the group are suspicious, untrustworthy or dirty, or of lower value. It may even be claimed that the people belonging to the group pose a security threat to society and the general population. Hate speech does not involve a mutual exchange of ideas; its purpose is not to give facts or to justify the claims that are made. 

Hate speech distorts facts and presents them selectively, uses rhetorical devices, brands specific groups and individuals as enemies, and reinforces an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality. (Words Are Actions, 2019). Some hate speech can be classified as a crime. When hate speech contains the essential elements of an offence, it is considered a hate crime. Hate speech may also be considered illegal discrimination under the Non-Discrimination Act, even when the essential elements of an offence are not met.

Online shaming, on the other hand, means an activity in which an individual, by means of his or her own actions or by mobilising others, initiates or encourages organised harassment against one target, which may be direct or indirect. The means may include, for example speaking ill of someone, dissemination of private data, or threats. Online shaming may also be directed at a person through his or her loved ones. 

The goal of online shaming is to influence people or society's structures and institutions and, in particular, trust in them. Criticism of an authority or an individual public duty, or the ordinary use of legal remedies by citizens, is not online shaming.