Sirpa Taskinen, Ph. D. Director of Division, STAKES Source: Kauppinen Sari, Sariola Heikki, Taskinen Sirpa (2000): Suspected Cases of Sexual Child Abuse Reported to Social Welfare and Health Care Authorities between 1 May 1998 and Apr. 30 1999. Statistical Report, STAKES, Helsinki.
Sirpa Taskinen, Ph. D.
Director of Division, STAKES
SUSPECTED CASES OF CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE IN FINLAND
A study was conducted by the National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health (STAKES) in the years 1998–1999 to analyse suspected cases of sexual child abuse reported to health care and social welfare authorities during one year. The analysis focused on welfare offices, family guidance centres, health centres, school health nurses, mental health clinics, and hospitals.
It was found that 778 suspected cases of child sexual abuse had been reported to the authorities between 1 May 1998 and 30 April 1999. The figure includes all suspected cases reported irrespective of whether the abuse was proved or not.
A study conducted at the beginning of the 1980s showed that about 170 suspected cases of abuse had been reported during one year; at the beginning of the 1990s the figure was around 500 in a similar study. The number of suspected cases of abuse reported to social welfare and health authorities has thus quadrupled in 15 years.
The majority of the suspected victims were small children: Nearly a third were between ages 3 and 6 at the time of notification. Next in magnitude, accounting for a quarter of all the notifications, was the 7-9 age group. There was a second peak at the age of 14.
Compared with all children under the age of 18, there were fewer than average living with both biological parents and the families had fewer children than average.
In about a quarter of the cases (199), the biological father was suspected of abusing his daughter, in 21 per cent of the cases (163) the suspect was a male person familiar to the child but not a relative. The third most common combination (62 cases, 8 %) was a girl and her step-father, and the fourth a boy and a non-related male familiar to him (59 cases, 8 %).
One of the most important changes is that the number of cases of suspected abuse of boys has increased markedly. While the victim is still a girl in most suspected cases, the proportion of boys has increased to 23%. Among the suspected abusers there were abuser groups that had not been identified in previous studies of this type.
A majority of the suspected abusers are still men (96%); however, the proportion of suspected women has increased slightly as compared with the preceding study. Another new group of suspected abusers consisted of young people, i.e. persons under 20 years, who represented about one tenth of all cases. This outcome is partly due to the research method, as the assumption in the previous studies had been that the age difference between the suspect and the child should be at least 5 years. Accordingly, the presumption had been that all abusers are adults.
The study showed that in most cases the suspected abuser was a father or a male acquaintance, both accounting for approximately one third of all cases. In 10 % of the cases, the suspect was a stepfather and in 7% a person unfamiliar to the child. Of all men under suspicion, 4% had previously been condemned for sexual child abuse, and 12% had been suspected of abuse. As far as was known, none of the suspected women had been sentenced before, but two of them had been under suspicion. Among the suspects there were 17 professionals working with children (2%); one of them had been condemned for abuse previously.
While it is evident that fathers are still suspected more easily than others, victim surveys and court decisions indicate that incest, i.e. sexual intercourse between a parent and a child, is infrequent. A total of 17% of all suspected men and 9 % of all suspected women had confessed the abuse. Fathers, however, denied accusations more frequently than others. The proportion of those not guilty of abuse was obviously greatest among the fathers under suspicion. Another indication of this is that there was usually no kind of evidence or even surmise of the kind of the suspected abuse in many of the cases. In 20 % of the families, there was a dispute of the custody of the child going on. Furthermore, fathers were mostly suspected of the abuse of small children, while victim surveys show that such cases of abuse are less frequent than others.
At the time when the study was conducted, approximately half of all cases had been reported to the police, and a quarter (176 cases) had been brought to court. At the end of the study, the investigation of some of the cases was still unfinished so that the number of offences reported and cases prosecuted may be greater. It should be noted that the old Criminal Code was in force in Finland until the beginning of 1999 during the period when the study was being carried out. According to the old Code, sexual crimes against children outside the family were usually complainant offences. It is possible that in some cases the offence had not been reported for prosecution because the complainant, i.e. a person having custody of the child or a young person aged 15 or over himself or herself, had not been willing to bring the case to court.
In 20% of all cases the suspicion had arisen from the child's own statement. In 8% of the cases a mother and in 4% a mother and a child together had reported the abuse. Suspected cases reported by some other person constituted 16 % of all cases; in some of these, suspicions had arisen in connection with the suspected abuse of another child. The symptoms of the child or the family were the only reason for suspicion in 18% of the cases.
A majority of reports of suspected sexual abuse were made to welfare offices (31% of all cases), family guidance centres (28%), and child psychiatry clinics (26%). As compared with the beginning of the 1980s, the proportion of school health care services decreased significantly. At that time the number of cases reported by schools during two years was 92 (26%), while the present figure is as low as 28 (3%). One reason for this might be that school health nurses now operate mostly in health centres instead of schools and are thus less easily available for children than before.
The number of suspected cases varied significantly according to the province and the commune. This was inconsistent with the results of victim surveys, which seems to indicate that the variation is not so much due to differences in the prevalence of abuse than differences in the practices of authorities (availability of services, competence of workers in dealing with and investigating allegations, etc.).
The increase in the number of suspected cases could be explained by the fact that plenty of attention has been drawn to sexual child abuse since the beginning of the 1980s. Therefore, it is easier for both the general public and professionals to detect potential abuse. The publicity around this issue may also have resulted in that suspicions are reported more easily even in cases where no abuse has taken place. Nevertheless, the study suggests that it is now easier for children to get help with this kind of problems than before.
Source: Kauppinen Sari, Sariola Heikki, Taskinen Sirpa (2000): Suspected Cases of Sexual Child Abuse Reported to Social Welfare and Health Care Authorities between 1 May 1998 and Apr. 30 1999. Statistical Report, STAKES, Helsinki.Published by Finland, STAKES , Virtanen Päivi (Finland) Created 15.08.2001