In December 2018, police in Oulu, Finland reported the arrest of seven migrant men accused of repeatedly raping a ten-year-old girl. The police say the girl has allegedly been subjected to multiple sexual assaults over several months in the suspects' homes. (Image source: Pixabay)
Finland is a curious place. Tucked up under the arm of its celebrity sister Sweden and with Russia as a neighbour, it is one of the world's most northern and geographically remote countries. It takes a hardy kind of European to withstand the severe climate. The Finns in Oulu, the most populous city in northern Finland, go about their lives as normal in -25 degrees Fahrenheit.
With a national population of just over 5.5 million, trees easily outnumber people; two-thirds of this country is blanketed in thick woodland, making it the most densely forested country in Europe.
Yet, this strange, seemingly forgotten land has a hideously metropolitan problem: Finland's daughters are the target of grooming gangs.
In December 2018, Oulu police reported the arrest of seven men accused of repeatedly raping a ten-year-old girl. The police say the girl has allegedly been subjected to multiple sexual assaults over several months in the suspects' homes.
The men, aged 20 to 40, all arrived in Finland as migrants or refugees in recent years (32,000 sought asylum here during the migrant wave in 2015) and are thought to have made contact with the victim on social media.
Locals in Oulu told Gatestone that many have observed the majority-Muslim migrant gangs in action in the local shopping mall; they send out their best-looking, nicely-scented friends to hook in young Finnish girls. Parents here are fearful for their children.
Finland's Prime Minister Juha Sipilä took to Twitter to express his shock and anger, writing that "a sexual offence against a child is an inhumane act, and its wickedness cannot be comprehended."
His naïveté seems startling. Internationally acknowledged studies on grooming gangs in the UK clearly evidence that this is a "wickedness" well-documented and well understood. There is no reason for it to come as a surprise.
His country's official statistics from 2017 reveal that -- nationally -- Iraqi and Afghan migrants were represented up to 40 times more amongst sexual assault suspects than native Finns.
In Britain, the 2015 Jay Report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was an independent report into how child sexual exploitation (CSE) cases were handled by social services and police. It clearly identified how these grooming gangs operate, the brutality endured by their victims, and the "blatant" failure of police and politicians to act to protect the girls.
The findings in Professor Alexis Jay's report clearly suggest that the numbers of victims and aggressors in Finland will keep rising as networks are uncovered and more girls have the courage to come forward.
Sure enough, Oulu's police now suspect 16 foreign-born men of rape or other sexual abuses of girls aged between the ages of 10 and 15, and have added another four men to their investigation.
In addition, police in Finland's capital, Helsinki, have acknowledged that they have arrested three foreign-born men on similar charges.
It seems cruel to reduce such violations to mere statistics or probability, but the truth can be unkind. Helsinki has a population of 630,000. Oulu's population is just 200,000. There are two other cities of a similar size in this fridge cabinet of Europe: Turku and Tampere. The UK's experience teaches us that it is a statistical probability that these cities will not be immune to having their children being targeted by the gangs.
It is a barbaric cruelty these children face. Professor Jay sets it out in black and white in her report:
"In just over a third of cases, children affected by sexual exploitation were previously known to services because of child protection and neglect. It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators."
It was evidently the "blatant" failings of police and politicians that allowed these men to continue raping and abusing these children; the authorities reportedly remained silent either for political gain or to avoid professional damage.
Much of the coverage of the same problem in Great Britain said that Jay had accused the Rotherham council and police of failing to tackle sexual exploitation because of misplaced "political correctness." Yet Jay says those are not the words she would use:
"I have an aversion to phrases like that," she says. Instead, she believes the Labour-dominated council turned a blind eye to the problem because of "their desire to accommodate a community that would be expected to vote Labour, to not rock the boat, to keep a lid on it, to hope it would go away.
What hits hardest in the little town of Oulu in Finland is a disturbing sense that history is repeating itself here and nothing has been learned from the well-documented lessons of the past. Instead there seems to be a hope that with a few overdue statements this problem will go back underground and the noise will go away.
Initial reports suggest that the abused girls and their parents were not necessarily believed; the police responded only after the strong intervention of the father and step-father of one victim, who set a trap for one of the groomers online. It was this intervention that led a local councilman to uncover the fact that in a two-day period, "a total of 8 men with migrant names had been incarcerated for child sexual abuse, aggravated child sexual abuse and aggravated rape."
Only after this information became public did the local police finally issue a warning to parents about the threat faced by their children:
"Recently, in the Oulu region, cases have emerged that foreign-born, often non-Finnish men have attracted minors to get in contact with them. At worst, contacts have led to serious sexual offences."
The Oulu police say they have recently been informed of dozens of cases where adult men tried to lure young girls online. "That's the reason for our warning," said Detective Superintendent Markus Kiiskinen.
All of this uproar comes at a politically awkward time for Finnish politicians, just three months before parliamentary elections scheduled for April 14. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, who maintained a firm silence on the matter during all of December 2018, has now changed course to appear concerned and action-oriented.
He expressed "grief and disgust" at the spate of sexual crimes, and claimed that he understood the worry and anxiety that many people are feeling. In a statement, he stressed that everyone who comes to Finland should respect Finland's laws and the principle of personal integrity. He also emphasised that Finland's asylum system cannot protect criminals, and called the assaults "completely inhumane and reprehensible."
It would be generous to describe ordinary Finns as skeptical of his stance. Most sneer openly at the hypocrisy of a man who was hugely afflicted by the migrant madness of 2015, welcoming 32,000 migrants to this tiny country, and even telling the state's media that his exclusive family home in Kempele, located 500km north of the capital Helsinki, could be used to accommodate asylum seekers.
"We should all look in the mirror and ask ourselves how we can help... My house is not being used much at the moment. My family lives in Sipoo and the prime minister's residence is located in Kesaranta," he told Finnish state television. Al Jazeera TV ensured that news of his offer was shared widely.
Despite bold assertions that action would be taken and the laws regarding asylum seekers would be tightened, in recent conversations regarding the numbers of migrants to be accepted from the EU quota system, politicians such as the interior minister were still campaigning to increase the refugee quota tenfold. There is stark contrast between words and actions here in this country.
As well as the hypocrisy of this position, there is also a grating apathy prevalent in the administration. In Oulu's City Hall, the Administrative Director, Ari Heikkinen, said that he has not heard the details of the problem and could not be certain of any action that might need to be taken, but acknowledged there was a problem with "online communications."
Maddeningly, there is no sense of urgency here; more a sense that Finnish authorities are sitting on a problem the potential scale and seriousness of which they have yet to comprehend. Perhaps the habitual Finnish talent for understatement is working overtime.
A brave few have broken cover to address the problem head-on. Seida Sohrabi's Kurdish family sought asylum in Finland when she was five years old. Her interview for Ilya Sanomat, one of the two main tabloid newspapers in Finland, was so keenly observed that the emotionally cool Finns, from both the political left and right, took a sharp collective intake of cold breath.
Her words are chillingly familiar to the experiences of victims of grooming gangs in the UK. One British victim described her ordeal:
"As a teenager, I was taken to various houses and flats above takeaways in the north of England, to be beaten, tortured and raped over 100 times. I was called a "white slag" and "white c***" as they beat me. They taught me; 'Muslim girls are good and pure because they dress modestly, covering down to their ankles and wrists, and covering their crotch area. They stay virgins until marriage. They are our girls.
"White girls and non-Muslim girls are bad because you dress like slags. You show the curves of your bodies (showing the gap between your thighs means you're asking for it) and therefore you're immoral. White girls sleep with hundreds of men. You are the other girls. You are worthless and you deserve to be gang-raped."
This is something taught in mosques in Finland, too. Anter Yasa , the founder and co-chair of Secular Immigrants of Finland says he has been black-listed from appearing in TV interviews because of his honesty about the problem -- a problem perpetuated by imams in Finnish mosques.
In January, the Andalus Islamic Center of Kastelholm, in Helsinki's Puolinharju area, published a message to its followers featuring a picture of two lollipops. One was unwrapped, dirty and covered with insects; the other was not.
"This is why the Hijab plays an important role in Islam," it said. The evident message to their Muslim and non-Muslim followers is that an uncovered woman is dirty, literally, and can be used by anyone.
Perhaps the danger to our daughters is not hackneyed phrases like "online communications" or a "lack of integration." It is that this thinking -- the thinking of the grooming gangs -- is being taught and pushed in mosques, today, in our own towns and cities.
For now, the fight back is being led by the Finns Party, a nationalist party leading the conversation on this matter in the country, and which -- unlike the others -- has been consistent in its message on asylum-seekers and the dangers of Islam in Western society. Somewhat controversially in these liberal lands, it seeks to put Finns first. Unsurprisingly since speaking out, the Twitter account of the leader of the Finns Party -- Jussi Halla-aho -- has been locked for a period.
Whatever the politicians say, it is clear that we are not learning the lessons of our past. Evidence from other countries has shown, repeatedly, the link between a conservative branch of Islam and sexual aggression. While the police and politicians remain keen to keep the problem under wraps, and the media and digital giants censor voices speaking openly about it, the gangs will continue to flourish.
Oulu and Helsinki are at least arresting and sentencing the wrongdoers. In addition, other Finnish cities are unlikely to be immune from the grooming gang problem. Yet there is a real feeling that the country's leaders and population are still hoping that the whole subject, or at least the noise around the subject, will simply go away.
Alarmingly for the daughters of Finland, this veritable unknown compared to its Swedish sister, hope and silence will not keep them safe.
David Brown is based in the United Kingdom.