Rough sex? Understandings of Rape in Finnish Police Reports

Rough sex? Understandings of
Rape in Finnish Police Reports
PAÈIVI HONKATUKIA
The Finnish Academy, University of Kuopio/National Research Institute of Legal Policy, Helsinki, Finland
Abstract
This paper presents a discourse
analysis of Finnish rape reports
written by the police. It explores
gendered understandings of
sexual violence in the description
of the cases. These understandings often remain hidden, especially in the cultural ethos of
gender neutrality characteristic to
Finnish society. The data consist
of 448 rape cases reported to the
police during year 1998. The discourses found were (1) the resist-
ance discourse, which emphasizes
the rape victim’s attempts to
resist the perpetrator’s attempts
to rape her, (2) the submission discourse, which provides
reasons why the victim was
unable to prevent the rape,
(3) the minimizing discourse,
which portrays the victim as
more or less explicitly responsible
for what had happened, (4) the
rape as physical force discourse
which stresses the physically viol-
The number of rapes reported to the police
has increased steadily in Finland during the
last years, being currently about 500 cases
per year (Niemi 2000: 28). The only Rape
Crisis Centre in the country is contacted
much more frequently, and every year
increasing numbers of women seek help
from there (Raijas & Repo 1999: appendix).
Even though the majority of rapes never
reach oYcial statistics, the increase shown
challenges the cultural ethos of gender neutrality as well as the belief in alreadyachieved gender equality which have characterized Finnish society in general
(Pylkka¨nen 1999).
This paper explores the social conditions of rape in Finland by studying rape
reports written by the police (see also
Honkatukia 2001). It analyses what
police oYcers have seen as important to
record in each case. Hence, instead of
describing the features of the rapes
reported to the police, this paper seeks
Journal of ScandinavianStudies inCriminology and CrimePrevention
ISSN1404-3858 Vol 2, No1, 15±30, 2001
Taylor &Francis
ent nature of rape and Žnally (5)
the rape as sexuality discourse
which emphasized the sexual features of rape by describing either
the aggressive nature of male
sexuality or the course of events
as a serious violation of the victim’s sexual integrity. The cultural and legal foundations of the
discourses are discussed in the
paper.
key words: Rape, Sexual violence, Discourse analysis, Police
to reveal and analyse gendered understandings of heterosexuality and sexual
violence which are often hidden by the
prevailing ethos of gender neutrality.
I will use discourse analysis as a tool
in deconstructing these understandings.
By the concept ‘discourse’ I refer to a
meaning structure which constructs reality in a certain way. Discourses concerning sexual violence, for example,
make truth claims on who is the ‘real
rapist’ and who is the legitimate victim
of rape, what is rape and what is not
(Jokinen 2000: 108–16). They are connected to societal power: the use of
certain discourses helps to maintain
unequal power relations whereas others
– usually more marginal ones – challenge
the dominant social order (Burr 1995:
47–51, 172–173). These representations
also have implications as to how these
cases are dealt with in the criminal justice
system (see for example Lees 1997).
15
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
Before the actual presentation of the
analysis of the discourses I will discuss
briey the concept of rape itself and
consider some methodological issues.
The legal and social definition of rape
The legal deŽnition of rape has a strong
position in police reports since the police
have to evaluate whether the characteristics of each reported case Žt the legal
deŽnition of rape or some other crime.
The new law on sexual oVences has been
applied from 1999 onwards. The data
used in this paper, however, consists of
the reports to the police on rapes and
attempted rapes in 1998, the last year
prior to this reform. This earlier law had
been in force from 1971 onwards. It
deŽned rape as a crime which could be
perpetrated only against a woman. It was
also a so-called complainant oVence: only
a private prosecution was possible in rape
cases, meaning that the complainant –
not the state – had to report the oVence
for prosecution. Further, the complainant
had a right to stop the investigation whenever she wanted. Determinant features of
the legal deŽnition of rape in this earlier
law were violence or threat of violence in
forcing a woman into sexual intercourse.
The rape could also be perpetrated by
making a woman unable to defend herself. Sexual intercourse was deŽned as
contact of genitals.
The legal deŽnition of rape is not
necessarily equivalent to the popular
understandings of this phenomenon,
even though they obviously have a great
deal in common and reinforce each other
(NaYne 1997). A distinction between
‘non-normative’ and ‘normative rapes’
has been formed in order to analyse the
relationship between legal and popular
16
understanding of sexual violence (Koss
et al. 1994). Interestingly, the division
between private and public spheres of
life seems to collude with this division.
Non-normative rapes are acts which are
both criminalized and socially disapproved of. A typical example is a stranger
rape in a public place, street or forest,
for example. However, a similar kind of
act in intimate relationships or in situations where the victim knows the
perpetrator in some way is not as unanimously disapproved of. It may even be
suspected whether it is a ‘a real rape’ at
all. It can be seen a normative rape for
which she is regarded as at least partly
responsible. This normativeness of
intimate sexual violence may be one
explanation of the research Žndings
according to which sexual violence in
close relationships is the most common
form of sexual violence experienced by
women, but at the same time it is one of
the most under-reported crimes (see for
example Kelly 1998: 52–3; Aromaa ja
Heiskanen 2000: 130). Also rape of prostitutes, women using alcohol or drugs as
well as rape in wars can sometimes be
considered normative, ‘not real’ rape (see
for example Lees 1997: 81–2).
The reluctance to deŽne sexual violence
a crime without exceptions has historical
roots. It has been visible in scientiŽc theorizing (see for example Amir 1971: 266), in
legislation (see Owens 1997) as well as in
popular understandings of rape (JeVner
1997). In Finland, for example, an assault
in the private sphere, as well as rape, were
deŽned as non-complainant oVences only
in the mid-1990s – during the same decade
when rape in marriage was criminalized.
These law reforms have not changed attitudes, however, and it appears that
domestic violence is still not regarded a
Journal of Scandinavian Studies inCriminology andCrime Prevention
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
crime by many authorities as readily as
violence in the public sphere (Piispa &
Heiskanen 2000: 6–9). Hence, in the forthcoming analysis my aim is to Žnd out
whether the division between nonnormative and normative rapes is also
visible in police reports – and if so, whether
it is connected in some way to the division
between private and public spheres of life.
Methodological concerns
The data on which this paper is based
are drawn from a database constructed
by the police as part of their normal
routines. It includes standardized
information as well as an informal
description of a total of 448 rape cases.
These are all the cases reported to the
police during 1998.1 All the 460 victims2
in these cases were women. Three of the
530 suspects were women and they were
suspected of complicity in rape.
Only a minority of all rapes are
1In 32 of these reports the police have ‘nocrimed’ the case. The reasons for this were not
always clariŽed, but sometimes it was stated
that the complainant had made a false allegation
because she wanted to get attention from somebody or to have an alibi for being somewhere
she was not supposed to be. Some women had,
according to the reports, been pressurized to
make a false complaint, and others were said
to have been so drunk that they had falsely
believed they had been raped.
2Feminist research has challenged the concept
of victim and proposed a concept of survivor
instead. The concept of ‘victim’ is claimed
to entail an ideology of ‘victimism’ which
does not treat a woman as a whole person
but instead as sick or mad. The concept of
survivor is utilized in order to validate
women’s strength in overcoming their traumatic experience (Kelly & Regan 2001: 48,
61–3) In this paper I will, however, use the
concept of victim in referring to the women’s
status in the criminal justice system.
Journal of ScandinavianStudies inCriminology and CrimePrevention
reported to the police, even though
estimates of the amount of the hidden
sexual violence have varied greatly (see
for example Levi 1997: 853–4). Thus,
the reports reveal more about reporting
practices than about the range of sexual
violence women have experienced (see
for example Kelly 1988: 140). The victims in the reported cases were mainly
young girls and women, and the suspects
slightly older: 76% of the victims and
one in three of the suspected perpetrators
were less than 30 years old.
The reports also reveal that only one
out of four reported cases was reminiscent
of the dominant picture of rape represented in the crime news, namely stranger
rape. As often, the scene of the rape had
been a situation of making acquaintance.3
In every Žfth case the rapist had been
someone the victim knew previously,
sometimes very well: a friend, a partner’s
friend, neighbour or colleague, for
example. In one case out of seven, the
alleged perpetrator was someone with
whom the victim had an intimate relationship: a husband, cohabitant, boyfriend or
ex-partner. Particularly in partner violence,
the parties were usually somewhat older.
This indicates that partner violence is often
reported to the police only when it has
continued for some time4 (for more detail,
see Honkatukia 2001).
The rape reports are heterogeneous in
the ways they have been constructed –
as well as in terms of accuracy and
3In a typical case the couple had met in a
restaurant, for example, and she had left
with him to continue the evening together in
either one’s home. Later she had been raped
by him.
4In 14% of the reports the relationship was
something else or could not be deŽned.
17
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
length of the descriptions. Some reports
comprised only a few lines, whereas
others included several pages of detailed
information of the case and the investigation procedure. Besides the victim’s
own story, the accounts of the alleged
perpetrator(s) as well as the police and
other oYcials were presented. Hence,
many and sometimes contradictory truth
claims are represented in the narration.
The discourses used are aVected by
each narrator’s perceptions of the ‘audience’ to whom they are expressing their
views. The rape reports are Žrst and
foremost tools of the police investigation. They are written and mainly read
only by the police.5 Thus, the audience
which is sought to be assured of the
truthfulness of one’s account consists of
(other) police oYcers and each narrator’s
more or less abstract ideas of the professionals dealing with the case in the criminal justice system. However, to the
narrators as well as to the audience the
meanings and the consequences of these
meanings are usually ‘shady’, not always
explicit
and
actively
recognized
(Suoninen 1999: 33).
The discourse analysis presented here
consists of my own interpretations of the
ways in which rape is deŽned in the
police reports. I have not attempted to
provide ‘objective knowledge’ on how
the police understand sexual violence.
Instead, my approach has been more
interpretive: my aim has been to describe
certain fairly common modes of speech
in the police documents, and problemat5The database is used as a tool in police
investigation. It is used mainly within the
police force. The rape reports I have studied
are thus not necessarily the same documents
as the ones of which the people concerned
are given copies.
18
ise their cultural and legal basis. I have
explored the portrayals of the victims at
the expense of those of the perpetrators.
Thus, for example, accounts of the
nationality of the suspects is an interesting discourse which I have not analysed
here more closely.6 For analytical purposes, I have separated the discourses in
the following analysis but it is worth
noting that two or more of them were
often used in the same report.
The analysis is based on a systematic
coding process. All of the 448 written
documents were read and coded making
use of a variable list I had constructed
after having studied all the reports once.
The coding procedure was performed by
myself and three research assistants.
When encountering problematic cases,
we negotiated with each other on our
interpretations to reach agreement;
because of the uniform outcome reached
in this manner, the reliability of the
coding was not tested.
The resistance discourse
In the reports, there were often descriptions of how the woman had resisted the
perpetrator’s attempts to rape her. I have
named these accounts ‘a discourse of
resistance’. It was used in 59% of the
reports – and interestingly, it was more
common in stranger rape cases (71%)
than in other reports. This discourse
enables a many-sided picture to be
6According to police descriptions 14% of all
suspects in 1998 were not Finns by nationality. Sometimes, for example, the unknown
perpetrator was described as being ‘a negro’
or ‘an arab’. In other reports, it was stated
that he was deŽnitely ‘a Finn’. These
accounts reproduce the idea according to
which rape is often perpetrated by a foreigner
who is possibly also deviant in other respects.
Journal of Scandinavian Studies inCriminology andCrime Prevention
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
gained of the coping strategies used by
women in situations where they risk
becoming a victim of sexual violence.
According to the reports, the women had
negotiated with the man, tried to calm
him down or bluV him. Also more general safety routines were described: some
had anticipated the possible dangers and
were prepared to encounter sexual violence (see also Stanko 1985). The following extracts from the reports describe
the coping strategies women had used:7
The woman pretended to be passed
out. She lay on her stomach in order
to prevent him from opening the
zipper of her jeans.
During the intercourse she assured her
former boyfriend that she loved him
very much in order to get the knife
from him. Finally the man gave her the
knife, and the situation settled down.
The man had forced the woman to
sex several times during the evening.
After he had Žnished she gathered her
clothes from the oor and put them
on. She tried to stay calm and read a
book she had found on the living room
table even though she was shivering
all over and afraid that the man would
start it all over again. At some point
she managed to sneak out from the
apartment...
An unknown man attacked the
woman when she was walking in the
forest. She broke loose from the perpetrators’ arms, telling him that her
husband was nearby. She also shouted
a name of a man that came to her
mind. This frightened the man away.
7The details presented in the extracts have
been modiŽed in order to secure the anonymity of the persons concerned.
Journal of ScandinavianStudies inCriminology and CrimePrevention
Descriptions of physical resistance were
most common in the reports where the
perpetrator had been an unknown man
(24%) and more rare when he had been
an acquaintance (7%), an intimate partner or a close relative (10%). Unlike in
other reported rapes in the data, the
majority (60%) of the cases perpetrated
by strangers were judged by the police
to be attempted rapes. In these cases the
perpetrator had not succeeded in forcing
the woman to sexual intercourse. Some
of the women who had managed to
escape from the grip of an unknown
man were presented in the reports as
heroines:
She screamed, tore herself from the
man’s grip, kicked him between his
legs and managed to ee.
While she was Žghting back she
grabbed a bottle of hair spray from
her handbag and knocked the man on
the head with it and ran away...
An unknown man grabbed the woman
all of a sudden. She kicked him to his
genitals. After that he went away
moaning.
It may be easier to reveal details of the
sexual assault if one is able to portray
oneself as a survivor who has succeeded
in preventing the attempts of a stereotypical sexual oVender, an unknown assailant. In intimate relationships the victim’s
feelings of shame and guilt are usually
stronger. Violence at home is often seen
a family matter which should be dealt
with inside the family and for which the
victim should carry responsibility (Piispa
& Heiskanen 2000; see also Croall 1998:
149–50). Moreover, the woman herself
may want to protect her partner’s or her
19
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
own reputation by not revealing all the
details related to the incident.
It has been claimed that there exists
an expectation in Finnish culture to cope
in general (Kortteinen 1992) but Finnish
women, in particular, are often referred
to as strong and independent (Rantalaiho
1994: 9). Thus, to be a victim may
be especially shameful to women
(Nousiainen 1998), and some women
may negate this status by telling about
their own resistance in the situation. The
use of the discourse of resistance may
also be an attempt to prove that one
is a respectable woman who has not
contributed to her victimization, since
the rape victim is often blamed for her
victimization (see, for example Estrich
1995).
This discourse of resistance is ambiguous. On one hand, it portrays women as
active survivors, as the feminist research
on sexual violence has long pointed out
(for example Easteal 1994). On the other
hand, Finnish legislation emphasizes the
use of force in the deŽnition of rape
instead of the concept ‘without consent’
used in many other countries (Kelly &
Regan 2001: 26).8 Thus, the police may
have asked actively about the woman’s
resistance in order to produce evidence
on force and coercion used. Intensive
questioning about resistance may be
interpreted by some women as a requirement that they should have resisted more
in order to prove that their experience
8The emphasis on force has been criticized
because of its inadequacy in tackling forms
of coercion and abuse of trust which prevent
women deciding freely about their consent
in sexual encounters. Some writers have proposed a requirement of aYrmative permission into the legal deŽnition of rape (see for
example Kelly & Regan 2001: 59–64; NiemiKiesila¨inen 2000: 160).
20
had been a ‘real rape’. According to
police descriptions some women had also
hesitated to report the case because they
thought they had not resisted enough.
These accounts reproduce an idea, or
rather a ‘rape myth’, according to which
a woman’s resistance is a part of normal
sex. Thus, a real rape victim should
resist as hard as she can in order to
prove she has been unwilling (see for
example Croall 1998: 199–200; Lees
1997: 53). This view – also held by
professionals in the criminal justice
system – lays the burden on the rape
victim to prove that she has really been
raped (Jamieson 1996: 58, 61; Kelly &
Regan 2001: 42).
The submission discourse
The submission discourse was used more
rarely than the discourse of resistance –
only in 10% of the reports. It provided
reasons why she was unable to prevent
the rape from happening. For example,
it was written in the reports how the
woman had been horriŽed or how she
feared for her life:
Because of her high age she was unable
to defend herself...
She did not resist at all. She said she
was frozen with fear because the man
continued his eVorts to pressurise her
although she had forbidden him to
do so...
In some reports the woman’s submission
was presented as a kind of coping strategy: she had decided not to resist in
order to avoid the situation developing
worse or simply to save her life (see for
similar observations Stanko 1985; Kelly
1988). In the reports on partner violence,
in particular, it was written how she had
Journal of Scandinavian Studies inCriminology andCrime Prevention
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
learned to recognize certain recurrent
features in the man’s conduct:
related to alcohol and in the second
other ‘rape myths’ were utilized.
The parties had lived together for a
year. Due to his heavy drinking he
had started to act violently. That is
why she did not resist more...
The meanings of alcohol
Finland is known for its cultural tradition
of heavy drinking. In Finnish folklore, for
example, alcohol is often seen to explain
transgressions of social norms (Apo 1999).
Alcohol is also regarded as an important
factor in crime statistics, which report
routinely the number of those suspects
who had been under the inuence of
alcohol or drugs while committing their
crime. Further, a study on Finnish criminal homicides revealed that the police
would more probably judge the crime
to be a manslaughter than a murder
in cases where the suspect had been
intoxicated (Kivivuori 1999: 17). The
cultural meanings of alcohol are often
gendered. Hence, alcohol tends to neutralize a man’s conduct9 whereas a woman’s
alcohol use is more often seen as an
aggravating factor (see for example Lees
1997: 81–2). Thus, a woman who has
experienced sexual violence while drunk
is easy to blame for her fate.
42% of the reports included statements
on the victim’s state of drunkenness,
whereas the alleged perpetrators were
described to have been under the inuence of alcohol in only 26%. According
to oYcial statistics, in 1998, 73% (210/
299) of the known suspects of rape or
attempted rape had been drunk (http://
www.stat.Ž). This does not indicate that
She did not dare to resist the man
because she knew he has got a violent temper.
Most reports utilizing this discourse were
about rapes committed by men known
to the victim. The power imbalance
between the parties was recognized, but
compared to the resistance discourse,
this discourse was weak. This weakness
may be due to the appreciation of activity
instead of passivity and victimization in
Finnish culture. Hence, even to women
reporting rape it may be easier to tell
about resistance than about submission.
This discourse may also stem from the
eagerness of the police to Žnd out about
the woman’s resistance, since it provides
reasons why she did not resist more.
However, it was characterized by an
understanding tone towards the victims.
The minimizing discourse
Sometimes in the reports the sexual violence was belittled or the victim was
made more or less explicitly responsible
for what had happened by using a discourse I have named ‘a minimizing
discourse’. It was often obvious that
the suspected perpetrator used this discourse. Occasionally, however, it seemed
to have been used more implicitly in the
narration. There were two diVerent
forms of this discourse in the reports. In
the Žrst form the course of events was
minimized with the aid of meanings
Journal of ScandinavianStudies inCriminology and CrimePrevention
9This was also visible in the reports. Some
suspects claimed to have been so drunk that
they did not remember anything. Also, some
women explained the perpetrators’ conduct
by referring to his state of drunkenness. In
these cases the alleged perpetrator was usually the woman’s partner and she explained,
for example, that he was usually a very nice
man but became ‘mad’ while drunk.
21
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
the victims are more often drunk than
the perpetrators – but it may well hint
that the victim’s drunkenness is seen as
important to mention. It may have
importance in judging whether the
woman had been unable to defend herself or in explaining why she is unable
to remember the course of events accurately. Nevertheless, the meanings alcohol
carries are ambiguous, since they also
have a potential for victim-blaming.
Some reports described, for example,
how the woman had failed to take care of
her personal safety by accepting a lift from
an unknown man because she had been so
drunk. These accounts reproduce an idea
of ‘the responsible woman’, which is also
promoted in the police advice literature
(Stanko 1998).10 She avoids risky situations
such as being drunk and ‘commonsensically
takes all necessary precautions to avoid the
violence of men and treats the violence of
men to women as encounters that can,
given responsible precautions, be avoided’
(Stanko 1998: 62). In focusing on the conduct of the woman this idea fails to problematize the behaviour of men who use
violence against women. Also, a false sense
of safety is reinforced by promoting the
illusion that only certain women are raped
(The London Rape Crisis Centre 1999: 7).
The reports revealed that sometimes
the woman’s alcohol level was measured
by a breathalyser test. This was mentioned most often in the reports on rapes
committed in situations of making
10A similar of idea of ‘responsibilizing
women’ to take care of their personal safety
is also traced in the international and
national social policy frameworks since the
end of the 1990s. Tips for women in avoiding
sexual violence are provided. Thus, the
responsibility for preventing sexual violence
is shifted from the state toward the victim
(Carmody & Carrington 2000: 347–8).
22
acquaintance (17%). The test may have
been used as a means to provide an
opportunity for the victim to prove that
she had not been drunk – even though
the alleged perpetrator so claims. On the
other hand, if she turns out to have been
intoxicated, the test can be interpreted
(at least by the complainant) as a more
or less unintended message, telling the
woman she is not an innocent victim
(see also Jamieson 1996: 65–6; Kelly &
Regan 2001: 36, 42). Hence, instead of
questioning the perpetrator’s right to
betray her trust, she may feel that she is
blamed for being too drunk and/or for
leaving with him in the Žrst place – even
though this often remains implicit.11
The rape victim who has been under
the inuence of alcohol may also be
suspected of false accusations even
though this was never explicit in the
reports. The police have publicly claimed
that young women, in particular, sometimes believe falsely that they have been
raped only because they have been so
drunk they do not remember what happened (see, for example, Helsingin
Sanomat 11th March, 2001).12
After having experienced such a traumatic event as sexual violence many
women suVer shock which can take
11In the British police force instructions are
applied according to which the rape victim
should be believed. However, many oYcers
still believe that false allegations of rape are
very common (Lees 1997: 178, 184).
12In some cases the suspects claimed, however, that the woman had oVered sexual
services for money and made a report on
rape to the police after they had refused to
pay afterwards. Further, some witnesses
doubted the woman’s story because she was
known to have experienced something similar earlier in her life.
Journal of Scandinavian Studies inCriminology andCrime Prevention
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
many forms: many feel fear, anguish,
powerlessness or shame; some suppress
their emotions (The London Rape Crisis
Centre 1999: 18–30). In this state of
mind many are sensitive to insensitive
treatment and hints of blame. It is therefore crucial that the complainants are
treated in a sensitive manner by the
police and other oYcials. Thus, whatever
the reasons for the breathalyser test practice, it should be made explicitly clear to
the woman that her account is taken
seriously and she is respected as a person.
Rape myths
Some suspects denied that there had been
any sexual intercourse even though the
woman so claimed. It was more common
for men, however, to admit sexual intercourse but to state that the course of
events was not rape. Some of the men
may have tried to deny responsibility or
refuse to name the course of events rape
by using ‘rape myths’, i.e. cultural beliefs
on sexuality which blame the victim or
state that the woman had consented
implicitly (Brownmiller 1975; Scully 1990;
Croall 1998: 195–200). These perceptions
stem from prevailing views of female and
male roles in sexual encounters which
often tend to blur the border between
normal sexual conduct and violence.
Rape myths were utilized most often in
the reports on rape committed by known
or semi-known men. For example, in their
accounts some men utilized and reproduced a sexual script according to which
the male is an active seducer in sexual
encounters, whereas the female remains a
passive object who says no even though
she means yes (see for example Jackson
1978; Lees 1997: 76–7). This myth is based
on an assumption of the irrationality of
women, according to which they are conJournal of ScandinavianStudies inCriminology and CrimePrevention
fused by their desires. The real knowledge
then lies with men (Holland et al. 1998:
7, 59). As Sue Lees has put it: ‘Men know
best what her body really wants, and she
is not more than her body’ (Lees 1997:
78). Thus, male pressure is seen as a part
of normal sex:
The woman said that the man had
ripped oV her clothes and forced her
to have sex. The man admitted having
had a sexual intercourse with the
woman but denied to have forced her.
He claimed she had Žrst said no but
agreed later to have sex.
Other suspects claimed that the intercourse was actually initiated by the
woman, or that she had irted, kissed or
had some other sexual intimacy with the
man before the alleged rape – as if a
woman’s expression of any sexual desire
or consensual intimacy implies her willingness to engage in sexual intercourse
(cf. Jamieson 1996: 59–60). This view of
female desire reduces it to something
which makes the woman vulnerable or
her story unbelievable. Thus, a positive
discourse on female sexual activity
becomes impossible since it is assumed
that ‘good’ women or girls do not make
sexual advances, they can only say no or
yes (Higgins & Tolman 1997).
If the man showed scratches, for
example, he explained that the woman
had done them because ‘she had been so
passionate’. Another suspect claimed to
have had only ‘rough sex’ with the
woman who accused him of raping her.
A third assured the police oYcers that
her sex partner had ‘sadomasochistic
interests’. These statements can be seen
to be based on a view of female sexuality
as not totally in women’s control, which
they then regret afterwards, accusing
23
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
their sexual partners of raping them
(Lees 1997: 75). Rape is also alleged to
be ‘the easiest crime to allege and the
hardest to disprove’ (Kelly & Regan
2001: 33). Ngaire NaYne (1997: 106–7)
sees this kind of portrayal of female
sexuality as ‘a product of male imagination’ which she identiŽes in the criminological texts on rape as well as in the
statements of criminal lawyers.
Some men described the outward
appearance and conduct of the woman
in negative terms – perhaps in order to
make her story untrustworthy. For
example, they told of the untidiness of
the woman’s looks or claimed that she
was ‘sick in the head’. However, contrary
what can be expected on the basis
of Anglo-American literature (see for
example Jamieson 1996: 58–9; Lees 1997:
56–60, 64–66; The London Rape Crisis
Centre 1999: 54–5), the woman’s sexually attractive outward appearance, marital status or sexual past were not an
issue in the reports. Miniskirts or alluring make-up were never mentioned. If
the suspect referred to the woman’s
sexual past, this reference usually had to
do with her relationship to him, not with
her sexual encounters with other men.13
The idea of the victim’s sexually
attractive appearance as a form of
provocation Žts unsatisfactorally with
Finnish sexual culture, which is said to
be based upon women’s trust in males’
13However, the sexual history and sexual
appearance are not completely related to the
legal deŽnition of rape. Many countries who
have put more emphasis of the concept ‘without consent’ have also introduced legislation
to restrict sexual history evidence. There are
also examples of where sexual history has
been taken up in the court even though the
legislation does not mention the concept
‘without consent’ (Kelly & Regan 2001: 26).
24
ability to control their sexual impulses
if the woman so wishes (Na¨re 2000:
107–10). However, it could also be asked
whether the woman’s sexual credibility
has been seen as irrelevant only because
it has not been important to Žnd out
whether she had really consented to sex.
That is because a rape victim’s consent
has not had independent value, detached
from the use of force in Finnish legislation on rape (Niemi-Kiesila¨inen 2000:
159).14 Further, all that is said is not
necessarily written down in the report.
Thus, it remains for future research to
establish whether a sexually attractive
appearance or the sexual reputation of
the victim are also taken into account in
the Finnish criminal process.
Is rape about physical force or a sexual
crime?
A controversial question in feminist and
other theorizing on rape has been
14The recent reform of sexual oVences has
widened the scope of rape towards acts
which do not necessary include physical
force, but it remains for future research to
establish whether the hegemonic position of
violence is really challenged. It may also be
easier to ask about, reveal and see these
legally relevant features in rapes perpetrated
by a stereotypical rapist, an unknown assailant. It is also possible that similar tendencies
can be found in the Finnish criminal justice
system to what Harris & Grace (1999: 35–6)
found in their study in England and Wales.
The police, barristers and judges they interviewed tended to regard the cases where the
perpetrator had been known to the victim as
‘weak’. Many were not motivated to put as
much eVort into these cases as into the more
stereotypical ones. These attitudes have prevailed at the same time as there has been
an excessive increase in the number of
acquaintance rapes reported to the police.
Consequently, the conviction rate of rape
in England and Wales has dropped
dramatically.
Journal of Scandinavian Studies inCriminology andCrime Prevention
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
whether to understand rape as a sexual
or a violent phenomenon (see for
example Brownmiller 1975; Jackson
1978; MacKinnon 1982; Kelly & Regan
2001: 63). This negotiation was visible
also in the rape reports where rape was
sometimes seen a sexual act, and at other
times its violent features were emphasized. Next, I will analyse this negotiation
by constructing a ‘rape as physical force’discourse on one hand and ‘rape as
sexuality’-discourse on the other.
The rape as physical force discourse
stresses the physically violent nature of
rape. It has a strong position in the
reports: 80% of them described diVerent
forms of physical force used by the
perpetrators, even though these forms
were not necessarily termed ‘violence’.
Weapons, as well as physical injuries
caused to women, were also mentioned.
Medical reports written by doctors were
often quoted.
Probably only the most violent cases
are reported to the police in the Žrst
place (see for example Aromaa &
Heiskanen 1996). In addition, the discourse of rape as physical force may
receive its strength from the legal deŽnition of rape which in 1998 emphasized
the use of or threat of physical force.
Thus, the description of physical force
serves as evidence of rape, and police
oYcers may have searched for this evidence not only from the injuries visible
on the woman’s body but also in her
recollection of the course of events (see
for example Sulavuori 1992: 74). The
physical force used was described more
often in stranger rapes (93%), compared
to the cases where the parties knew each
other (see also Harris & Grace 1999:
19). Stranger rapes may be more violent
than other rapes, but the diVerence may
Journal of ScandinavianStudies inCriminology and CrimePrevention
also relate to a stereotypical perception
of ‘the real rape’ as perpetrated by a
violent stranger: thus, in these cases
physical force as well as the woman’s
resistance to it are described adequately
by the police (see also Lees 1997: 185).15
The rape as sexuality discourse
emphasizes the sexual features of rape.
It is often used together with the rape as
physical force discourse so that physical
force is described, but is separated from
the actual sexual act. There are two
diVerent ways to construct this discourse.
In the Žrst version the reasons for rape
were seen to lie in the assumed aggressive
nature of male sexuality (see also Lees
1997: 74–5). The suspect sometimes
talked about ‘rough sex’, or the victim
had telephoned the police saying that
there was a sexually active man in her
apartment she could not cope with.
Sometimes the violent nature of the case
was minimized by the police, for example
by stating: ‘The man did not use any
such violence which could have harmed
the victim’. In other reports it was
described how the man had ripped the
woman’s clothes and forced her to sexual
intercourse, but – interestingly – it was
pointed out that he did not use any
violence.
15Besides deŽning rape as a gender neutral
crime in terms of the sex of victims and
perpetrators, the reform broadened the scope
of legal deŽnition of rape by lowering the
requirement of force or threat of it. Three
degrees of sexual assault were deŽned: rape,
aggravated rape and coercion to sexual intercourse. The last oVence does not necessarily
require physical force as a means of pressure.
The two higher oVences were deŽned as noncomplainant oVences, where a state prosecution is possible. Sexual intercourse was also
deŽned more broadly than in the previous
law.
25
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
This type of representation of the
course of events may reect the dominant
understanding of violence within the
police organization, as well as more
generally. Physical force combined with
sexuality may not be regarded easily as
‘violence’, but as a part of normal sex
(Lees 1997: 77–8). This is one of JeV
Hearn’s Žndings in the accounts of
British men who had been violent against
their partners (Hearn 1996: 44–5). Also
Harris & Grace (1999: 21) reported in
their study on rape investigation in
England and Wales that the police had
interpreted a case where blood was
found on the scene as only ‘rough sex’.
This reects the perception of normal
male sexuality as inherently aggressive.
This view contradicts and silences a rape
victim’s experience and undermines
women’s attempts to say no in general.
The second version of the ‘rape as
sexuality’-discourse in the reports was,
however, very diVerent: rape was seen a
sexual act but from the victim’s point of
view. This discourse brings women’s
experiences and voices to the reports. It
is reminiscent of some feminist conceptualizations of rape (see for example
MacKinnon 1982; Niemi-Kiesila
¨ inen
2000: 151) which regard sexuality as a
site of power: in the act of rape the
perpetrator violates the victim’s sexual
integrity in a deep and harmful way.
Rape is seen a violation of personal,
intimate and psychological boundaries
(Kelly & Regan 2001: 58). The reports
described the social, emotional and
mental consequences of the incidents
which had been caused to the women;
shock, fear, humiliation, feelings of
worthlessness and shame were among
the consequences mentioned. It was also
described how some young girls were
26
unable to reveal anything about their
experiences because of their shaken state
of mind. Some women had received professional help in order to overcome the
trauma. Very often this version of the
rape as sexuality discourse quoted
women’s own words, and it was used
most often in the reports on intimate
violence (over 40% of the reports) and
more rarely in reports on stranger rapes
(18%). This diVerence contradicts the
common view held by judges, for
example, that it is less traumatic to be
raped by someone you know (see Kelly
& Regan 2001: 36). Also, research suggests that intimate violence can be more
traumatic than stranger rapes (see for
example Na¨re 2000).
The existence of this discourse indicates
that rape victims’ experience is given
recognition by the police. This is signiŽcant, since one reason for reporting the
case to the police may be to have the
wrong one has experienced acknowledged, to be heard, believed and respected
(Kelly & Regan 2001: 60–1). However,
according to Sue Lees, women’s experience is often discarded in rape trials (Lees
1997: 63–4, 84), especially when she has
been assaulted by a known man.
Although more women are being
encouraged to report assaults by men
they know, these assaults are not being
recognised as such by the criminal
justice system. The fact that the police
deal sympathethically with these
women and accept their account as
true is important in helping their
recovery, but in failing to convict all
but a handful of men responsible for
the assaults, the criminal justice
system is condoning their actions and
encouraging them to attack again
(Lees 1997: 188).
Journal of Scandinavian Studies inCriminology andCrime Prevention
honkatukia: social construction of rape in finnish police reports
The Finnish criminal justice system
seems to have similar features, since of
the 530 suspects in the cases studied in
this article, only 67 (13%) had been
convicted by the end of 1999. In recent
years, reporting of rape has increased in
Finland but the conviction rate has
shown a decreasing trend (Kelly &
Regan 2001: 21, 23).
Conclusion
The sexual abuse of women by men
occurs in the context of gendered power
(Holland et al. 1998), where men as a
group are more privileged compared to
women. The societal and cultural
context of rape provides neutralization
of sexual violence which legitimizes male
violence in sexual encounters. This is
one reason why only few rapes are
reported to the police in the Žrst place.
The discourses used in the police
reports form a part of this reality.
According to the Finnish rape reports,
rape victims are listened to by the police,
and in many reports they are described
with sympathy and an understanding
tone – also when the context of a rape
had been an intimate relationship.
However, sometimes the rape victim’s
experience of rape is converted – explicitly by the suspects or more implicitly
in the narration – to something else, for
which she herself is held at least partly
responsible. Further, rapes are better
described in terms of meeting the legal
deŽnition of rape than other kinds of
rapes (i.e. they more often include
statements on physical force used and
resistance, for example).
This paper has studied discourses used
only in the Žrst step of the criminal
justice system: in the rape reports. The
data also consist only of written reports,
Journal of ScandinavianStudies inCriminology and CrimePrevention
which do not necessarily include all that
is said during the investigation process.
Moreover, the rape reports describe the
past in the sense that from 1999 onwards
a new law on sexual oVences has been
passed and applied in Finland.15 It
remains for future research to see
whether this reform has changed the
nature of the cases reported to the police
or the discourses used in the criminal
justice system. Thus, how rape is represented in diVerent phases of the criminal
process and what eVects these representations may have should be studied
further and more closely.
Acknowledgement
I wish to thank Kauko Aromaa, Heini
Kainulainen, Karen Leander and all
those others who have commented the
earlier versions of this paper.
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pa¨ivi honkatukia
The Finnish Academy
University of Kuopio/
National Research Institute of Legal Policy
PB 157, 00121 Helsinki
Finland
Tel. + 3589 1825 7871
E-mail: paivi.honkat [email protected] om.Ž
Journal of Scandinavian Studies inCriminology andCrime Prevention