Sexual crimes targeted to children and adolescents as well as maltreatment of older people and social and health care professionals have been discussed much in media recently. What is common to these themes is violence that takes place in close relationships and everyday communities.
Based on statistics, violence is a significant societal problem in Finland. Especially the amounts of serious violence and violence in close relationships are high in comparison to other western countries. In addition, the rate of violence towards female employees in the social and health care sector is high.
International comparisons prove that in Finland violence is not intervened in properly and is allowed to continue. When violence is discussed, the focus is often on the perpetrators and the characteristics of those involved. However, it is also important to pay attention to structural questions such as the practices of ignoring violence and keeping silent about the experiences of neglect and abuse.
For example, in Finnish child victim surveys, children and adolescents report various types of violence and sexual abuse. Nevertheless, the majority of these experiences remain suppressed due to feelings of shame and guilt. A large part of children and adolescents do not talk about their experiences to anyone. Most of them talk about the matter only with a friend. Less than one out of six reveals the matter to an adult and even fewer to the authorities.
Experiences of violence are also often ignored in care work. They are easily interpreted as situations in which a skilful employee must quietly cope alone without complaints and move briskly to the next task. However, in our modern society where symbolic and verbal documents are important creators of reality, being a target of violence or a witness to negligent care and not talking about or reporting it may have far-reaching consequences.
When the experiences of violence, abuse and neglect are not expressed, reported or noticed, we are not able to understand how frequent and how damaging the problem is. Therefore, it is important that people dare to talk and ask about violence, maltreatment and abuse, when suspecting them. If people are willing to talk about their experiences and observations depends crucially on how big of a reason they have to remain silent and what kind of a threat revealing and diclosing the matter would mean to them or their friends and relatives, or to their agency and identity as a professional.
Talking about and listening to the experiences of violence, abuse and maltreatment have not only individual and societal consequences but also judicial and political ones. Stories, documents and discussions are important for the prevention of and recovery from violence. The recognition of individual experiences is also a requirement for a broader change in attitudes and structures, and education offers way to influence the matter.
In Sweden, education on how to face and intervene in violence is statutory. There are numerous fields of study and disciplines that offer education on the topic. In Finland, similar statutory education is still missing. Yet there is clearly societal demand for such education, which can be seen in the broad interest in the Violence Studies programme established at the University of Jyväskylä.
D.Soc.Sc., Docent, Senior Lecturer
Department of Social Sciences and Philosophy