The Ministry of the Interior, the Finnish Rescue Association (SPEK) and the Finnish Firefighters’ Association (SPPL) have all strongly condemned reports of sexual harassment in the rescue sector.
The ministry and organizations responded to Yle’s investigation, which revealed evidence of sexual harassment, female hatred, and even overt female hatred in the industry.
In addition, the Instagram account so-called Also emergency servicesestablished in August, has compiled nearly one hundred anonymous reports of verbal harassment, sexual harassment and even rape in connection with civil protection activities.
However, Yle also found that formal complaints to employers or management have rarely been made.
"This is a very serious matter and I am very sorry that all this has happened," said Kimmo Kohvakka, Head of the Emergency Services Unit of the Ministry of the Interior.
The issue has also been taken seriously in industry organizations with SPEK’s Development Manager Niko Ara and Executive Director of SPPL Ari Keijonen both tell Yle that they agree with Kohvak that any kind of harassment needs to be addressed and eradicated.
However, all three added that this requires a huge amount of work, as the problem seems to affect the work culture of the whole sector.
Previously reported incidents of harassment
The civil protection sector has only begun investigating employee reports of harassment in recent years, as previous investigations have found evidence of the problem.
However, Keljonen from the Association of Firefighters from SPPL told Yle that so far the industry has not had the necessary tools to identify and eliminate workplace bullying.
"Unfortunately, none of our industries has been able to prevent harassment in a comprehensive way," he said.
The association organizes in-service training for on-call workers, and according to Keljonen, the training must also deal with, among other things, equality, diversity and discrimination.
The supervisor’s responsibility to intervene in cases of harassment should also increase in the future, he added.
According to Keljonen, the extent and severity of sexual harassment within the industry has only really become the subject of attention and wider discussion due to the Emergency Services account. Ministry Kohvakka and SPEK’s Ara agreed with this assessment.
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The harassment cases specified by the Instagram account clearly show that the measures taken so far to solve the problem have been insufficient, Kohvakka pointed out.
Ara of SPEK agreed and added that the issues have not been taken as seriously as they should have been.
That is why the Minister of the Interior is currently preparing an equality and non-discrimination program, Kohvakka added, which tells employees and volunteers how to act in situations of harassment and to whom they should be notified.
A change in work culture is needed
Yle interviewed several rescue workers about the harassment culture in the industry and heard that sexually suggestive comments are often defended, e.g. "firefighting humor" which a member of the work community is expected to tolerate.
The Ministry, as well as the two main organizations in the field, all stated that they were aware that such comments were common within the sector and that a change in work culture was needed.
"Whether you are a professional or a volunteer, you need to look in the mirror and think about how your own behavior may feel to another," Ara said, adding that her association, SPEK, plans to introduce continuing education aimed at changing the current work culture.
Employees interviewed by Yle also said that many in the industry are reluctant to report incidents of harassment. According to Ara, it is now necessary to find out why this is so that employees can be talked about in the future.
Source: The Nordic Page