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Words Have Meaning – a terminology handbook to explain the language of sexual violence against children


The Barnahus project co-ordinated by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) and Koordinaatti have jointly published a terminology handbook that explains the language of sexual violence against children. The manual is broadly directed towards professionals and volunteers functioning among children and youth. The terminology handbook has been written by Maria Rossi, a detective sergeant who acted as an expert police officer in the Barnahus project, as well as Mika Pietilä, a senior advisor from Koordinaatti, together with planning officer Merja-Maaria Oinas.
Kuvassa neljä nuorta nojaavat kaiteeseen ja katselevat kaupunkia.


Common concepts are important

The terminology linked with child sexual abuse is not unambiguous. Varying concepts are applied in various situations. When referring to sexual grooming, harassment and sexual violence against children, it is important to use the correct terminology that respects the rights of the child. Images are created with words, and a common worldview is built thereby. The concepts and terms used for sexual acts against children in the digital environment are highly significant. It is important to ensure that all actors understand each other and that they grasp, above all, what is being talked about.

The authorities are committed to using terminology that is respectful to the child. The terms and concepts used in criminal proceedings are determined by law. Professionals, specialists and more broadly the media as well have, however, the possibility to select the words they use in various circumstances.  In particular, the terms employed by various officials are listened to, and a message can be conveyed by their use.

A glossary provides clarification

The need to clarify the terminology used in Finland has been identified in, for example, the Barnahus project and in the implementation of the National Youth Work and Policy Programme. In 2020, the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) published a vocabulary in collaboration with experts in violence and the related vocabulary, which contains extensive definitions and recommendations for the concepts utilised in the work against violence. The intention of the Words Have Meaning terminology handbook is to supplement the above-mentioned glossary of violence-based violence-related concepts.  In addition to the glossary of terms concerning violence, the terminology handbook now published defines the concepts of child sexual abuse; in particular, the increasingly common online acts. Recommendations in Finnish are also provided for the use of terms describing concepts. The final chapter of the terminology handbook provides recommendations for implementing the terms and addressing child sexual abuse in various organisations.

The handbook (in Finnish) can be downloaded through this link.

For more information, contact Mika Pietilä,, tel. +358 44 7038216.

Koordinaatti is a national expert in youth work, a competence enhancer, and a partner implementing multidisciplinary and networked co-operation. We generate services as well as reinforcing expertise in the youth field. Koordinaatti acts as a co-implementer at the Centre of Expertise for Digital Youth Work Competence Centre, the Centre of Expertise for Municipal Youth Work, and the Centre of Expertise for Youth Participation. The activities are funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture.  Administratively speaking, Koordinaatti functions as a part of the City of Oulu’s educational and cultural services.

The Barnahus project strengthens processes for investigating suspicion of violence against children as well as for the support and care of children who have experienced violence. The project is being implemented as broadly co-ordinated collaboration by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) with the various hospital districts (ERVA). Co-operation will also be carried out with the Police and prosecutors’ organisation, university- and college-related associations, and the future OT (Expertise and Support) centres. The project is being financed by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (STM). 

The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) studies and monitors the well-being and health of the population and develops measures to promote them. THL collects and produces information based on research and data, and provides expertise and solutions that stakeholders can use to make decisions and as support for their work. THL is an independent research facility that acts under the authority of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (STM).