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Criminal Policy and Social Control 101: Incivilities from a Gender and Urbanisation Point of View


As a Criminology course, this series aims at how policies affect criminal behaviour, emphasising the importance of its prevention and how control can be achieved in a community in order to maintain a peaceful atmosphere and civic conduct in society. Antisocial behaviour as a crime is usually taken by the literature to explain youth crime and how it can be treated, focusing on its risk factors, explanatory theories, or its treatment from jurisprudence. However, this course will explore its criminal components typified in the penal code and not from the behavioural sciences as the nature of this conduct, giving a different criminological perspective to the topic. Therefore, it will commence with a literature review of the concept of antisocial behaviour, accompanied by a theoretical and practical examination of the security measures that different EU countries have implemented and designed to prevent antisocial behaviour crimes. Bearing this goal in mind, it will also examine the antisocial behaviour in some EU countries such as Spain, Finland, Germany and Hungary, aiming to cover all geographical and cultural areas of Europe to compare the measures taken to prevent it.

This 101 series is divided into the following six chapters of content:

  1. Antisocial Behaviour as a Form of Criminality

  2. Incivilities from a Sociocultural Perspective

  3. Incivilities from a Gender and Urbanisation Point of View

  4. Migration and Politics about Antisocial Behaviour

  5. Hate Crimes and Antisocial Behaviour

  6. Conclusions on the Differences and Similarities across Europe

Criminal Policy and Social Control 101: Incivilities from a Gender and Urbanisation Point of View

This chapter firstly defines what is understood as antisocial behaviour in Finland from a legislative perspective. Subsequently, it is stated that the prevention measures aimed at alleviating this crime are largely focused on reinforcing the perception of security. In the case of Finland, this feeling of insecurity —with women being the group that represents the highest levels— is mainly intimidated by the risk of antisocial behaviour crime. In Finland, safety is often promoted through interventions that address the characteristics of the urban environment, either in the planning phase of new developments or by introducing changes to the characteristics of existing neighbourhoods. In this sense, the objective of this article is to illustrate how gender is incorporated into urban planning practices in order to increase security levels and thus improve this perception of security. It ends with some reflections on security perception and gender issues at the national level.

Regarding the definition of antisocial behaviour according to the Finnish legal framework, the Penal Code defines “public disturbances” as: "it is prohibited to disturb public order or to endanger public security in a public place by: "making noise", "threatening behaviour", "throwing objects","the use of intoxicating substances in public places", "the installation of dazzling or misleading lights that endanger public order", to "purchase sexual services or offer sexual services against payment in a public place", "urinating and defecating in a public place", "gambling", "possession of weapons and substances highly suitable for painting graffiti", "horse riding" without authorisation, and the obligation to "control dogs", and to remove ice or snow from private property to prevent damage to public roads (Ministry of Interior, 2010). The commission of these behaviours "shall be sentenced for a public order violation to a fine, unless a more severe punishment for the act is provided elsewhere in the law" (Ministry of Interior, 2010).

Figure 1: In Finland, it is considered antisocial behaviour to not remove icicles, for example, from private properties, which can cause damage in the public space. Morante (2014)

This legal definition of antisocial behaviour does not differ too much from the Spanish definition seen in the previous article. However, the differences are more noticeable if the measures for its prevention are compared. The body in charge of controlling these prevention practices in Finland is the police force: “the police are responsible for maintaining public order and security by patrolling, handling emergency duties, providing advice and guidance, and preventing unlawful activity (...) by eliminating and investigating all such incidents” (Ministry of the Interior, 2019). Although the Ministry of the Interior's National Plan for Crime Prevention (2019) does not provide much detail on how the Finnish police deal with the prevention of antisocial behaviour, this Ministry states that the police “cooperates with other authorities and with local residents and communities in maintaining security.” (Ministry of the Interior, 2019). The main prevention measure lies in structured cooperation between the police and various local actors, under the implementation of regional and local security plans. Another of the objectives of these prevention plans is to inform residents about how their safety can be improved. Security plans also provide a channel through which residents can influence decision-making on security issues. Municipalities can make a security plan on their own or in partnership with several other municipalities. It is also possible to draw up a security plan at the regional level. Therefore, prevention is generally more focused on the possible victim, unlike in Spain, where it is more focused on the plausible offender. Furthermore, Finnish organisations give considerable importance to reinforcing the feeling of security, and promoting a positive image and trust in the police through their presence on social networks or in educational centres, for example. While the jurisdictional scope typifies certain previously described antisocial acts, almost all Finnish social science literature about antisocial behaviour (Kujala, 2021; Dymén and Ceccato, 2012; Johanssonand and Haandrikman, 2021; Tuominen et al., 2013; Savolainen, 2007; Lohilahti, 2021; and Brandt and Ruohonen, 2022) focuses on the perception of insecurity. In this sense, the problem of antisocial behaviour as a crime in Finland seems to have more to do with the sense of security perceived by the population than with the antisocial behaviour itself. Therefore, this article will focus on this feeling of insecurity according to the gender and urban factors involved.

Perception of Insecurity

From an international perspective, Finland is a particularly interesting case as it is a country with comparatively strong institutional trust and a country with one of the lowest rates of population density in Europe (Boda and Medve-Balint, 2014; Eurostat, 2022), assuming two factors —institutional trust and population density— associated with levels of insecurity (Visser et al., 2013). Since most of the research related to security has been done in countries and areas of lower trust and higher population density, the research on Finland provides evidence of a somewhat different general context. In the particular case of this country, the perception of security is directly proportional to the level of police presence in public spaces (Salmi and Grönroos, 2004). Precisely, Finns tend to have a lot of trust in the police force in particular (Kääriäinen, 2008), which is in charge not only of preventing antisocial behaviour but also of reinforcing the perception of security. However, these levels of insecurity have been increasing in recent years, mainly due to the fear conveyed by right-wing political discourse about the increase in immigration (Skardhamar et al., 2014) —a phenomenon that will also be analysed in the following section article in the case of Germany—.

Figure 2: Finnish police, responsible for preventing antisocial behaviour and reinforcing the perception of security. Poliisi (2022)

Feelings of insecurity are related to the perceived risk of crime victimisation and belong to the cognitive sphere of fear of crime (Amerio and Roccato, 2005). At this point, it is necessary to highlight that the perception of security is an abstract phenomenon and does not necessarily have to be in accordance with the real levels of crime in a certain geographical space. The main crimes for which Finns perceive a feeling of insecurity are exposure to violence —which could be related to the penal code's definition of possession of bladed weapons and/or ingestion of illegal substances— and threats (Tuominen et. al, 2013) —typed directly as antisocial behaviour—. But beyond the crime in particular, the variable that stands out the most if the perception of security in Finland is taken into account is the gender perspective linked to urban design (Johanssonand and Haandrikman, 2021), as will be addressed below.

The Gender Dimension in Planning for Urban Safety

From a micro perspective, architects have long suggested that the type of building and the design of the public space influences what happens in the streets and squares that surround them. For example, paths that have bushes in many places can give offenders places to hide (Newman, 1972) or to construct an underpass with no adjacent exits may make it difficult to escape in the event of an assault. In the same sense, it is also argued that the reduction of the distances to travel and the elimination of hiding places affect not only the opportunity to commit a crime but also the fear of crime. Some of these principles have served as a guide to what urban planners often refer to as "Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design" (CPTED). The general idea is that environments can be planned in such a way as to reduce the possibility of crime by encouraging surveillance, fostering territoriality, and reducing conflict zones by controlling outsider access (Jeffery, 1971). However, this first generation of CPTED planning strategies was criticised for presenting individuals as passive agents of the environment and for completely ignoring the social construction of physical space or citizen participation in the design of the city (Pain, 2000).

Figure 3: CPTED principles. Thorntontomasetti (n.d.)

In addition, the feeling of security cannot be analysed without a gender perspective, since this feeling is especially higher in the case of women (Kujala, 2021). Actually, gender overall is seen as one of the most important demographic explanatory factors of fear of crime (Johanssonand and Haandrikman, 2021). One of the factors of inequality in the use of public space has to do with the fear of attacks in the urban environment (Day, 2009). These limitations can be enhanced by the way in which public spaces are planned and built. For example, in a given city, individuals are exposed to different environments at different times, and their propensity for victimisation and their perception of safety also vary with time and the space through which they move according to their needs and work routine. Both the risk and fear of crime are affected by the appearance and perception of the urban environment. As regards to communication and transportation, for example, women choose job opportunities near their residence more frequently than men (Johanssonand and Haandrikman, 2021). Gender differences are also found in travel patterns (Kunieda and Gauthier, 2007): in general, women in urban areas tend to take shorter trips and at more varied times —although they tend to travel less at night—. Additionally, women are more likely to travel in chains, which means that when they travel, they tend to have multiple purposes and multiple destinations within a trip, which imposes specific transport needs but also the way in which the cities are planned. In particular, the feeling of insecurity would increase in the urban centres or transport areas that tend to be poorly lit, and a person would have less control over their own spatial behaviour. In the case of women, according to authors such as Kujala (2021), sexual violence in the public space tends to occur in areas characterised by construction sites, urban renewal, parks, and temporary accommodation. This would indicate that women are more prone to violence in certain urban settings than in others.

In the case of Finland, this country presents one of the highest levels of female employment and education rates compared to the EU (Eurostat, 2022). It also registers successful equality plans and laws in labour matters (Dymén and Ceccato, 2012). However, looking more closely at Finland's policy for gender equality, Kyrö and Hyrsky (2008) (cited by Dymén and Ceccato (2012)) find that there are great problems of horizontal and vertical employment segregation and that the gender equality measures have not been very successful in this respect. One explanation for these problems is that gender equality is often perceived as gender neutrality in Finnish politics. These problems are related not only to the economic sphere, but also to the lives of women at home and at work (Dymén and Ceccato, 2012). The issue of integrating a gender perspective into urban safety and planning issues has not been a major goal in Finland until recently. One of the first approaches to security in urban planning was found in 2002, with the design and construction of the Muotiala houses, in the southwestern areas of Tampere, one of the main cities in Finland (Kyrö and Hyrsky (2008), cited by Dymén and Ceccato (2012)). This project is a Finnish pilot case of incorporating security guidelines in new developments. The Muotiala building is part of a large housing area made up of chalets, detached and semi-detached houses and apartments for around 2,000 inhabitants. The development of Muotiala is based on a security program implemented by the municipality in cooperation with the Finnish police. The program was preceded by a survey carried out by the Tampere police in 1996, which found that women and the elderly felt frightened in the central areas of Tampere (Kyrö and Hyrsky (2008), cited by Dymén and Ceccato (2012)). Specific safety guidelines were developed in the planning and construction of Muotiala. One of the goals was to plan for different socioeconomic groups, as well as mix housing types, such as rental apartments and purchased apartments. Safety is promoted by planning and building environments that are safe for everyone. Examples of these environments are meeting places and well-kept green areas, as well as neighbourhoods that encourage natural surveillance. In this new housing area, the focus is to create a neighbourhood that feels safe for women, for example by developing public places that are visible from kitchen windows (Kyrö and Hyrsky (2008), cited by Dymén and Ceccato (2012)) —although this design implies a measure with a gender perspective, it ends up by perpetuating traditional gender roles, but this implies another issue—. Design features provide a means for residents to control their outdoor spaces more effectively. At the same time, the design allows people on the streets to be visible from the inside and thus directly contributes to overall safety.

Figure 4: Aspects to take into account when designing a safe urban space with a gender perspective. Dymén and Ceccato (2012)


In Finland, the different jurisdictional references, be it the Penal Code (Ministry of Interior, 2010) or the National Strategic Plan for Crime Prevention (Ministry of Interior, 2019), make a superficial mention of antisocial behaviour. This can be exemplified in the little detail provided by both legal corpora, which do not concisely describe criminal or responsible processes. One of the reasons that has been demonstrated throughout this article is that, unlike other countries in the European Union, Finland is one of the safest countries with the lowest crime rate (Statista, 2022). However, from public policies and prevention plans, security is addressed as a "perception of insecurity". This perception of insecurity is essential for the design of different actions, for example, the development of the city. A planning style in which local authorities are primarily responsible for urban planning is characteristic of this country. Safety is fostered by building "humane" spaces —like meeting places, short streets, and well-kept green spaces— and by mixing housing, socioeconomic or ethnical groups. However, the gender perspective still seems to be pendent, for example, paying attention to the rest of the public space or public transport and not only to residential areas.

Finland is renowned for its high levels of equity. However, these levels have been reached based on the fact that all its inhabitants are equal and that they move in the same way. This prevents real and concrete progress in guaranteeing a sense of security for all populations according to their particular needs and their own differences in the development of public space. Security is defined by each individual according to their own perception of themselves, urban design and other environmental or structural factors. For this reason, it is necessary to take into account the most vulnerable groups when designing the urban environment and security and crime prevention plans in order to reinforce the feeling of security of the inhabitants.

Bibliographical References

Amerio, P., and Roccato, M. (2005) A predictive model for psychological reactions to crime in Italy. An analysis of fear of crime and concern about crime as a social problem. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 15 (1) 17–28.

Brandt, T. and Ruohonen, A. (2022) Psychological Contract Disruptions by Uncivil Behavior. In Matos, F. and Rosa, Á. (Eds.) Proceedings of the 18th European Conference on Management, Leadership and Governance. ECMLG 2022, 62-70. DOI: 10.34190/ecmlg.18.1.887

Boda, Z., and Medve-Balint, G. (2014) Does Institutional Trust in East-Central Europe differ from Western Europe? European Quarterly of Political Attitudes and Mentalities, 3 (2), 1–17.

Day, K. (2009) Being feared: Masculinity and race in public space. In M. Lee and S. Farralll (Eds.) Fear of crime: Critical voices in an age of anxiety (82–107). New York: Routledge Cavendish.

Dymén, C. and Ceccato, V. (2012) The Urban Fabric of Crime and Fear: Chapter 13: An International Perspective of the Gender. Dimension in Planning for Urban Safety. V. Ceccato (ed.). DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-4210-9_13. Springer Science Business Media B.V.

Eurostat (2022) Eurostat Regional Yearbook (2022 edition). From:

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Johanssonand, S. and Haandrikman, K. (2021) Gendered fear of crime in the urban context: A comparative multilevel study of women’s and men’s fear of crime. Journal of urban affairs.

Kääriäinen, J. (2008) Why Do the Finns Trust the Police? Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention, 9 (2) 141-159. DOI: 10.1080/14043850802450294

Kujala, P. (2021) Gendered feelings of unsafety and avoidance of local central areas in Finland 2001–2016. Nordic journal of criminology, 3 (1) 23-43.

Kunieda, M., and Gauthier, A. (2007) Gender and urban transport: Fashionable and affordable. Sustainable transport: A sourcebook for police makers in developing cities. Eschborn: GTZ.

Kyrö, P., and Hyrsky, K. (2008) From marginality to centre. Women’s entrepreneurship policy challenges government’s gender neutrality in Finland. In Aaltio, L., Kyrö, P. and Sundin, E. (Eds.), Women, entrepreneurship and social capital. A dialogue and construction. Copenhagen: Copenhagen Business School Press.

Lohilahti, E. (2021) “Haes tyttö joku osaava paikalle”: Customer Incivility at Work: A Qualitative Study of Customer Service Employees’ Accounts. Master’s Thesis. University of jyväskylä: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

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Skardhamar, T., Aaltonen, M. and Lehti, M. (2014) Immigrant crime in Norway and Finland. Journal of Scandinavian Studies in Criminology and Crime Prevention. 15 (2) 1-21. DOI: 10.1080/14043858.2014.926062

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Tuominen, M., Lönnqvist, H. and Kemppainen, T. (2013) Perceived insecurity in Helsinki is spatially concentrated. Kvartti: concentrated

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Lucas López Sosa

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