Right now, in Germany no topic is as present and as controversial as the New Year’s violence in Cologne and other cities. I followed the newscast with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I thought it is necessary to be outraged. Sexual violence is a crime. It has devastating effects on the victims. Especially, when it is committed by a (large) group the experience is a feeling of helplessness and being at the mercy of the offenders.
Until now, over 500 incidents were reported in Cologne, 108 in Hamburg, 41 in Düsseldorf. It is unclear how many of these reports are related to sexual harassment, estimates suggest around ¾ of them. For the police, it is difficult to evaluate, because many sexual assaults happened in combination with theft attempts as a diversionary tactic. And this is not the end yet; the numbers grow higher every day. Encouraged by the others, more women might make the decision to report.
Of course, these numbers draw attention from all over the world. And they should. Women should be able to go wherever they want without fear!
Complexity and Instrumentalisation
On the other hand, I had and still have a weird feeling in my stomach about the form of the discussion. Let me explain why.
The topic drew such big circles because of the assumed refugee background of the offenders. Soon after the German media became aware of the dimension of the violence the discussion headed into the wrong direction; the focus changed very quickly from what actually happened to the women into questions about how Germany can deport political refugees more quickly if they commit crimes. Though police investigations are not completed yet the heated debate already has their answers.
People who opposed feminism before suddenly are fighting for the rights of women. This is not a new phenomenon; right-wing parties were using these arguments before when they were criticizing Angela Merkel’s recent policy on refugees.
Other examples of festivals and events that attract the masses and where sexual violence happens come to my mind. Statistically, on every day of the Oktoberfest one report of rape is filed. The dark figure surely is higher. The „Sichere Wiesn für Mädchen und Frauen“, a security initiative at the Oktoberfest aimed at women, had an average of 180 women seeking help 2015. Usually, these crimes around the Oktoberfest don’t raise such an outrage.
The debate is headed into a very dangerous direction. Racist ideas are spreading all over the internet. The first physical outcomes are already visible; the right-wing anti-islamic movement Pegida had a protest march with approximately 1,700 supporters in Cologne. Before, the movement had no success there for a long time. The way they perform is getting more and more aggressive. Also, in Cologne a group of hooligans attacked foreigners. They arranged an event on facebook to meet “for manhunt”. In Düsseldorf and Sachsen people founded a vigilante group and called on facebook users to patrol the streets. The group “Einer für alle, alle für einen… Düsseldorf passt auf” already has 13,500 members. Because of threatening phone calls and hate messages the “Zentralrat der Muslime”, the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, decided to switch off their phones.
All this is useful for right-wing parties and opponents of Merkel’s refugees policy. It is overlapping the problem of violence against women. And when feminists point out the fact that sexual violence is not a new problem that entered Germany with the refugees conservative journalists or politicians accuse them of downplaying the offenses.
The best example is Birgit Kelle, a German journalist known as being conservative and xenophobic. Kelle wrote the book „Dann mach doch die Bluse zu“ (just close your blouse) as a reaction to a widespread hashtag about sexism (#Aufschrei) that followed a scandal of an elderly politician verbally harassing a young female journalist. Now, Kelle accuses German feminists of applying double standards. This time however, she wants women to raise their voices. What has changed? Well, I guess the origin of the offenders.
Every politician and everybody else who uses the New Year’s Eve violence to further promote their anti-refugee agenda are damaging the fight against sexual violence. They draw an idealized picture of a Germany that respects women and negate that sexism exists in our society.
As Kathy has argued in a previous post, the topic of sexual violence against women is bigger and more common in everyday life than the media reflects in the debate about the New Year’s Eve violence:
- One out of three women in the EU have experienced violence.
- In Germany, 35 percent of women have suffered physical or sexual violence, as a EU-wide study has determined.
- Of the interviewees 22 percent experienced violence by their partner.
- In 2/3 of the cases the rapist comes from the social circle of the victim.
- Only in a fraction of the reported rapes the offender is sentenced (8.4 percent of the cases in 2012, 20 years earlier 21.6 percent).
- Places in women’s shelters are few, funding is complex and unstable.
- The German criminal law for sexual offenses protects the offender and not the victim. For many of the victims of New Years Eve this has a big impact; until now the law doesn’t cover sexual assaults like touching and grabbing as a crime. Many of the offenders of New Years Eve might only be convicted for stealing!
These numbers do not diminish the violence of New Year’s Eve, they provide context. When the media is done with discussing the events, sexual violence continues to exist.
Feminism YES, racism NO
It is paramount to avoid the impression, that the sexual violence on New Year’s Eve was an isolated event. The focus of attention must be the declaration that sexual violence is not acceptable, no matter the origin of the offender.
Foto: Fenja Eisenhauer
*in, *innen, *r, *ren, *er, *eren, *n und *en – wann immer ihr dieses Sternchen seht, ist jede und jeder gemeint.