Thursday 20 June 2019

Men who perpetrated assaults must change - not the victims

Women hold up a placard that reads ‘Against Sexism - Against Racism’ as they march through the main railway station of Cologne, Germany, yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay
Women hold up a placard that reads ‘Against Sexism - Against Racism’ as they march through the main railway station of Cologne, Germany, yesterday. Photo: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

It's hard to imagine how mass sexual assaults against scores of women by marauding young men in Cologne could have been handled any worse by German authorities.

First, these unprecedented attacks appear to have occurred under the noses of German police in the centre of the city on New Year's Eve without any arrests having been made.

One woman told a German TV station her group of 11 female friends had been surrounded by up to 30 men and repeatedly groped before being robbed. Another suffered serious burns when a lit firework was placed inside the hood of her jacket.

Even women who were accompanied by men were not safe. One man told local media a huge crowd of drunk men had surrounded his partner and 15-year-old daughter and grabbed their breasts and groped them between their legs. The attackers were so numerous that he was unable to stop them.

To date, more than 100 women have made complaints to police of being attacked by the gang outside the city's train station.

In the wake of such a horrific event, one would have expected the police to react immediately with a public statement seeking assistance in identifying the assailants and for the media to cover the story prominently. Instead, an official press release issued the following day by police stated the New Year's celebrations in the city were "peaceful" while national media failed to report the assaults for days.

Incredibly, when news of the mob attack inevitably became public, Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker said women needed to be "better prepared" for such incidents. She said they could avoid being groped by remaining "within your own group and asking bystanders to intervene or to help as a witness".

So, are we now to understand that women in a major German city should expect to be groped and assaulted every time they leave their homes? Is this the kind of insane message politicians in a liberal Western democracy are seriously imparting?

Rather than dealing forcefully with such a shocking attack, authorities in Germany have attempted to cover it up. The reason for this bizarre response appears to be that many of those involved in the assaults have been described by victims and witnesses as being of Middle Eastern and North African descent and authorities were fearful of a backlash against refugees.

While police and politicians are now imploring people not to connect the attacks to the 10,000 refugees who arrived in Cologne last year, their attempts to whitewash the incident have only succeeded in confirming for many that refugees must have been involved - otherwise, why would the response have been so muted?

Instead of attempting to hide what happened, authorities should have been open and transparent, assured the public the matter was being investigated and stated that anyone found to have been involved would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This would at least have assured the public the matter was being taken seriously and that nobody would be allowed to attack women with impunity on German streets.

Regrettably, thanks to the incompetence of the police, media and politicians, refugees have now been indelibly associated with this attack before anyone has even been arrested.

The truth is nobody knows who is to blame for these assaults and we won't know where to point the finger of blame until the police do their jobs and arrest those responsible.

Germany welcomed more than one million refugees last year and the vast majority have been peaceful and law-abiding. However, if it transpires that some refugees are implicated in this attack, then the matter needs to be dealt with decisively and the message needs to go out that this kind of aberrant behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

While Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker seems to think German women should adjust their behaviour, it is the men who commit these kinds of disgusting assaults that need to change or be locked up, whoever they are or wherever they come from.

Irish Independent

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