• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Opinion: New Year's Eve sex attacks
Silence on sex crimes will make racism worse
A woman in Egypt learns how to defend herself against a sexual attack. Photo: DPA

Silence on sex crimes will make racism worse

Jörg Luyken · 5 Jan 2016, 12:16

Published: 05 Jan 2016 12:16 GMT+01:00

The shocking sexual assaults that happened in Cologne during the New Year festivities - in which dozens of women were sexually abused and in one case raped by groups of young men - have an obvious parallel in events which took place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during mass protests of the Arab Spring

At the height of protests between 2011 and 2013, large numbers of sexual assaults took place in the square.

Groups of young men saw females who decided to leave the family home to protest as fair game for sexual assault.

This took place in a society where sexual harassment remains an everyday part of a woman’s life and where men are almost never prosecuted for such crimes.

Incidents of this nature are not confined to Egypt, but are a blight on large parts of the Arab world, where women are socially subjugated.

While there are differences between Tahrir Square and Cologne Cathedral - the Cologne attacks appear partly to have been diversions to enable theft - that men apparently of north African descent entered large crowds to sexually assault and even rape women - should set alarm bells ringing.

But no sober analysis of the influx of millions of people from the Middle East - the majority of whom are young men -  could fail to realize that certain behaviours prevalent there would be repeated here.

Lack of transparency

In the last few months, it has seemed that the authorities and the national media would rather sacrifice transparency for the sake of stability.

It was days before police gave full descriptions of the offenders in Cologne, despite a call for eyewitnesses. The national media also ignored the story until a wave of anger on social media made covering it unavoidable.

Official figures suggest that refugees are no more likely to commit sexual crimes than other sections of the population.

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere commented recently that “in general, the available recent trend findings show that refugees commit just as few or as many crimes as groups of the local population.”

But there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence of sexual crimes committed by new arrivals bubbling up from Germany's regional media.

In November a club in Bavaria started turning refugees away after a string of complaints of sexual harassment from female clients.

In Baden-Württemberg at least one hospital has hired guards to protect nurses who feel intimidated by the refugees they treat.

The Woman’s Council in Hesse claimed in an open letter to the state parliament in September that they have substantial evidence of sexual abuse, including forced prostitution, in refugee shelters.

In August a regional paper in North Rhine-Westphalia also reported police covering up a serious sexual crime. After hearing about the rape of a 13-year-old girl by a refugee, the paper enquired with police as to what crimes they knew of in the refugee shelters.

Although the case is being investigated by prosecutors, police reported that the only crimes were theft or fights caused by living at close quarters.

In the autumn police unions and women’s right groups both accused the authorities of playing down or even hiding cases of rape at refugee shelters.

"There is a lot of glossing over going on. But this doesn't represent reality," police union chief Rainer Wendt said at the time.

Media self-censorship

The national media also seems to be in on the act.

Despite the seriousness of the allegations of police cover-ups and a pattern of evidence of sexual abuse, major news outlets stay well away from the issue.

This is hardly surprising in a media climate which is far more comfortable wringing its hands over the far right than offering objective reporting.

Newsrooms are at one and the same time scared of appearing racist and terrified of stirring up a latent racism they believe still exists in German society.

The Nazi past still casts a long shadow. But whatever the intentions, covering up the facts doesn’t help anyone.

Story continues below…

Right-wing blogs are savvy enough to pick up on the discrepancies. When the national media don’t cover an issue which clearly troubles a great many people it feeds the perception spread by the far-right that they are the Lügenpresse (lying media).

Learn from Norway

If the centres of Cologne and other German cities - such as Hamburg, where reports of sexual violence on New Year's Eve emerged late on Monday - start to become a place where women no longer feel comfortable walking alone, people will quickly lose faith in the police.

Law enforcement and media alike would do well to learn from Norway’s experience.

As the New York Times recently reported, at first authorities tried to hide a link between rape and immigrant populations.

Now they offer lessons in the very basics of Norwegian law to new arrivals - like the fact that forcing a woman into sex is always illegal.

The seriousness of the crime in Cologne - and the fact that it has happened to German women rather than refugees - could signal a change in the national discussion. Hopefully it will start to win a few people back from the conspiracy theorists on the far right.

Jörg Luyken is a journalist at The Local Germany. Find him on Twitter at @jorgluyken.

For more news from Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jörg Luyken (joerg.luyken@thelocal.com)

Today's headlines
Ansbach suicide attack
Sleepy Bavarian town left shocked by suicide attack
Ansbach. Photo: DPA

Residents of Ansbach were left reeling Monday after a Syrian suicide bomber blew himself up outside a music festival, shattering the sleepy calm of this picture-postcard southern German city.

Rapturous reception at Wagner fest's opening night
Bayreuther festival 2016, Parsifal. Photo: DPA

Germany's legendary Bayreuth opera festival, dedicated to the works of Richard Wagner, got off to a rapturous start on Monday with a brand new production of the composer's last opera, "Parsifal", enthusiastically received by the first-night audience.

Erdogan accuses EU of not paying up under migrant deal
Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: DPA

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday accused the EU of not paying its way under a deal to send Syrian refugees back across the Aegean.

Ansbach suicide attack
Isis says Syrian bomber in Bavaria one of its 'soldiers'
Photo: DPA

The Syrian asylum seeker who blew himself up outside a music festival in Germany was a "soldier" of the Isis, the jihadist-linked Amaq news agency said on Monday.

Merkel's refugee policy was 'reckless': Left Party leader
Photo: DPA

The attacks carried out by refugees over the past week show accepting large numbers of refugees brings "significant problems", the party's chairwoman said on Monday.

Ansbach suicide attack
What we know about the Ansbach suicide bomber
The attacker's rucksack. Photo: DPA

He had had his asylum application rejected and had twice attempted suicide, say authorities.

Ansbach suicide attack
Ansbach suicide bomber confirms Isis loyalty in video
Police remove evidence from the bombers residence. Photo: DPA

The man who blew himself up in Ansbach, Bavaria, on Sunday evening, injuring 15 people, recorded a video in which he pledged his allegiance to terror group Isis.

Top 10 German firms with the highest-paid employees
Photo: DPA

Want to know which companies shell out the most for salaries?

How will Germany change after string of bloody attacks?
A policeman in Ansbach on Sunday evening. Photo: DPA

Within seven days Germany has been hit by four bloody attacks on innocent people on its streets and in a train. What does this unprecedented string of murders mean for the country?

After attacks, minister rejects blanket suspicion of refugees
Thomas de Maiziere. Photo: DPA

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Monday cautioned Germans against indiscriminately branding all refugees a security threat after a rash of attacks over the last week.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
DPA
Gallery
IN PICTURES: How Munich responded to shooting spree
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
10,692
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd