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'Men touched my body and I was surprised; I thought this doesn't happen in Germany'

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'Men touched my body and I was surprised; I thought this doesn't happen in Germany'
Photo: Anja Samy.
10:11 CEST+02:00
In wake of the global #MeToo campaign, recently launched to raise awareness of how widespread assault and harassment are, The Local spoke to people on the streets of Berlin to find out whether they had ever experienced sexual harassment before.

“Once when I was celebrating New Years at Brandenburg Gate, it occurred that men touched my body and I was very surprised because I thought this doesn’t happen in Germany,” Chihiro, originally from Japan, told The Local.

“Before I had time to react, they were gone,” she said, adding that it was an exceptional case as she’s never experienced anything else like it in the ten years she’s lived in Germany.

Still, Chihiro’s experience is reminiscent of the sexual assaults by hundreds of young, mostly immigrant men in the western city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve almost two years ago which prompted the government to tighten rape laws a few months later.

But while the incidents initiated nationwide debates about sexual harassment at the time, the issue is still ongoing.

This year in May a 27-year-old Libyan man was given four months’ jail for grabbing a woman’s buttocks three times against her will in public, likely the first conviction in Germany under a new regulation.

Another woman The Local spoke to, Sophie from Hamburg, said she witnesses a form of sexual harassment “almost every other day” - not the groping kind, but the kind that involves how she is looked at and spoken to.

“I’ve built up armour to walk through the streets and also, sometimes ... I don’t feel good dressing too feminine because then I get more harassment,” she said.

But not every woman can relate to constantly being badgered in the capital city. Marge, a student from Paderborn, North Rhine-Westphalia, told The Local she “luckily” had never been a victim of harassment of a sexual nature before.

“I suppose there’s sexual harassment everywhere in the world, but in Germany it’s not so openly discussed,” Marge said.

The #MeToo campaign is changing that, though, both online and offline.

This week all over the world people have been opening up, sharing their stories and calling for more to be done to tackle sexual harassment - including a well-known German actress named Nina Brandhoff.

Nina Brandhoff. Photo: DPA.

Famed for her roles in television series such as “Rosenheim-Cops” or “Der Bergdoktor,” the 42-year-old told Spiegel Online in a report published on Thursday that some of her colleagues “take advantage of their status as leading actors."

One of Brandhoff’s colleagues for instance once pulled up her t-shirt to look underneath, she stated. “He bothers almost every woman on the set. But no one's saying anything. He's too important for the show."

On another occasion, according to Brandhoff, a director who had promised her a role told her: “I would like to get your breasts out of your shirt and play around with them."

"The perpetrators have such power because they profit from the silence of the victims and their shame," said the 42-year-old.

But some victims aren’t staying silent any longer; dozens of people in the German film and television industry spoke to Spiegel Online about the sexual harassment they had seen or experienced for themselves. None of them dared to disclose their names though.

One 37-year-old actor argued in the report that women sexually harass men, too. He said he knows a female casting director that gives roles to young male actors if they show that they’re embracing her at parties.

The dangers of an industry in which power lies in the hands of very few people have been recently exposed by the Harvey Weinstein scandal - a Hollywood producer accused of harassing, sexually coercing and even raping actresses for years.

Over two dozen women - including actresses such as Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow - have made accusations against him, charges which Weinstein denies.

The #MeToo campaign follows the US producer’s rape allegations, gaining momentum after actress Alyssa Milano in a tweet on Sunday asked victims of sexual assault to show solidarity and come forward.

Since then, in addition to high-profile actors taking to Twitter and Facebook to highlight the problem of sexual assault under the #MeToo hashtag, just by speaking about it, everyday people are highlighting it too.

With people all over the globe telling similar stories, it seems the issue crosses borders.

Two Swiss women The Local spoke to in Berlin said they think the men in Switzerland are more aggressive, one of them describing the men there as dogs that “don’t have any limits” when they get drunk.

And even though what Chihiro once endured at the Brandenburg Gate on New Years can under new laws be considered sexual assault, for the Japan native, living in Germany as a woman is a far cry from what it's like living in Japan.

In Japan, Chihiro says, men touching women inappropriately on the train or the subway “happens often or you hear about it often. There’s even an extra carriage on the subways only for women.” 

“But in Germany I haven’t often experienced this,” she said.

With DPA

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