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14 January 2016

Comment Monika Hauser: Stop looking the other way! And no excuses! (#ausnahmslos)

The sexualised assaults in Cologne on New Year’s Eve were a nightmare for the women affected. They have a right to receive long-term support and to see the perpetrators brought to justice. The collective nature of these assaults was very unusual, but this can in no way be seen to justify racist ostracism and agitation. Nor should a sexist downplaying of other forms of sexualised violence be the result. Sexualised violence is a breach of human rights – wherever and whenever it happens.

On January 13, 2016, I called on the Mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, to launch a model project with the name “Cologne – A city free of sexualised violence”. The role model here is a campaign organised by our sister organisation Olakh in India with the title “Let's be the first to make our city free of sexual harassment!”. When if not now – with the city’s Carnival just around the corner?

Every year in Germany, some 8,000 cases of rape and sexual coercion are reported to the police. This is the official figure in the police statistics published by the Federal Ministry of the Interior, but the number of unreported cases is probably around 100,000 per year. That is according to the authors of a study published for the EU in 2009 with the title “Different systems, similar outcomes? Tracking attrition in reported rape cases in eleven European countries.”

Many politicians regard 'everyday' sexualised violence as an insignificant phenomenon or trivial crime

Yet only now do we hear cries of consternation: when the assaults are in some way spectacular and the suspected perpetrators have a migrant or possible Muslim background. What does this say about all those politicians now throwing their hands up in horror and competing to make the most severe suggestions about tightening up asylum and criminal law? They are taking advantage of the women and the events of New Year’s Eve to pursue their own interests, but continue to regard ‘everyday’ sexualised violence as an insignificant phenomenon or trivial crime.

What would a society be like where, after events such as these, politicians race to be the first and loudest to suggest long-term support for the women affected and those who provide such assistance? Or where a debate begins on the issue of how to finally rid religion and culture of their underlying sexist character? (Whether Christian or Islamic.)

We are calling for the women involved to be the focus of our discussions

Since New Year’s Eve in Cologne, over 500 incidents have been reported to the police, with 40-45 per cent of them involving sexualised violence. I wonder how the women are feeling. Situations of panic such as those which they experienced can continue to have an effect long after the event. And they can be very traumatic. Are the women being offered immediate, long-term psychological support? Are there enough resources to provide that? We have contacted various organisations providing advice in such cases and they have told us that as usual there is no additional funding or staff available.

We are calling for professional support to be provided to the affected women, free of charge

Our many years of experience with survivors of sexualised violence have shown us that great benefits can be achieved by means of such support. Especially in groups, if the women want that. It can be easier to process experiences such as these by sharing them in a group, with professional guidance. Appropriate assistance needs to be made accessible to everyone who needs it, for a long period. And the funding needs to be secured. It is also important to personally inform the affected women of the progress of investigations into the crimes.

We are calling for zero tolerance during the prosecution of sexualised violence

A modern constitutional state such as Germany cannot and should not accept over 100,000 rapes and cases of sexual coercion per year. Current loopholes in the law governing sexual offences need to be closed so the judicial system can prosecute and sentence the perpetrators of these deeds. The police need to be equipped to do their job and given awareness-raising training to help them protect everyone! In this regard, the police also need to consult with women’s associations.

The assaults in Cologne need to be thoroughly investigated. We also need to be aware that it is about more than the incidents on New Year’s Eve: sexualised violence is widespread and present at public events such as Carnival and the Munich Oktoberfest or smaller affairs such as office parties. Whatever the context, the judicial system cannot be allowed to fail us when it comes to prosecuting sexualised violence.

We need a process of change in the way we deal with sexualised violence in Germany. We need a sophisticated and honest public debate on the roots and causes of sexualised violence. We have to take a look at misogynist attitudes and images in the media and advertising. We need to analyse traditional images of masculinity and question them. There needs to be a fundamental process of change in the way we deal with sexualised violence in Germany. The culture of silence and looking the other way has to end.

Women are to be respected – this needs to be taught to everyone, regardless of their skin colour. Women have to feel safe in public spaces.

 

medica mondiale is supporting the #ausnahmslos (no excuses) campaign as one of its founding signatories. Join in at http://ausnahmslos.org/english.