News footage from the cathedral city of Köln on New Year’s Eve. Cellphone video shows unruly crowds shooting off fireworks carelessly. The local officials are worried that the appearance of some of the men in the footage might spark riots against refugees and foreigners. There is also talk of increased security in light of the pre-Lenten carnival celebrations for which the city is world-famous.
Happy New Year, ladies! How’re your hangovers? Still not feeling great? Well, just be thankful you weren’t ringing in 2016 in Germany, then, because more than one major city has seen some new and unprecedented violence this year. No, it wasn’t terrorists — at least, not the kind with a clear ideology. This was sexual terrorism, and the targets weren’t buildings or officials or even official parties. They were the oldest targets of terrorism of all…namely, WOMEN:
How could it happen that on New Year’s Eve, in the middle of Köln at the main railway station, big packs of men could assault women? Countless victims have testified to sexual violence. And more and more keep coming forward. Where were the police, anyway? And how did other passersby react? Did they look away?
At times, there might have been a thousand men. One of the assaulted women told of “fingers in all orifices”. Another says they “tore tights and underwear” off her. Another one says that about 30 men surrounded her, called her a “slut”, and groped her butt, breasts and between her legs.
Another one was kettled in, jeered at, and pelted with cherry bombs. She told EMMA that she is 50 years old, she would like to be called Susanne, and reports: “I just wanted to cross the station quickly with my girlfriend to have a beer in a pub on the other side. But as soon as we got to the station yard, all I could see was men. There were hundreds! And they treated us like prey!”
There is talk of panic and screaming, of fear and helplessness. And of a rape. Just one, so far.
There were scenes like those we saw on TV of Tahrir Square, as the situation in Egypt was escalating and countless women — Egyptians and western journalists alike — became victims of sexual violence. But this time, the mass assaults took place not in Egypt, and not in any other land in a state of civil war, but in the middle of Germany. And on one of the supposedly best-secured places in all the land: the main train station of Köln.
And on New Year’s Eve, of all times — amid a Europe-wide state of emergency against “terror threats”, when heightened security measures supposedly reigned. But the terror of that night had nothing to do with suitcase bombs and machine guns. These men were using their hands as weapons. And so the police and security personnel were apparently blind at first to what was going on in front of the backdrop provided by the famous city cathedral.
Officials were “totally taken by surprise” at the sheer magnitude of the violence. At a press conference in Köln on Monday, where EMMA was also present, police president Wolfgang Albers spoke of “crimes in a whole new dimension”.
What is known so far: Between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., on New Year’s Eve, there were physical injuries, muggings, and sexual assaults around the Köln railway station. Up to a thousand men had been assembled at times, and according to some witnesses, “came from the North African and Arabian areas”. The police can’t and won’t say more about the perpetrators, apparently. Only that there were many. And that nobody was arrested.
And also: That at least one in every four witness accounts dealt with sexual violence against women. How many women are among the to date 90 victims who have come forward to police to complain, the police can’t say (although that really shouldn’t be very hard). Specialized personnel for the care of sexual violence victims were called up, they say.
There are many open questions after this terror-night in Köln. For example: How can it even be that aggressive and drunken mobs of men could be gathered on a highly secured spot like the train station in such numbers, to harass women en masse, even abuse them — without an immediate response? The police esplain that with the difficulty of overseeing the spot, the wild and alcoholic atmosphere, the noise of fireworks. “You couldn’t hear a call for help,” they say. In any case, there were 143 officers on scene — and they all didn’t hear or see a thing? Or did they just not take that very seriously?
The situation escalated so much that the area had to be cleared from time to time that night on account of rioting. But not one man was arrested for sexual harassment.
“The perpetrators used targeted groping of the women to distract them from the actual crime: theft of valuables,” reads the Köln police press statement. What are they trying to tell us there? That sexual harassment is no “crime”? And anyway, whoever wants to steal a cellphone will do so quickly and furtively. Men who surround women and grope them between the legs want to do just that. They’re not just robbing the women of their phones, but of their dignity.
Just as men have been doing it for centuries, all over the world, although as a rule in houses, behind closed doors, in secret. The “new quality” of the assaults at the train station lies in the disinhibition needed to do this violence out in public — under the eyes of thousands of onlookers, including those of the police officers. It’s never been like that in Germany before.
And then there’s another question that might touch off the tinder of the already heated refugee debate: Where did these men come from? How can it be that such a large number of men band together and run amuck in a public place like the train station for hours?
EMMA goes on to report that the Reeperbahn, Hamburg’s famous red-light district, and Stuttgart, a city all-too-well-known for its prostitution, also fell victim to wolf-packs of drunken, rapacious men on New Year’s Eve.
Somehow, despite some people’s eagerness to blame North African and Middle Eastern refugees, I don’t think refugees are the real problem here. As the EMMA article itself points out, this is the kind of thing that happens all the time, domestically, and all but invisibly. Sexual violence has no ethnicity and no religion; it’s a near-universal thing. As is the willingness of police to overlook it: “Oh, just a domestic dispute” is a common refrain from the boys (and it IS mostly BOYS) in blue, usually following a rape and preceding a murder.
Violence against women is and always will be taken less seriously, whether in a railway station or a part of any city which is famous for its legal (but barely and poorly regulated) brothels. All of this is no coincidence. Under the present prostitution law in Germany, it’s quite permissible to do anything to anyone who is deemed to be for sale. Brothels routinely advertise an “anything goes” climate of condom-free, cheap, flat-rate sex, no limits. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that young men would think that a drunken, party-hearty atmosphere such as that of New Year’s Eve would be their great opportunity to grab publicly and for free what they’d otherwise be paying 50 to 100 euros for the privilege of doing in private.
And the police can’t do anything about it, either? Well, there’s a shock. They’re not allowed to raid a mega-bordello unless there’s good cause to believe it’s involved in a human trafficking ring, and that suspects matching descriptions of Eastern European mafiosi have been seen wandering in and out its doors, possibly with under-age girls in tow. There HAVE been raids, but they’ve been few in comparison to the likely number of actual violators.
And if refugees happen to come from a climate where it’s widely believed that any woman out in public is a prostitute herself, and therefore “fair game” for whatever molestation the dudes have in mind, that’s hardly surprising either. They’re coming from one such climate and landing in another, I’m sad to say. Germany has set itself up for this…not by allowing refugees, but by allowing pimping and brothel-keeping, and with it, human smuggling — not from troubled parts of the Middle East or northern Africa, but from Ukraine, Moldova and Romania.
In the meantime, it’s a fact of life in German cities with red-light districts: If you’re a woman, passing through after dark, you stand a good chance of being solicited, harassed, even assaulted. It doesn’t matter if you’re for sale or not; you’ll be treated like you are. No matter your age, your looks, or how you’re dressed.
And if young Middle Eastern refugee guys come into a major German city, one famous for its brothels, with no job prospects, and with nothing to spend, and they learn that it’s okay to party in the streets on some occasions, well…obviously, they’re not going to patronize a legal brothel and cough up so many of the precious euros they need for food and housing, and to support their families who are still coming. No, they’re just gonna grab what they can, while they can. After all, it’s legal behind closed doors! And it’s New Year’s Eve, and everyone else is drinking. Woohoo!
And the cops aren’t going to be looking out for that, but for terrorists that didn’t show up. Because the German cops are just as sexist as any Middle Eastern refugee, and because they’re probably more than a little racist in terms of who they expect to be perpetrating what kind of violence, and because they, too, think this sort of thing is normal, to be expected when everyone’s partying, and nothing to be worried about. Not like, say, a suitcase bomb going off in a train or anything.
After all, most of them are not women, and will never know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of sexual terror in their own lives.
In the meantime, German women might want to draw inspiration and fighting tips from their Moroccan sister, here: