Wednesday, January 06, 2016

How Not To Get Sexually Molested: Lessons From Henriette Reker, the Mayor of Cologne

After the events of Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart (and Düsseldorf) I wrote about yesterday,  the mayor of Cologne organized a crisis meeting.  Good things came out of it:

The crisis management team said prevention measures should include a code of conduct for young women and girls, and Mayor Reker said the existing code of conduct will be updated online.
The suggested code of conduct includes maintaining an arm’s length distance from strangers, to stick within your own group, to ask bystanders for help or to intervene as a witness, or to inform the police if you are the victim of such an assault.
In anticipation of large carnivals in the city centre in February, Mayor Reker promised an increased police presence. She warned young women about potential dangers of drunken events.

Mayor Reker also said a “better explanation” to asylum seekers was needed about the meaning of the annual carnivals.
“We need to prevent confusion about what constitutes happy behaviour and what is utterly separate from openness, especially in sexual behaviour," she said.

Bolds are mine.

I cannot stop laughing.  I imagine German women now walking about with their arms horizontally extended, making sure that any stranger stays out of the reach of their finger tips.  Especially fascinating to try to do this in a rush-hour subway car!  Well, in any crowded place, such as large cities tend to be.

Besides, a harasser is unlikely to honor your arm's length of private space*.  That's the definition of a harasser.

The Guardian reports that:

Journalists at the press conference said the mayor had reacted with surprise to the initial question and her struggle for an answer demonstrated the extent to which it had caught her off guard.
That is also laughable.  Women were the victims in Cologne,  and the mayor had not thought about them long enough to baste together something less inane about the "proposed code of conduct!"

Even the idea that women are to have a code of conduct makes me giggle.  Maybe this is just because of the English translation, but the association in my mind is to schoolgirls who are allowed out only under strictly defined conditions.

And of course all this veers very close to victim blaming, because the advice is such weak tea (almost pointless)** and so thoughtlessly prevented, and because Reker's advice to anyone who might consider molesting women seems to be the even more inane idea that those men don't know it's wrong!  They know it's wrong, they just want to do it.

The social media reaction to this "advice" was ridicule, and I agree that mayor Reker deserved that in this particular case.

See this clarification to the post.

*Unless you measure that arm's length with a sword or a machete.  But then you get into trouble with the police.

** That's because harassers don't care about your private space and because harassers working in teams can easily separate you from your friends.  Bystanders may not be present or may not intervene, and reporting the harassment to the police doesn't prevent it.   And of course you might be out alone, gasp, in which case your friends are imaginary.