Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Meanwhile, in Cologne, Germany

(Posts beginning with "meanwhile" are about negative events which affect women somewhere in the world).

Note:  This post has been corrected.  Originally it stated that the number of those doing the assaulting equaled one thousand men.  That's because of the way many newspapers reported this, including here and the quote I used in this post.  The New York Times also reports several hundred attackers.   More clarity on the actual numbers will have to wait for the police investigations.

On New Year's Eve pairs or small groups of young men of Arabic or North African appearance assaulted women at Cologne's main railway station.  Similar groups attacked women in Hamburg and in Stuttgart:

Police in Germany are investigating an alarming series of sexual assaults on women trying to celebrate the New Year by large groups of single men “of Arab or North African appearance”.
Authorities in the city of Cologne are to hold a crisis meeting on Tuesday after police described a group of some 1,000 men who took over the area around the main station on New Year’s Eve.
Women were robbed, groped, and had their underwear torn from their bodies, while couples had fireworks thrown at them.
Police have received 90 criminal complaints, around a quarter of them for sexual assault, including one case of rape.
Police in Hamburg say there was a series of similar incidents in the city’s Reeperbahn red-light area. Witnesses described groups of five to 15 men of who “hunted” women in the streets.
“Some girls were chased like cattle,” a 17-year-old woman told Bild newspaper. “I’m stunned that such a thing is possible in Hamburg. It makes you scared to celebrate in the neighbourhood.

Why did it take until yesterday, January fourth,  for news about this violence to appear in newspapers?  The most likely reason is that German authorities (police) and/or media feared provoking anti-refugee sentiment,  given that most refugees in Germany are of "Arab or North African appearance."

But to make that choice of censoring automatically implies a second simultaneous choice:  What happened to those women in Cologne and Hamburg and Stuttgart is not worth reporting; some other cause is more important than the well-being of women. *

And ultimately that policy of censoring is self-defeating.  It breeds distrust of the official news media, it provides more support for the anti-immigrant parties, and it is quite likely to create the impression that any such crimes swept under the carpet are bigger and more common than they actually are**.


*This is a real dilemma for those who support both women's rights and refugee rights, and I'm not belittling the importance of not provoking anti-refugee sentiment in Germany or elsewhere.  The vast majority of immigrants, migrants or refugees to Europe do not commit crimes, including crimes against women.

But it is naive to assume that Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans, say,  would have exactly the  same views about how women should behave and how women behaving in certain ways can be treated as the average German does.

Germany may be a patriarchal country, but Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan are vastly more so, and not planning for this difference in the education of refugees and migrants spells trouble.  As I've written before, people move with their values in their suitcases or backpacks, and an explicit unpacking of those patriarchal gender ideas is necessary.  Even when it is not sufficient, at least people are told what is against the law.

** For instance, the German police has stated that the most recent wave of refugees seems to have lower rates of crime than Germans on average.

(Now, should one trust that report?  See how the policy of censoring is a very very bad one.)