For many, New Year’s Eve is a time of celebration, where friends and family come together to commemorate the passing of a year and ultimately fumble into the next.
Like many, New Year’s Eve for me was full of joy and celebration as I sipped on a pint of beer, or ten, surrounded by loved ones. The night can be a cathartic and joyful opportunity to celebrate and acknowledge the highest and lowest moments of the year. Unfortunately, whilst the majority of people enjoyed New Year’s Eve internationally, over 100 women were the victims of gender-based assault during the New Year’s Eve celebrations in Cologne last year. In the space of a month, the cologne sex attacks have become a controversial topic of debate where leaked police documentation, questionable police practice, and the problematic depiction of perpetrators within the media has erupted conversation surrounding gender-based violence in relation to western culture and the avoidance of ownership.
The Cologne Sex Attacks highlighted the prevalence of gender-based violence within western culture. In relation to the 100 reported crimes, statistics show that two thirds of these assaults were of a sexual nature, two of which being reports of rape. Victims such as Muriel (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-35250903), describe the horrific experience of having a group of 30 to 40 men inappropriately touching her between her legs without consent. Other victims, such as Jenny, share experiences of physical assault, stating that her phone was stolen while she attempted to remove an alight firework that had been placed in her hood, leaving her burned and scarred for life.
The identification of these men was ambiguous, with some accounts suggesting that the perpetrators were of a North African or Arab appearance, whilst others highlighted the incomprehensible foreign language that was used. However, despite correspondents suggesting that these men were of a particular origin, published interviews with victims state the indistinguishable identities of the men. Articles often suggested that there was an overall consensus that these issues were caused by foreign men, however when looking at the witness and victim accounts they seem to focus on the police’s responsibility in these attacks.
One woman, Evelin, told German television, “We wanted help. We ran to these police cars but there was no one there…we know very well that the police at that moment were so understaffed that they couldn’t deal with this, that we women had to go through something like that.” Similar to Evelin, public accounts often shared similar experiences and issues with the lack of police presence.
Cologne Police chief Wolfgang Albers rejected criticism of his officers, describing the attacks as a “completely new dimension of crime”. Since then, there has been a continuous debate on where the blame lies. The federal interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, criticised police for “failing to do a proper job”. On the other hand, Rainer Wendt, head of the police trade union DPoIG, accused De Maizière of joint responsibility in the matter. Wendt suggested that insufficient officers was a cause of border control, relating back to Angela Merkel’s open door policy that allowed the entry of more than a million refugees.
The main issue I have with the media’s depiction of the attacks and the police’s response is that they both primarily focus on blame rather than reflection. Instead of passing blame, they should be tackling influential factors, such as hegemonic masculinity and lad culture, that appropriate and lead up to gender-based attacks. In this case, stereotyping perpetrators as migrants and refugees, without substantial evidence, can manipulate public perception of gender inequality as a non-western/external issue. This not only fails to acknowledge the deep-rooted history of gender inequality within most cultures, but does nothing in order to tackle these issues. I believe that it is our responsibility as humans, practitioners, teachers and politicians to acknowledge the issues surrounding gender inequality and assault, and to adapt our way of living in order to challenge discriminative views and behaviours.
Written by Bradley O’Donoghue. Bradley is a member of Tender’s Youth Board.