The infamous New Year's sexual assaults at Cologne's central train station were committed by men who looked "Arab" or "North African," according to witnesses, but violence against women doesn't have a skin color.
AP Photo/Hermann J. Knippertz
This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.
Ever since New Year's Eve, German media have largely been discussing the violence at Cologne's central train station in terms of a rape culture that was imported into Germany—simply because the perpetrators in this case looked "Arab" or "North African," according to witnesses. The only point being, of course, that the men weren't white.
That's an idea that renders sexualized violence and theft harmless by trivializing and exorcizing both notions. The fact that our society and its institutions aren't in any position to protect those affected by the violence and identify its culprits doesn't in any way mean that there's never been sexualized violence in Germany before. In fact, Germany's rape culture is deeply rooted in our collective psyche.
Sexual assaults and even rape happen every year at big events like Oktoberfest. "The way to the toilet alone is like running the gauntlet: within 50 feet, you can be sure to tally three hugs from drunken strangers, two pats on the ass, someone looking up your dirndl, and some beer purposely splashed right down your cleavage," wrote Karoline Beisel and Beate Wild in 2011, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. An average of ten reported rapes take place each year at Oktoberfest. The estimated number of unreported cases is 200.
A 2004 study on the living conditions, security, and health of women in Germany, showed that 13 percent of German women have experienced a form of criminal sexualized violence. The scandal is that only 8 percent of these women filed a complaint with the police. If you include multiple complaints, then the figure decreases to 5 percent. That means that an incredible 95 percent of women in Germany who experience sexual violence don't report it to the police.
According to German law, in order to get a conviction for sexual assault, the victim must prove that they resisted the violence.
Yet the media would still rather talk at length about false accusations, even if they are rare. Depending on the statistics and the country, they account for between 1 and 9 percent of all reported cases—in Germany that number lies between 3 and 5 percent.
The reason behind all that is that in German law, the victim's behavior plays a big role when it comes to sexual assault. In order to get a conviction, the victim must prove that they resisted the violence. This is a completely absurd requirement, largely based on numerous myths about how sexualized violence is carried out. That's why a victim freezing in shock—a common and natural reaction to violence—often leads to the perpetrator being acquitted. Just imagine that the burden of proof for theft lay on whether the person robbed had adequately defended themselves: "Sorry Miss, you didn't hold on to your purse tight enough, it's your own fault."
Amid all this, the perpetrator's skin color or religion is irrelevant. With what happened in Cologne, we'll have to see whether those sexual assaults end up being as thoroughly investigated as the property theft that occurred simultaneously. To date, 90 women have filed complaints according to Zeit Online, with 75 percent of them concerning sexual offenses. Two of them are rape cases.
Nobody's denying that people with immigrant backgrounds or of the Muslim faith are also guilty of committing sex crimes. But to act as if their cultural background has "programmed" them to do so, while making all sorts of excuses and downplaying the crimes of white Germans, will always be racist rabble-rousing.
The clearest thing to come out of the debate around what happened in Cologne as of yet is that Germany has a sexism issue and a racism issue. Both are deep-rooted and were not "imported." It's our responsibility as a society to move towards a culture that celebrates mutual consent and respects boundaries. And that applies to all people, because one sexual assault is one too many—no matter where it took place and who it involved.