On New Year’s Eve, dozens of women were attacked and groped — one woman claimed she was raped, in a mass sexual assault.
A group of men between the ages of 15 and 35 first distracted the crowds by throwing firecrackers into the masses and then moved among the crowds, sexually assaulting women and pick-pocketing others. Witnesses told the police that the assaults were carried out by about 500 to 1,000 men (we are not making this up) and they were of “Arab and North African origins.”
And as per usual, there’s always someone who argues that this is a direct consequence of allowing refugees and immigrants into the country. This time it was an MP in Angela Markel’s party, Steffen Bilger, who tweeted that Germany needs to tighten its borders.
Before we talk about rape and sexual assault rates committed by non-Arab and non-North African assailants in Germany, it’s important to state that local police said many of the men are familiar to them and they are not newly arrived refugees.
In more recent news, according to Al-Jazeera, at least 22 asylum seekers have been identified from among 32 suspects in connection with assaults and robberies.
But none of the 32 are currently suspected of committing sexual assaults like the ones committed in Cologne, Germany.
Odd though, isn’t it? This incident made major headlines and the first reaction many had was to tighten border control and kick out refugees — even though there’s no evidence of any refugee involvement. But sexual assault is not new to Germany.
In fact, Germany has seen major spikes in sexual assaults during other holidays — most notably Oktoberfest. In recent years, a Munich-based institute for the prevention of sexual abuse set up help points for women who have had too much to drink or have been victims of sexual assault.
Each year, about 12 women attending the Oktoberfest report rape or attempted rape, according to the Women’s Emergency Crisis Center Munich. Many believe that the number of unreported cases could be 10 to 20 times higher.
There’s a double standard here, though we really aren’t surprised. As soon as people even suspect that the perpetrators could be refugees of Arab or African descent, they lose all common sense and immediately call for the deportation of all immigrants.
Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees in recent months — about 127,000 in December alone. Ascribing sexual and misogynistic violence to one culture, to one religion, is a horrible mistake.
It certain doesn’t help that fake photos and stories have circulated throughout Europe, featuring young, beautiful (and often blonde) women battered and beaten, with a caption that usually warns of an imminent “epidemic” of Arab/North African male hordes raping their way through Europe.
It seems right-wing groups have capitalized on the Cologne attack in order to push their rabidly nationalistic and racist agenda to deport immigrants and make Europe “white” again. Any European history buff should feel a strange shiver of déjà vu right about now — in the 19th century, imperialists and race ideologues often painted a portrait of the “native male” as a rabidly hyper-sexual creature with an insatiable appetite for white women, and the popular European imagination produced quite a few stories that followed a common trope: The “pure” and “virginal” European white woman at the mercy of a sexually ravenous native male, who needed to be “saved” by the virtuous and morally upstanding European male protagonist.
This trope actually predates the 19th century; Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene,” for instance, features a helpless Lady Una being sexually assaulted by a “Saracen” (African Muslim) villain, but she’s luckily saved from “ruin” by the virtuous Redcrosse Knight.
Apparently, orientalist ideologies have survived, despite the claims of many European political pundits and academics that Europe has shed its colonialist past. Furthermore, women’s bodies are still the battlefield where warring political ideologies are played out, where these orientalist views still find expression.
In traditionally patriarchal societies, a woman’s “sexual virtue” is often the measuring stick traditionalists use to determine how “successful” their culture is in remaining “intact” from “foreign influence.”
In many places in the Middle East, the women are ordered to “cover” as a preventative measure to make sure “wicked western values” don’t “infect women’s virtuosity,” and in Europe, Europeans males must “protect European women’s sexual virtue” from “sexually depraved brown men.”
Ask yourself this: Would the reactions of those outraged be the same if the suspects were inebriated German men? Probably not — something (Read: Past similar incidents in Germany) tells me that the incident would merely be shrugged off as “boys will be boys.”
Or worse, the victims would have been blamed and forgotten about. So maybe it’s not “European women’s sexual virtues” that need protection, but on some primal level, there’s this notion that sexual assault by Arab/African men is some meta-metaphor for the invasion of Middle Eastern culture into Europe?
Sexual assault is a horrific, traumatizing crime that no woman should ever suffer through. The perpetrators need to be properly punished, while the victims should be nurtured and cared for, with every effort expended to provide them the counseling services they need to help cope with their trauma. The absolute last thing women need when suffering through such trauma is to have their violation politicized and exploited for a right-wing agenda.