Lessons from Cologne’s new year’s eve sex attacks

Pradip Rodrigues

In the past twelve days, an astounding 600 women in Cologne have come forward to report being groped, robbed or both by groups of asylumdrunken revelers almost all of  whom were identified as asylum seekers or immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East.
On New Year’s Eve, over a thousand men fanned out in the crowds of revelers in the square in front of the Cologne Cathedral, they systematically hunted down women, separated them from their friends and then proceeded to grope and in many instances rob them of their personal belongings. It now emerges that 40 per cent of the complaints were sexual in nature while the rest were physical assaults and robbery.
Last year an astonished world gasped as German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw open her country to Syrian and other refugees, over one million refugees have streamed into the country and thousands more come in every day, most are overwhelmingly male. Herein lies the problem. Hordes of men regardless of nationality with lots of time on their hands, very little to do and with no family ties in their new surroundings can quickly become a menace.
Reports of gangs of immigrant men sexually harassing or robbing women are coming in from Sweden which has also accepted large number of asylum seekers as well as from other German cities like Hamburg and Stuttgart.
Now what has certainly outraged Germans and all right thinking people around the world was the initial response from the media to suppress the news and political leaders were reluctant and slow to speak up. Had the perpetrators been neo-Nazis and the victims hapless asylum seekers, news agencies from around the world would have been reporting on it for days. But instead it took days before the story gained traction and made headlines around the world. Why? Simple because the authorities feared that releasing the fact that a large number of the suspects were foreigners and asylum seekers would play into the hands of anti-immigration groups. It was the same response when the Rotterham child sexual exploitation scandal in the UK broke. Hundreds of girls were systematically groomed, raped and abused for years by groups of British-Pakistani men.  Authorities there opted for political correctness and pretended that race and ethnicity had nothing to do with the crime.

The culture of silence is not helpful

Following the sexual assaults and robberies in Cologne, a news report charged that Swedish police failed to report widespread sexual assaults against teenage girls at “We are Sthlm” a music festival last summer.
Scores of Swedish teenage girls were approached by groups of mostly Afghan asylum seekers who pretended to dance with the girls and then ended up groping and in many cases robbed them as well.
The truth is that by reporting on the ethnicity of those responsible for sexually molesting women in public does end up stigmatizing foreign men in the west. On the other hand, it casts a bright spotlight on the issue race and culture. It also highlights the difficulty of integrating a large number of men from societies where women are often at the receiving end into western societies where women enjoy a level of freedom that is hard for these newcomers to comprehend. The problem has become so bad in Germany that Bornheint, a west German town recently barred male asylum seekers from using the public swimming pool after many women said they were being harrassed. A carnival in another town has been cancelled after security agencies were not convinced they could guarantee the safety of women. So what may end up happening is that the open culture of a country may end up mirroring more closed and conservative societies. Once again, women may be forced to live the way women were expected to live a hundred years ago in Europe and the US. What would really make sense is that these incidents should  presents an opportunity to figure out ways to ensure such incidents never happen again. Asylum seekers who believe they can get away with such criminal acts should be put on notice and deported. By acknowledging the fact that there is a degree of culture shock when people who have never seen sexually liberated women out in public in their own societies are exposed quite literally to an openness that simply scandalizes them.

Negative stereotype of western women

Thanks to pornography and the stereotype of western women being ‘easy’ and ‘available’ these men think they can get away with casually touching women in public or insisting on a kiss or more simply because random women on the street smile at them or strike up conversation. This often happens at outdoor music festivals and carnivals where drunken revelry is socially acceptable. Needless to say hostility toward immigrants and people of color is growing really fast. Reports of asylum seekers of Pakistani origin being beaten by a mob in Germany may just be the beginning. Brown or dark-skinned tourists could also be fair game for hostile right-wingers who have seized upon the Cologne attacks to assert their opposition to European and German immigration and asylum policies. On the other side of the pond, it will be even harder to expect Americans to open their doors to Syrian refugees or any refugee group from the Middle-East and in Canada opposition to letting in more Syrian refugees may increase.
But this isn’t really fair at all to the vast majority of asylum seekers who seek a new beginning and to get away from it all. Women in sexually repressed societies, India included are subjected to harassment in public, groping in public places is to be expected in cities like Delhi and Mumbai too. There is an underlying culture of violence against women in South Asian countries as well.

Large groups of men can spell trouble anywhere

Put a group of men from any background together, ply them with alcohol and then expose them to clusters of girls dancing and having a blast and these curious men will approach these women in some way or form. If they are smart and sophisticated, they may strike up a conversation and attempt to hook up, if they come from cultures where dating is an alien concept, they may make crude advances, lewd comments and may simply touch women inappropriately, especially in crowded public places.
I have a large group of South Asian foreign students at a Mississauga mall literally undress women with their eyes as they milled around the entrance. I stood nearby and listened to some really lewd remarks they made about the women they saw. Sure they didn’t do anything more than probably make those passing girls very uncomfortable by ogling them shamelessly, could this group of students ever be capable of doing more than that if given an opportunity? Large groups of men regardless of ethnicity would end up acting obnoxiously after a few drinks. If they had girlfriends they may hold back, but if they had no jobs, social status or prospects of landing a girlfriend, it might well be another story.

Pradip Rodrigues started out as a journalist at Society magazine, part of the Magna Group in Mumbai. He wrote extensively on a variety of subjects. He later moved to the Times of India where he was instrumental in starting the now defunct E-times, a television magazine. He conceptualized Bombay Times and became its first assistant editor where he handled features and page three. Since coming to Canada in 2000, he has freelanced for newspapers and magazines in India and written autobiographies for seniors.

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