With racism against sexism?

Against sexual violence and its racist exploitation

During the night of New Year’s Eve numerous women* were subjected to sexual assault in the area of Cologne central station. The attacks appeared to happen out of a big group of men; at least 121 victims came forward so far.

The (supposed) perpetrators were described as having a ‘north African appearance’. This shift towards People of Colour as perpetrators seems to have increased the public outrage about the attacks. Usually, there is no such immense public outcry after similar cases of sexual assault and rape in this country. Rather, the victim is blamed for the attack or is accused of being at least partly responsible for what happened.

We think outrage against sexual violence is good! Connecting it to racism isn’t.

Not a question of presence of police

The events were fiercely discussed in the local newspapers. But the sexual assaults were often reduced to an incidental occurrence. The (supposed) origin of the attackers and questions of security were the main focus. Thus, the local newspapers added to shift the problem to something else: away from sexism and rape culture towards a discussion fuelled by racism.

The ‘Kölner Stadtanzeiger’ titled one of their articles ‘Federal Police no longer in control of the situation’: during the night of New Year’s Eve they claimed they were understaffed. At least the article clarifies that the supposed attackers are not refugees. “They do not have anything to do with the refugees who flee here from regions of crisis”, states an investigator according to the KStA. The article then continues that due to the arrival of refugees many police units are working at the borders or registering them; therefore, they are missing in other places – also at the central station in Cologne. So somehow it’s still the refugees’ fault…

Sexual violence is of no concern at all. It is all about gang delinquency and lack of police.

It is not because of a lack of police that sexual assault happens. The reason it occurs is to be found in the sexist and heteronormative structures of our society. Of which the police is a part of. There are reasons, why many incidents of sexual harassment or assault and rape are not reported to the police. The victims often fear the reaction of their environment: the attacker, the investigator, or the expectations of a court hearing. When the victims reported the attacks to the police at New Year’s Eve at least some of them weren’t taken serious, their experiences were downplayed.

Even though it is rare that sexual attacks happen in an organized form by a big group, sexual violence against women* is common and happens on a daily basis in Germany and elsewhere. One out of two women* has experienced (sexual) violence or harassment. Usually, the perpetrator is a part of the social network, parties and clubs are also places where sexual assault happens. During carnival, the Oktoberfest, local parish fairs or at home countless sexualised assaults happen; too often they are suppressed, ignored or talked down.

Racist uproar on Facebook

The events of New Year’s Eve have been lively discussed in the social networks. Racist arguments were blatantly spread. The bouncer milieu founded an online group, which wants to ‘clean the city’ of those they have identified as the attackers. Within several hours the online group had more than 1.000 members. Most of them can be located within the bouncer-, martial arts, hooligan-milieu; explicit Nazi-symbolism can partly be found. They want to protect ‘our women’, the comments brim over with racism. Apart from that, women* appear as helpless victims who depend on the protection of these ‘tough guys’.

Pro NRW absorbs the topic gratefully: they announced an action for Wednesday. To them, it will also be about the supposed origin of the attackers and not about the women*, who were subjected to sexual assault.

Within the current discourse the question of sexual violence almost ceases to exist. There is an at least partial ethnification of the perpetrators, for which the experience of the affected women* is misused. It is misused for the demand for more police, the shift of responsibility for sexism towards (supposed) non-Germans or even for a platform for an absurd blend of bouncer-, hooligan-, martial arts and Nazi-milieu. People, who usually aren’t particularly known as friends of women’s rights and enrich themselves through the sexual exploitation of women*, can now present themselves as the defender of women*’s rights.

The violence, that women* were subjected to during New Year’s Eve has been more and more (mis-)used to express racist ideas in a supposedly legitimised manner and for women*’s rights. Sexism does not have a specific skin colour or origin. Against the patriarchy, against racism!