Cologne: Violence against women is by no means "foreign"

Article published on Jan. 12, 2016
Article published on Jan. 12, 2016

[OPINION] After the series of sexual assaults that took place in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, the European right have emerged en masse to condemn the recent influx of refugees and associated “liberal” migration policy. However, when it comes to the question of woman’s rights, does the problem really originate beyond our borders? 

It didn’t take them long to react. On New Year’s Eve in Cologne – a city in the west of Germany – around a hundred women were victims of a series of attacks and sexually assults, describing their assailants as men "of Arab and North African origin". Before long the most repulsive branch of the political right across the Old Continent was placing the blame squarely at the feet of refugees, as well as the policies that support them and the multiculturalism that some of us are so very proud of.

This incident has given rise to just as many questions as it has contradictory opinions. It’s not clear why the police and the media waited so long to report the case. We also have to clarify how it came to be that a thousand men decided to simultaneously violate the rights of these women – at the same time and in the same place – in a manner that would have to have required coordinated beforehand.

While some people are quicker to point the finger and assign the blame for this abhorrent event, we all hope that these questions will be answered and that the perpetrators will be caught – yet in the debate surrounding the rights of women in Europe, something continues to smell rotten. Perhaps it is because we Europeans should look a little closer to home, within our own borders, before doling out lessons on gender equality, or before asserting that attacks such as the ones in Cologne could be avoided by stricter immigration controls.

Yet this whole affair still presents a good time to talk about the problem of sexual harassment. There are still people who attack, insult and persecute female journalists for bringing up the subject on social media (as well as all those who follow their project). There is still controversy surrounding the limits of the "compliment" each time a hidden camera video shows women being accosted by dozens of men just for walking down the street, because some people still think that men have the right to express their opinion on the body or the attitude of any woman they please.

It is right here at home that we still consider it "normal" that a woman who walks home alone at night must take particularly care to avoid being assaulted. It doesn’t seem shocking that certain countries have already implemented self-defence courses into the school curriculum for young girls, because it is socially accepted to assume that they are the ones who should be more careful.

It is right here at home that we continue to interrogate the victims of rape about their attitude, or the way they dress, constantly asking them if they consumed alcohol or drugs, or whether they are certain that they did not consent. All because there continue to be those who think a woman’s actions can make them responsible for their own assaults.

It is right here at home that hundreds of women continue to die at the hands of their partners. Not because they were too slow to realise that they had fallen in love with an abuser, nor because in some cases the victim protection schemes were not effective, but because we, proud and presumptuous Europeans, have still not learned how to educate effectively towards equal rights for women and men.

The problem of violence against women has not come from outside of our borders. It has always been right here at home.