Mythbusting: Three Truths About the Cologne Sex Attacks

The square in front of the central train station in Cologne where the attacks took place (Raimond Spekking/Wikimedia)

The square in front of the central train station in Cologne where the attacks took place (Raimond Spekking/Wikimedia)

Earlier this week it was reported that a group of over 1,000 men celebrating New Year's Eve outside Cologne's central train station sexually assaulted and robbed passers-by. The city's police force called it a "new dimension of crime".

These men were described as being "North African or Arabic" in origin and German media is reporting that several were likely asylum seekers.

Tabloid newspaper Bild described one vicious attack, where a women was confronted by several men, who molested her, tore at her dress and pulled on her underwear.

The story of the assaults quickly spread across the globe. In Germany, the press desperately clamored to both condemn the attackers and to cling on to their liberal view of refugees. As the Financial Times put it, the sex attacks are "testing the limits of German tolerance".

So much of the analysis of the attacks has been lost in a fog of outrage, with each article or report trying to outdo the other. It's time to look at the truth rationally:

1. It's not racist to say that the open-door asylum policy has let thousands of criminals into Germany.

After all, with any huge movement of people, there are bound to be a large amount of potential (or actual) criminals. 1.1 million refugees came to Germany last year alone. It also cannot be denied, that many of these people have fled from countries with very high rates of sexual assault or harassment.

What is damaging and racist is to say that sexual assault is "typical" of Syrian/Arab/North African men, as if they are a breed of people who don't know the difference between right and wrong.

We have a moral duty to help those who seek refuge in Germany. Those who refuse to respect women who live here must be dealt with severely. Criminal asylum seekers must be deported.

We must invest in the education of the many young people who have come to Germany. One significant good which can come out of that is a reduction in crime.

2. Cologne's mayor is not sexist, nor is she "victim-blaming".

Cologne's Mayor, Henriette Reker (Raimond Spekking/Wikimedia)

Cologne's Mayor, Henriette Reker (Raimond Spekking/Wikimedia)

Henriette Reker (who was stabbed in the neck for her pro-asylum views) was condemned for saying that women should stay "an arm's length" from strangers. Her comments were widely interpreted as blaming the victims of sexual assault for getting too close to men.

Surely, keeping distance from strangers is simple, practical advice? Some commentators talked of "blaming women instead of going after the attackers". This is by no means a binary issue, where giving advice to potential victims means the authorities will just skimp on police investigation into the perpetrators.

Many commented that the advice was patronising, and depicted women as vulnerable and weak. No-one pointed out that it was sexist to depict all unfamiliar men as potential rapists. But still - Reker had done little more than tell the public to be vigilant after a series of shocking assaults.

Reker being female herself is irrelevant to whether she can express sexist views. There's plenty of room for criticism of the police and Ms Reker, but this particular 'sexism' argument is simply a media hype created to play on the public's sensitivity to injustice.

3. The police have not set up 'no go' areas where crime is intentionally ignored.

Police commanders are under significant strain to deal with new crime. This means efficient deployment to cover a wide area. But with numbers of officers cut by five percent over the past decade, and a changing nature of crime, the effective assignment of officers has become extremely challenging.

This explanation is cold comfort to the traumatised victims of crime. But it should serve as a strong message to politicians on the state and federal level, that more financial support is needed.