Reflection on the Attacks in Cologne

Whenever I see anything in the news about sexual assault or violent sexual crimes, my heart sinks. In my opinion, one of the most horrific acts of terror is to violate another person sexually.
Through the course of my work advocating for women and girls, I have listened to so many horrific stories of abuse, sexual assault, sodomy, rape and other forms of torture you can not even readily imagine. I have heard these stories from girls as young as five, from young women and young men. This issue hurts my heart. When skimming through the news, we often do not understand the full picture of how sexual violence impacts another human being.

On New Years Eve, women celebrating New Years in Cologne, Germany, never expected their evening of celebration would turn into horror. Women exiting the train at Cologne’s central station were surrounded by men in tight groups. The groups of men proceeded to grope women, sexually assault them and steal from them. My head is still spinning over the media frenzy. Many of the potential assailants are believed to be asylum seekers from North Africa and the Middle East. Protests broke out in the city demanding answers and care for those who have been so grossly violated. Now nearly two weeks after the attacks took place, the first arrests have been made. An Algerian man and seven others are being held in conjunction with the attacks.

In light of recent global debates related to migration, asylum seekers and refugees, this story has flooded the news from all angles and political viewpoints. There has been backlash against Germany’s migration processes and the 1.1 million people who have been allowed to enter Germany’s borders. Though many of the assailants may have been from Middle Eastern and North African decent, one American woman reported, a group of Syrian men aiding in her rescue when she was separated from her boyfriend. Hundreds of questions are being considered: Should Germany close its borders to all refugees seeking asylum? Is violence increasing due to political unrest pouring from other countries? Have the police and government officials taken appropriate responses to finding the assailants? Are asylum seekers being targeted? Within weeks, this story has gone from a mass tragic event to a huge political argument. There has been massive uproar on social media, in the streets in Germany and around the world. In spite of the controversy, I think we must remember one thing:

No matter where you stand politically, sexual violence and assault is ALWAYS WRONG.

Simple. No one, neither woman, man or child, ever deserves this type of violation. The attacks in Cologne are not acceptable. If we can not all commit to fight against sexual violence, my friends, I fear this type of mass violence will only continue to reverberate throughout our world. Do you want to know the worst part? What often is lost in the controversy are the courageous stories of the young women themselves. Young women, some as young as fifteen years old, now have a deeper fear they may have never had before. Women do not feel safe. Women young and old may in some way even feel they are at fault or have immense shame for what happened. Many will never have an opportunity to share their story and will suffer in silence the harmful effects of being violated both physically and mentally mistreated. In all of the political debates and arguing, let’s not forget that their stories and voices are what should matter the most.

Cover Photo Credit: Andy Walker, Flickr Creative Commons

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Category: Gender Based Violence    Refugees    Rights
Tagged with: Cologne attacks    Germany    migration    politics    Refugees    Violence against women

Diane Fender

Diane is a Global Traveler, Writer, Anthropologist and Vice President of Girls' Globe whose work has taken her throughout East Africa, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal, and India. She is passionate about empowering indigenous women led movements to create change for communities around the world.

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