Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker is facing ridicule and outrage for urging women to stay ‘an arm’s length’ from strangers for their own safety after reports of mass sexual assaults in the German city on New Year’s Eve.
A Twitter storm has erupted with indignant social media users denouncing her comments as putting the onus on potential victims to protect themselves, instead of laying the blame at the door of sexual predators.
The hashtag #einearmlaenge – German for ‘an arm’s length’ – has been trending heavily in the country, with comments such as these:
#einearmlaenge Das ist victim blaming par excellance— Steffen (@Apfelstapfen) January 5, 2016
Asking victims to change their behaviour means offenders won't need to change theirs, wrong approach to preventing crime #einearmlaenge— Tina Kretschmer (@DocTinaK) January 6, 2016
Around 100 women have reported being robbed, threatened or sexually molested at New Year celebrations outside Cologne’s cathedral by young, mostly drunk, men, in events described by police as ‘a new dimension in crime’.
Cologne police chief Wolfgang Albers said officers identified the men as looking as if they were from “the Arab or North African region” and mostly between 18 and 35 years old.
“We have one complaint that represents a rape,” he added.
A further rape allegation has now also been reported, in a development likely to raise tension further and spark more Twitter fury like this:
The description of the attackers has fuelled additional concerns for some, given the mass influx of just over a million migrants and refugees into Germany last year, far more than any other European country.
Integration commissioner Aydan Ozoguz has warned against putting foreigners and refugees under “blanket suspicion”.
Mayor Reker said it was “unbelievable and intolerable what happened on New Year’s Eve” but there was no reason to believe those involved in the attacks were refugees.
Known for helping refugees, the then candidate Mayor made headlines in October when she was stabbed and seriously injured while on the campaign trail.
That attack earned her tremendous sympathy but her ‘code of conduct’ for young women and girls, including keeping at ‘arm’s length’ from strangers and staying within a group, has attracted widespread derision – some of it heavy on
humour and with a distinct ‘Sound of Music’ theme!
The image here says: “An arm’s length and nobody can come near me”
This Tweet, in French, says: “Merkel is already putting the #einearmlaenge rule into practice, just in case Obama should feel like sexually assaulting her.”
Around 150 people gathered in front of Cologne’s cathedral on Tuesday evening to protest against violence against women. One of them held a sign saying: “Ms Merkel where are you? What do you say? This scares us!”
The German Chancellor told Mayor Reker in a phone call that the attacks deserved a tough response.
“Everything must be done to investigate those responsible as quickly and completely as possible and punish them, regardless of where they are from,” she said, according to her spokesman.
Mockery of the mayor’s comments, generating giggles on Twitter, also includes:
“I got my outfit for the next party already at the start – so just to be sure! #EineArmlänge”
On a more serious note, the hashtag is also being used by both sides of the migrant debate in Germany.
Perhaps it might be better to keep #einearmlaenge from flooding your country with young, male refugees who feel no necessity to assimilate.— ryuge (@0ryuge) January 5, 2016
Multiculturalism has been so successful in Germany that women get adviced to keep at one arm's length from strangers. #einearmlaenge— Luis María Benítez (@luismbenitez81) January 6, 2016
and, this Tweet, meaning: “I think it’s good when women stay away from sexists and racists. Like this.”