Let’s get one thing straight: nothing excuses sexual assault of any form. Nothing justifies a person committing such a crime. No one should apologise for perpetrators of sexual assault, just as no one should silence victims and tell them it’s damaging to speak out.
Now that’s clear, let’s discuss why the world felt uncomfortable yet outraged to learn of the attacks in Cologne, Germany. Depending on which newspaper you read, migrants/immigrants/asylum seekers/refugees have sexually assaulted, robbed, or attacked around 700 people. Most of the 1000 or so alleged attackers identified by victims are young men of Middle Eastern or North African origin. Many, if not all, of the victims of sexual assault have been identified as women.
It’s obvious why Germany, the land of “Wir schaffen das” (we can handle this), is divided about its relationship with the camps of people waiting to be processed. Over 1.1 million people came to Germany in search of safety in 2015. Of this figure, an unknown proportion are suspected to have registered under false identities or registered multiple times. This has caused considerable tension, with far-right groups such as Pegida demanding Angela Merkel gets rid of the asylum seekers and puts German people first.
One way the government is taking perceived control of a situation seen as getting out of hand, is issuing identity cards for all refugees as of February. This includes information such as fingerprints, health status, and qualifications, and will be accessible to all German government agencies. People have attacked asylum seekers in response to the Cologne attacks. I can’t help but feel ID cards won’t solve their grievances.
Why are refugees dehumanised so often? We should not accuse all men of being future rapists, nor should we accuse all refugees as future criminals. Germany needs to stop pandering to far-right groups who undoubtedly see Mutti Merkel as being weak. There is an absolute necessity for policy based on protecting the displaced without being lenient when it comes to serious crimes, but the point of an immigration policy is to monitor citizenship. Germany must prove itself by trying people fairly in court once they get their status recognised.
The way society views consent is a problem, not just one specific to a certain community. Germany has already announced steps to broaden the outdated definition of sexual assault as currently it is only classed as such if the victim fights back. Attitudes need to change throughout Germany; no one can claim to be morally superior. Remind people that if they are in Germany, they are subject to German law, but no one group should be accused of anything above another. The only way Germany can dispel xenophobic sentiments is to act with confidence and authority. Integration can only happen if you stop separating refugees from citizens.
There is no doubt that everyone is capable of committing a crime. However, the people involved should be tried in court, rather than on the front pages of tabloids. It should not reflect upon German border policy when it comes to refugees and protecting individuals based on humanitarian beliefs. The current rhetoric is falling towards assuming that all refugees are criminals in the making, when in reality, we are all capable of breaking the law.