On New Year's Eve in Germany, groups of up to 1,000 men roved around in the cities of Cologne and Hamburg allegedly groping, robbing and sexually assaulting more than 100 women. Now, the mayor of one city is telling women it’s up to them to take special steps to prevent incidents like this in the future.
Cologne's mayor, Henriette Reker, has approved a "code of conduct" for women and young girls that includes staying within your own group and keeping "an arm's length" away from men, according to a report from the BBC.
Unsurprisingly, people were quick to call this out as a form of victim-blaming, since it suggests that women could have prevented these attacks had they behaved "correctly" -- and many took to Twitter to criticize the move using the hashtag #EineArmLaenge, which translates to "an arm's length."
The same BBC report notes that some people have also pointed out the impracticality of asking women to change their behavior instead of expecting men to be responsible for not sexually assaulting people:
Christopher Lauer, a politician, wrote: "I wanted to mug this woman and molest her, but... she's an arm's length away!" Others offered an even darker twist, referring back to an incident in October when Mayor Reker was stabbed and seriously wounded whilst campaigning to become mayor: "Maybe it could have been avoided if she'd kept him at an arm's length?"
Some of the Tweets also took a humorous route to make the same point.
Amazingly, the awfulness of this whole thing doesn't stop at victim-blaming: Because some of the perpetrators have been described as appearing to be of North African or Arabic descent, some Germans are now blaming refugees from Syria and other conflict-stricken nations for the attacks and calling for Germany to stop letting them in. More than a million migrants and refugees entered Germany in 2015.
“It is time to send a signal,” Christopher Freiherr von Mengersen, head of a German nationalist group, told the New York Times. “We locals can no longer put up with everything that is being routinely swept under the rug based on a false sense of tolerance.”
But, according to the New York Times, "It was not clear that any of the men involved were among those who arrived in Germany over the past year from conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere."
Ultimately, these assaults didn't happen because women weren't careful enough, or because Germany has acted as a good global citizen by providing refuge to desperate people fleeing war-torn nations. This whole conversation would be a lot more productive if instead of misappropriating blame, German officials were discussing concrete ways to dismantle rape culture and stop the spread of xenophobia.