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Reflecting on the Cologne attacks one month on

By Petra Bueskens - posted Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Feminists are in a conundrum with the Cologne attacks: speak out and align with racism or be silent and align with complicity. As we all now know, notwithstanding the belated media response, and its devolvement into a series of unhelpful culture wars, on New Year's Eve up to 1,000 men sexually assaulted, robbed and, in some instances, raped, women in the central plaza of the German city of Cologne.

It is now confirmed that these men were 'almost exclusively' of Middle-Eastern and North-African descent and included asylum seekers. In what sounds like a horrific night, victims described being surrounded by groups of 20-30 men, having their clothes torn off, 'hands everywhere', and being digitally raped while their phones, purses and bags were torn off.

As it stands a total of 838 people have filed criminal complaints, including 497 women alleging sexual assault. Some of the victims have jointly filed a single complaint, so that the number of alleged crimes stands at 766, of which 381 are sexual offences, including three rapes.


The Cologne attacks have, however, become a vexed issue for feminists given most hold Left political views and are thus, by and large, in favour of humanitarian aid for refugees and strongly opposed to racial profiling. Indeed,this egalitarian ethic is so strong that feminists have found it difficult to respond at all to what amounts to an historically unprecedented attack (in the West) against women in public space.

With subsequent coverage it has become clear that similar attacks were simultaneously carried out in other German cities as well as in Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, and Finland. It is astonishing that gang assaults of women across Europe, and on the scale that occurred in Cologne, could be, if not ignored, then not given the critical commentary and activism they deserve.

It took German police and media days to respond. Indeed, the main broadcaster ZDF subsequently issued an apology for their lack of immediate coverage. Similarly, feminist opinion was noticeably absent. It took almost two weeks for the Guardian, who regularly include feminist commentary, to respond.

This was quickly picked up by the Right and by lay commentators alike (see here and here). Innumerable comments appeared on social media like thison Twitter:

There is a concern – all over the Right wing internet – that when feminists can't 'blame white men' they fall silent on the subject of sexual assault.



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Note: Petra Bueskens would like to thank Janet Fraser for talking through the difficulties of writing this piece and for supplying many superb references.

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About the Author

Petra Bueskens is a Lecturer in Social Sciences at the Australian College of Applied Psychology. Prior to this she lectured in Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Melbourne and Deakin University (2002-2009). Since 2009 she has been working as a Psychotherapist in private practice. She is the editor of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Journal of Australia and the founder of PPMD Therapy. Her research interests include motherhood, feminism, sexuality, social theory, psychotherapy and psychoanalytic theory and practice. She has published articles on all these subjects in both scholarly and popular fora. Her edited book Motherhood and Psychoanalysis: Clinical, Sociological and Feminist Perspectives was published by Demeter Press in 2014.

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