For Some, Roots Of Cologne Attacks May Run Deeper Than We Think Dozens of women were assaulted in the German city by a mob of men — many of whom appeared to be refugees. One activist says rampant harassment was a problem in Germany before the influx of newcomers.

For Some, Roots Of Cologne Attacks May Run Deeper Than We Think

For Some, Roots Of Cologne Attacks May Run Deeper Than We Think

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A member of flash mob protesting the New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Cologne wears a sign reading, "Do Not Touch Me." Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images hide caption

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Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

A member of flash mob protesting the New Year's Eve sexual assaults in Cologne wears a sign reading, "Do Not Touch Me."

Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images

On New Year's Eve, a mob of young men assaulted and harassed dozens of women outside a busy train station in the German city of Cologne. Authorities and eyewitnesses differ on what motivated these attacks, but most accounts agree that many of those involved appeared to be North African or Arab.

In the course of the investigation so far, 31 suspects have been taken in for questioning, more than half of whom were asylum-seekers.

That has set off a national debate in Germany, which has taken the form of street demonstrations and protests on social and traditional media. The question at the heart of the conversation is whether the influx of refugees and migrants is changing Germany in unacceptable ways.

But some, including writer and feminist activist Anne Wizorek, assert that the matter has roots that run much deeper than the newcomers.

"The problem of sexism and sexual violence, especially against women, has already been there and has nothing to do with any people who come here as refugees or are growing up as people of color in general," Wizorek tells NPR's Michel Martin.

Wizorek, together with Stefanie Lohaus, penned a recent article in Vice arguing that the sexual assaults point to a much larger problem in the country: "In fact, Germany's rape culture is deeply rooted in our collective psyche," they write.

"We have to address this problem finally," Wizorek tells Martin. "Because right now, we're only focusing on sexism and sexual assault when it is perpetrated by men of color, and that sets a wrong focus on the problem that we actually have to talk about."

Interview Highlights

On what happened in Cologne on New Year's Eve

Women have been touched and sometimes their clothes been torn apart. And they have been insulted and they have been surrounded by this group of men, attacking them. So this is of course a very gruesome situation. We just feel powerless, and just hope that it's all over, basically, very soon.

On the way Germany's political leadership has responded

Heiko Maas, the minister of justice, was one of the first ones to respond to this and say that this is a kind of violence that will not be tolerated, of course. And now he's also pushed to get the law changed that is addressing sexual violence and sexual assault.

But I think the most important one was of course issued by Angela Merkel, our chancellor. She now wants to see if it's possible to send the people who came here as asylum-seekers and who commit crimes like this back to their home countries, which of course is something that causes another debate on whether or not we should take this incident and change a whole law and a whole situation for so many more people.

On #Aufschrei, a hashtag meaning "Outcry," which she initiated on Twitter

#Aufschrei was an ad hoc campaign, so it wasn't really planned. We were just in this situation on Twitter where one of my friends started sharing her own experience with sexual assault and I just wanted to have something to make us all able to vent about this. So I suggested the hashtag.

And then we started tweeting about everything from sexual remarks at the working place, from being stalked, from men following us home, touching us on public transport. People were also sharing their stories about how they have been raped by friends and family.

So, already under the hashtag you saw the whole range of sexism and sexual violence happening.

On why she believes public harassment is getting media attention now

Let's just say it's very astonishing to see the people who — back then when #Aufschrei was big in the media and people talked about it — that a lot of people also tried to downplay the problems. They were saying, "Well, but we've gotten so far and we have gender equity in Germany right now, we have a female chancellor, so what do you want?" All that kind of argument was going on.

And those people are the ones who are now talking a lot about what has happened in Cologne. So they are using these stories and these experiences of the people who have been attacked in Cologne to only push forward with their racist agenda against migrants and refugees in Germany. And I think that's a huge problem.