Cologne Police Pledge To Protect Women During Carnival
Responding To Mass Sexual Assaults Of Women New Years Eve, Cologne Police Step Up Protection For Carnival
by Heather Cassell
Cologne isn’t taking any chances during its popular Carnival following the New Year’s Eve fiasco where police failed to protect women from being sexually assaulted and harassed by gangs of young men.
Carnival kicks off today, Thursday, February 4, with the annual Women’s Day Carnival (Weiberfastnacht) and ends on February 9, Ash Wednesday.
Carnival season traditionally starts in November and runs to the beginning of Lent, which is marked by Ash Wednesday in Christian faiths.
Police are being deployed in force with more than 2,000 officers and 350 cadets to protect women and the estimated 1 million costumed and masked revelers who will descend upon the city along the Rhine River for carnival. Authorities don’t want a repeat of New Year’s Eve when they allegedly weren’t prepared for and mishandled a crowd of an estimated 1,500 young men – many refugees from the Middle East and Northern Africa – who are accused of terrorizing, falsely imprisoning, groping, robbing, and raping women during the festivities.
Not A So Happy New Year
Police received 653 complaints of robberies and sexual assaults, and several rapes from women who all described scenes of being surrounded by groups of 20 young men – many suspected of being immigrants – and robbed and sexually assaulted New Year’s Eve.
The police reports obtained by the New York Times describe incidents where victims stated that they were surrounded by men and were “groped in intimate area,” such as breasts, bottoms, and even “fingers inserted in vagina.”
Victims also tell the Times that in spite of the groundswell of aggressive men police repeatedly didn’t call for more backup to come in and gain control of the crowd even when it was apparent that it was becoming increasingly aggressive.
The assaults started early in the evening near the train station where people were flowing into the city for the festivities to celebrate ringing in the New Year and only swelled long into early in the evening.
Many of the women who spoke to the Times preferred to only be identified by their first names in fear of a backlash, particularly on social media.
Johanna, an 18-year old German young woman, told the newspaper, “We were just pressed on all sides by people. I was grabbed continually. I have never experienced such a thing in any German city.”
A Bavarian woman Sara, 25, tells the Times that the situation was still volatile at 4 a.m., January 1 when she arrived at the train station. She and her friends were surrounded by “foreign men” similar to Johanna’s situation.
“I grabbed my girlfriend – I do social work with women who are affected by violence – and told her, ‘Don’t look any of them in the eyes. Keep hold of your purse.’”
She gestured to the men signaling to them to leave them in peace. Sara and her friend sought safety outside of the train station with police officers.
“I’ve never experienced that a policeman says, ‘I would love to help you, but I can’t.’ that was really the worst,” she says. “Who should I turn to as a woman? What should I do?”
A 19-year-old girl who was raped was taken to the police station from her hotel along with two other young women the morning of January 1, her mother told the Times. The women received a gynecological exam.
Police have detained and questioned 19 suspects – 10 of which were asylum seekers. The other nine are believed to be in Germany illegally, according to a report by the Ralf Jäger, the interior minister of Germany, reports the Times. The report also cited that an additional 32 suspects have been identified by the federal police, including 22 asylum seekers, three Germans, and an American, among others.
Germany welcomed 1.1 million asylum seekers and refugees last year alone, but the country hasn’t adjusted or come up with a plan on how to handle cultural clashes similar to what happened New Year’s Eve. Clashes that are causing once welcoming Germans to second guess opening their arms to the frightened and weary refugees.
The Party Shall Go On
The festivities will go one as they have been for centuries in the 2,000 year old city Henriette Reker, mayor of Cologne, says.
“We’ll celebrate the traditional, unique and world-famous carnival much to everyone’s delight like we have always done in Cologne,” says Henriette.
Women’s Day Carnival (Weiberfastnacht) is marked with women adorning themselves with colorful costumes and outfits for a day of parades and various events leading into the night where the clubs come to life.
During the evening women will playfully “take their revenge” on men teasing them by approaching them with puckered lips for a “festival kiss,” called Butzie, or coming at them with scissors to cut off their ties.
These antics can easily confuse newcomers not accustom to the culture, authorities and migration experts recognize, but they made it very clear that public safety is their priority and criminals will be detained and persecuted.
Officials expect around 1 million costumed and masked revelers to 1.5 million at the peak of the festivities on Rose Monday to descend on the city. To protect Carnival goers authorities say they plan to illuminate 30 “dark areas” of town with extra floodlights and close off a square that could not be lit properly.
Additionally, police will create special passages to allow women to leave “raucous crowds,” and more police officers will be outfitted with bodycams, repoted NBC News.
Officials are also conducting outreach and education to immigrant communities that haven’t experienced the cultural festivity that has been officially celebrated since 1823.
Transportation companies have also committed to boosting staff and security throughout their system and stations to improve security, reports the Express.
“We have reacted to the events of New Year’s Eve with specific measures,” says Henriette, pointing out that some 38 people are banned from entering certain areas of Cologne and nearby Leverkusen following the attacks.
“There is no place for any form of violence during Carnival,” Juergen Mathies, head of Cologne police, tells media at a press conference February 3, reports NBC News. He told reporters that police will pursue any form of crime, “including people who sexually attack women and do not take no for an answer.”
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