From Keeping Men at Arm’s Length to Fearing the Foreign Other: Examining the Transference of Responsibility in Responses to Sexual Violence Against Women Perpetrated in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Kate FITZ-GIBBON, School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Australia
Sandra WALKLATE, Professor, United Kingdom
On New Year’s Eve 2015 in Cologne (Germany) there were reports of ‘mass’ sexual violence perpetrated against women. In the weeks that followed media reports of the incident estimated that up to 1000 women victims and 40 male perpetrators of (alleged) migrant refugee background were involved. In the weeks following similar incidents were reported in other German and Scandinavian cities contributing to public fears that this was not an isolated event but rather a coordinated one symptomatic of the risks associated with the increasing numbers of refugees entering Germany and other neighbouring European countries. These attacks took place against a backdrop of decades of feminist advocacy, whereby private acts of sexual violence against women have often failed to attract attention or motivate change. This in itself raises interesting questions surrounding what forms of sexual violence against women garner public concern and who is held to account for such violence.

To date responses to the Cologne attacks have been subjected to limited analysis. This paper addresses that gap by examining the transference of responsibility in media and official responses in the aftermath of the attacks. In order to do so, we draw from the findings of a thematic analysis of over 500 media articles written in the wake of 2015/16 Cologne New Years Eve attacks to question the degree to which responsibility for the public acts of sexual violence against women were transferred from the women themselves in the first instance to the collective foreign ‘other’. We consider the implications of this transference in terms of gendered responses to violence against women and constructions of risk in a global world.