Women's safe zones aim to avoid repeat of New Year sex assault spate in Germany
Roberto Pfeil (AFP)
New Year's Eve celebrations in Germany two years ago were clouded by reports of mass sexual assaults in several major cities. This year police in Berlin are taking preemptive measures, announcing that a 'safety zone' for women will be erected in the area surrounding the famous Brandenburg Gate where over a million people are expected to gather there to usher in the New Year.
The capital's “party mile” will stretch from the Brandenburg Gate to the iconic Victory Column, and will include dozens of music stages and food stalls. Following the police’s decision, a designated tent dubbed 'Women's safety area’ will be erected where women can seek the help of Red Cross crisis intervention specialists and psychologists.
Speaking to the German daily Die Welt, a spokesperson for the organizers of the festivities noted that when a similar 'safe zone' was erected on the ground of the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich this year, 260 women found refuge there and only 30 of them then turned to the police. Both organizers and police officials said they urge victims to file a complaint, to allow the police to take action.
The initiative however, has been severely criticized with some fearing that it sends the wrong message.
“Anyone who comes up with such an idea, does not understand the political dimension,” claimed Saturday Rainer Wendt, head of Germany's second-largest police officers' union.
“It says that there are zones that are safe and zones that are unsafe,” he told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper. This would indicate “the end of equality, freedom of movement and self-determination,” he added, stressing that women should have a right to be safe everywhere. Whilst others criticized the tent as an “enclosure for women.”
Right-wing politicians have used the announcement to slam Germany's refugee policy. “This situation is unbecoming a civilized country,” wrote on Twitter Martin Hess, lawmaker for the Populist Party Alternative for Germany (AfD). “The AfD has come to put an end to it. Every 'refugee' guilty of sexual harassment should be immediately and irreversibly deported to his homeland!”
The matter of women's safety during mass gatherings took center stage two years after hundreds of women all across Germany reported being molested and assaulted during the New Year's Eve festivities. Some 1,200 complaints were filed in Cologne alone, most of which attributed the acts to groups of young men of North African appearance.
Last year in Berlin, 14 women had filed a complaint at the New Year's Eve party in front of the Brandenburg Gate.
Festivities in Germany will kick off on Sunday also under increased security surveillance following by last year's terrorist attack where a truck plowed into people at a Christmas market, killing 12. Concrete bollards and other barricades will be placed around the Brandenburg Gate, and large bags and suitcases will be banned.
In other German cities, including Hamburg and Munich, additional measures will include extra mobile police stations, deployment of officers in uniform and in plain clothes and installation of more cameras and lighting.
Polina Garaev is the i24news correspondent in Germany
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Had Hillary won the abuse of power and of women would have continued unabated.