Europe’s Climate of Denial: Sexual Assaults and Vigilante Groups

A town-hall meeting in a small German city erupted with outrage when the mayor told citizens, concerned about sexual harassment of their daughters and granddaughters by migrants, there was an easy solution to this problem: don’t walk past them so they won’t be “provoked.”

The mayor was responding to a question by a Bad Schlema resident, who identified himself as a grandfather of a girl under the age of 10.

“I have a question regarding the school… about physical education in the school gym … the girls have been harassed by the refugee ‘children,’ the ‘asylum seekers.’ They get harassed from the windows [of the shelter] and things like that. How will this be in the summer? When the schoolgirls wear less clothing?” the grandfather asked.

“That’s easy; just don’t provoke them and don’t walk in these areas,” responded Mayor Jens Muller (a member of Christian Democratic Union party, led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel).

Muller's remarks caused a thunderous maelstrom in the town hall, with outraged residences yelling, “Oh! In your own country! You can’t even walk in your own city anymore!”

In a reference to the similarly offensive remarks by the mayor of Cologne (who said after coordinated sexual attacks at the Cologne’s train station on New Year’s Eve by hundreds of migrants swarming  women that women should stay a meter away from the men), one resident yelled, “Yeah, let’s all keep one meter distance! So easy!”

The crowd shouted at the mayor, “Go home, boy. What kind of a mayor is this? He should step down!” And, “You don’t even have excuses left! They [the migrants] come here and we’re not allowed to walk here anymore!”

Calling for calm and eventually threatening to shut the meeting down and call the police, the mayor persisted, “Well, it’s technically not necessary for the girls to walk there. There are alternative routes for going to school.”

To a jeering crowd, the mayor continued, “Am I speaking Chinese?” he asked, “Do you think this [sexual harassment] doesn’t exist among Germans?”

The crowd rightfully replied, “That has nothing to do with this! German go to prison for this! … But they [the migrants] don’t go to prison.”

From comments such as these from Bad Schlema’s mayor (as well as similar comments from the mayor of Cologne), to the reports that German police officers are not allowed to properly police migrants or report crimes committed by migrants for fear of being accused of racism, a pattern of denial is emerging in Europe.

The denial is exacerbated by the media, as in a recent report by TheWashington Post about the sprouting of “far-right,” “beefy vigilantes” patrolling the streets of Finland to keep Finnish women safe. Dismissing the cultural differences as well as the coordinated, planned attacks that contributed to the “multiple sexual assaults,” the Post decided “fear and paranoia” are leading Finns to form vigilante groups to “'protect women’ from asylum seekers.” (Never mind that Europe has been racked with “multiple sexual assaults,” committed by migrants, including at least 15 reported in the Finnish capital of Helsinki.)

While The Washington Post may dismiss the concerns of European citizens as baseless fear and racism, the reality is quite different. Vigilante groups, such as those in Finland, will naturally develop in a vacuum created by lack of action by European authorities.

When the media treats the onslaught of sexual assaults by migrants on European women as a right-wing, exaggerated phenomenon, it only serves to encourage governments to do the same.

Citizens, however, realize it is the government’s responsibility to maintain security. When that fails to happen, a breeding ground is created for vigilantes much more violent than those popping up all over Finland. 

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org