Berlin to set up 'safe zone' for women on New Year's Eve

Two years after hundreds of sexual assaults were reported in the city of Cologne, Germany, the city of Berlin is setting up a “safe zone” for women this New Year’s Eve. But at least one police union boss is criticizing the effort and the implication that the entire area outside the safe zone is not safe for women. From the Associated Press:

The comments by Rainer Wendt, who heads the right-leaning DpolG union, come amid an ongoing debate in Germany about how to tackle an increase in sexual assaults.

Wendt told the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung daily in an interview published Saturday that establishing such a safe zone sends a “devastating message.”

“By doing so one is saying there are safe zones and unsafe zones” for women that could result in “the end of equality, freedom of movement and self-determination,” the newspaper quoted him as saying.

Here’s how the Washington Post describes the safe zones:

Women will be able to speak to psychologists immediately after being assaulted or harassed in a “safe zone” at the Berlin New Year’s Eve event.

While the presence of medical professionals and police officers at crowded event sites is nothing new, it is the first time such a dedicated area with experienced staffers will be set up in Berlin, and the first time that such an effort is being undertaken on New Year’s Eve in Germany.

“[Assaulted women] can stay here and calm down or speak to someone trained to offer psychological support,” said Anja Marx, the spokeswoman of Berlin’s main New Year’s Eve celebrations. Up to five members of a German Red Cross team will be available to offer immediate support to victims.

All of this comes in response to mass sexual assaults which took place two years ago in Cologne and other cities. It took months for the full extent of those assaults to be revealed, but eventually, leaked documents indicated 1,200 women were assaulted by up to 2,000 men in cities across Germany. From the Washington Post:

At first, there was complete silence from officials. As rumors spread on social media, police had nothing to say about allegations of mass sexual assaults and other crimes carried out on New Year’s Eve in the German city of Cologne.

It was only days later that officials reported that hundreds of women were victims of assault in Cologne, Hamburg and other German cities.

But numbers that are now emerging are likely to shock a country still coming to terms with what happened in Cologne more than half a year ago. According to a leaked police document, published by Germany’s Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper and broadcasters NDR and WDR, the previous estimates have to be dramatically revised — upward.

Authorities now think that on New Year’s Eve, more than 1,200 women were sexually assaulted in various German cities, including more than 600 in Cologne and about 400 in Hamburg.

A high percentage of the men involved were recent immigrants to Germany, the very people Angela Merkel had welcomed. As the Post puts it, “To many, New Year’s Eve 2015 is the night Germany’s welcoming attitude toward newcomers ended.”

This reminds me of Occupy Wall Street which, back in 2011, set up a women-only “safe sleeping” tent in Zuccotti Park after reports of rape at various Occupy camps. The intent then, as now, was to emphasize safety but the result was to highlight the fact that women were not necessarily safe sleeping in the camp at night.

I think the union boss is right that this safety zone in Berlin sends the same message. You don’t need five trained sexual assault counselors on hand unless you expect women to be assaulted. Granted not all of those assaults will be the result of Germany’s immigration policies but, based on the Cologne precedent, a high percentage of them probably will be.