January 6, 2016 11:13 am
Updated: January 6, 2016 11:14 am

Cologne mayor accused of victim blaming in wake of alleged sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve

Mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker speaks during a press conference on January 5, 2016. The German government Tuesday condemned dozens of apparently coordinated sexual assaults against women on New Year's Eve in the western city of Cologne blamed on Arab men but warned against anti-migrant scapegoating.

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The mayor of Cologne, Germany is being criticized for suggesting women should “keep at an arm’s length” from strangers in the wake of a string of sexual assaults and thefts during New Year’s celebrations last week.

Police said about 1,000 men gathered outside the Cologne train station on New Year’s Eve and smaller groups surrounded individual women, harassed them and stole their belongings, according to The Associated Press.

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Officers said about 90 women reported being robbed or sexually assaulted outside the train station.

The assaults in the German city fuelled debate about the country’s ability to integrate large numbers of migrants, after police said that men who targeted dozens of women in the city appeared to be of “Arab or North African origin.”

READ MORE: Police probe whether Cologne sex assaults, thefts are linked to known gang

However, it was remarks by Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker that fuelled calls of “victim blaming” after she suggested a way to help prevent an assault from occurring.

During an emergency meeting with city officials, Reker said women should adopt a “code of conduct” to prevent further attacks.

“There’s always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length – that is to say to make sure yourself you don’t look to be too close to people who are not known to you, and to whom you don’t have a trusting relationship,” Reker said at a Tuesday press conference, and translated by British newspaper The Guardian.

The mayor also advised women to “stick together in groups, don’t get split up, even if you’re in a party mood,” the British paper reported.

The mayor was heavily criticized on Twitter for her comments.

Police said some of the assaults in Cologne appeared similar to incidents that have been reported over the past two years in Duesseldorf, where men have groped women to distract them before stealing their belongings. The cities are 40 km apart.

Markus Niesczeri, a spokesman for Duesseldorf police, said that since the start of 2014, officers there have identified more than 2,000 suspects of North African origin in connection with organized thefts, though he did not say how many. He declined to say whether there have been any arrests in those cases.

Authorities have cautioned that the nationality and residency status of the Cologne suspects is still unknown, since no one has been arrested.

Germany registered nearly 1.1 million people as asylum seekers last year, according to Interior Ministry figures released Wednesday, and some politicians who have called for limits on migration have seized on the incident in Cologne to bolster their position.

with files from The Associated Press

© 2016 Shaw Media

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