Cologne Mayor's 'code of conduct' to prevent sexual assault angers many

  • 6 January 2016
Henriette Reker Image copyright Getty Images

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker has drawn ridicule online for proposing a "code of conduct" for women to prevent sexual assault, advising them to remain at "an arm's length" from strangers.

Amidst the controversy and protests following a series of sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year's Eve, the city's mayor has waded into the debate with a suggestions for how women can help avoid danger, which have proved highly controversial online.

Her proposed guidelines included sticking to a group of trusted acquaintances, asking for help from others and informing the police. But it was her suggestion that women should keep at "an arm's length" from strangers that has triggered most outrage on social media, with the phrase turned into a hashtag - #EineArmLaenge - on Twitter. Thousands of messages have been posted using the phrase.

The main charge being made against her online was that Reker was blaming the victims for their behaviour, rather than the attackers themselves. "I can't believe the Mayor of Cologne's response to mass sexual assault is to victim blame," read one tweet, and "No, no, no, no. We do NOT blame the victims," read another, both reflective of the general sentiment on the network.

Others flagged up what they saw as the sheer impracticality of Reker's ideas. Christopher Lauer, a politician, wrote: "I wanted to mug this woman and molest her, but... she's an arm's length away!" Others offered an even darker twist, referring back to an incident in October when Mayor Reker was stabbed and seriously wounded whilst campaigning to become mayor: "Maybe it could have been avoided if she'd kept him at an arm's length?"


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Journalist Konrad Weber resurfaced the Angela Merkel - Barack Obama meme, adding the caption: "How long is an arm's length?"

Image copyright @konradweber

Reker's advice came at a press conference - her first comments about the events on New Year's eve. More than 100 victims have said they were attacked by gangs of up to 30 men outside Cologne station.

The widespread identification of the attackers as North African or Arab in appearance has also caused considerable alarm and this fed into the criticism of Reker. She has said it would be "improper" to link the attacks to issues around refugees. Some accused her of failing to address this issue.

The Mayor herself has not yet responded to the hashtag.

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