Recent comments from the mayor of Cologne following an onslaught of alleged assaults on New Year's Eve across Germany have left us wondering if, rather than a code of conduct for sexual assault victims to avoid getting attacked, there should instead be a code of conduct for how not to assault people in the first place. The attacks, believed to have possibly been coordinated, reportedly occurred at the hands of around 1,000 men; they took place mainly in Cologne, although attacks have also been reported in other German cities, including Hamburg. It is not yet known the total number of women alledgedly attacked, but approximately 90 have come forward thus far.
We don't have all the details of the attacks yet, and some of the information is conflicting. We do know that at least one attack was reported to be a rape. Most of the assaults were sexual in nature; some women were mugged. The identities of the assailants are unknown, and no one has been arrested or charged yet, although at least three suspects have been identified.
But when asked about prevention measures that might be put in place to guard against assault in a press conference on Wednesday, Mayor Reker said that a "code of conduct" for young women and girls might help. Her proposed code includes tips like maintaining an arm's length distance from strangers, staying with your own group, asking bystanders for help, and going to the police if you are assaulted... all of which are disappointing pointers. As the Guardian notes, it is possible that Mayor Reker was caught offguard by the question and struggled to come up with a response; regardless, though, the answer was problematic. It's about the specific language she used: It puts the responsibility of preventing assault on the victims, rather than on the people actually committing the crimes.
Of course we should all take sensible measures to protect ourselves. But to suggest that people adopt a code of conduct to prevent other people from assaulting them implies that no fault lies in the hands of the attacker, when in reality, the crime is the attacker's doing entirely. Victim-blaming is alive and well, and the fact that it's still so present in our vocabulary is a huge problem.
So, instead of a Code of Conduct To Stop Other People From Attacking You, I propose this: The Code Of Conduct For Every Single Human Being For Knowing How NOT To Attack Another Person.
1. Don't Touch Boobs. Don't Touch Vaginas. Don't Touch Penises. Don't Touch Anatomy.
Unless you've been given express and enthusiastic consent. To do so without it is not flirting. It is not harmless. It is assault.
2. And Certainly, Do Not Commit A Sexual Act With Someone Who Does Not Want It
Entering another human's body with any part of your body or any foreign object, unless invited to do so, is assault, assault, assault. Don't do this.
3. Words Hurt — Watch Your Tongue
Verbal assault is a thing. Gender-based and sex-shaming insults, lewd comments, questions, and catcalling are a no-go. Ugly words are not empty threats. They are threats. Period.
4. If You Can't Be Polite, Avert Your Gaze
Excessive staring makes people uncomfortable, particularly when done in a flagrantly inappropriate way. It doesn't matter how much skin they're showing; they're not showing it for you. Control yourself.
5. Keep Your Distance
Stay outside their personal bubble, unless you're a personal friend (and even then, it's still a good idea to stay outside someone's personal space bubble as a rule). Have something to say? Make an introduction before approaching.
6. Do Not Make Excuses To Justify Assaulting Someone Else
It doesn't matter what they're wearing. It doesn't matter if they're alone. It doesn't matter if they're under the influence. It doesn't matter if you've been intimate in the past. Nothing they do will justify any thoughts you have of assaulting them. There are no excuses.
7. A Failed Assault Is Still Assault
If you try and fail to assault a woman, it's still assault. It's attempted assault, and it's still a crime of violence.
23 percent of women in college alone report being sexually assaulted. Are you doing your part to stop it?