BERLIN: In a classroom workshop, students watch a video of a man and woman meeting in a nightclub. The two drink, laugh, dance and kiss. The tone in the room and on the screen quickly changes when the man takes the woman home, locks the door and, when she attempts to leave, he rapes her.
When the grim video ends, seven men in their thirties, refugees who have come to Berlin from Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, are invited to react and comment. “She has had too much to drink, they are sleeping together,” says one, convinced the man in the video took advantage of the young woman’s drunkenness to abuse her. “He knew very well what he wanted,” says another.
At this point, the workshop’s moderator, Carola Pietrusky-Niane, jumps in to explain that “it happens frequently in Berlin, young people drink a lot, take drugs,” and in certain cases, this type of aggressive crime can happen. The participants in the four-hour course titled “Together for Security”, which is currently only held in Berlin, have joined the class voluntarily. Germany’s integration commissioner Annette Widmann-Mauz has called for such sex education classes to be more widely offered to refugees, following a gang rape case last year in Freiburg, in which 10 of 11 suspects are refugees.
Several high-profile rape cases committed by migrants have stoked a backlash against the mass influx of a million asylum seekers to Germany since 2015. Mass assaults by recent migrants in Cologne on New Year’s Eve 2015-2016, and a rape-murder in 2016 by an Afghan refugee, have been seized on by the far-right in its push against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to let in the newcomers. In Germany, there was a 15-percent rise in sex crimes committed by foreigners in 2018, 6,046 offences compared to 5,258 in 2017, according to federal statistics.
The increase is largely due to stricter legislation since 2016, which made it easier to prosecute perpetrators of sex-related crimes. But the cases also underline the challenge of integrating large numbers of migrants, a big proportion of whom are young, single men from countries which would view Western norms as surprisingly liberal. In Norway, migrants were compelled to undergo similar courses between 2013 and 2015, after several rape cases involving refugees.
‘Don’t get angry’
“These are difficult themes, speak freely,” Pietrusky-Niane tells the group, as they discuss the video in a mix of German and Arabic. The session, attended by the seven single men, some of whom are fathers, was organized by the Norwegian group Hero, which manages several hostels for migrants in Germany. The topics in the workshop are broad with questions like: How do you know whether a woman is willing? And, how do you react if she isn’t?
Advice is given to refugees from countries where displays of affection are banned in public, boys and girls often attend separate schools and rape within marriage is not considered a crime. One of the short videos during the workshop spells out the difference between consensual sex and rape. “It’s like asking a person if they want a cup of tea,” says the voiceover in English. “If she answers ‘Yes, I love it’, it’s because she wants one. “If she hesitates, you can make the tea and ask again,” the video continues. “And if someone says ‘No, thank you’, don’t make the tea and don’t get angry-it’s the same with sexuality,” the video concludes.
In another video, participants stand facing each other. A video tablet shows them how close they are allowed to stand without invading someone’s personal space. “You shouldn’t get too close to the person you’re talking to,” says Pietrusky-Niane. “The same with children, they don’t necessarily like to be touched (by strangers),” she noted. Many of the group taking the course admit that reporting rape or abuse to police would not be self-evident, especially if the perpetrator was a relative. “In our country, we have two laws: that of the state and that of the family, of the clan,” says one participant.
Professor Heinz-Juergen Voss, professor of sexology at the University of Merseburg, noted that it was precisely because “differences in culture and customs exist” that such training is “useful”. He believes the courses should be offered to refugees throughout Germany. Aid group Pro-Asyl however has a different view. “We learn values and norms better in daily lives than in class,” it says. “Contact with people, support at school and an access to the job market are the best keys for integration and prevention.”- AFP