Voices Beyond Assault

VBA News Awareness Campaign Day 4: Germany

VBA News Awareness Campaign Day 4: Germany

This is a new VBA campaign in which we will be discussing a topical news article that is related to sexual assault/abuse. The articles that we discuss are related to countries with the 10 highest rates of sexual assault/abuse in the world; highlighted on the map we have displayed on the VBA homepage. Through this campaign, we are trying to acknowledge these global injustices.

  • Country: Germany
  • Case: How Sexual Harassment Has Become Culturally Normalised Within German Society

Recent studies have unveiled how sexual harassment has seeped into the fabric of an array of public institutions within German society. This cultural manifestation has warped aspects of both the public and private spheres of German life, and led to a worrying lack of protection for their members of society. Sexual assault/abuse has been embedded within the framework of many German holidays, and places of work – leading to the unwarranted sexualisation of many innocent parties. For instance, women in Germany are reportedly two times more likely to experience sexual harassment in the workplace than men (DW, 2019a, para. 3). These instances of sexual harassment were documented as a reoccurring pattern, with “nearly four in five victims [saying] the harassment was not a one-off incident,” (DV, 2019a, para. 5). Cases of sexual harassment in the German workplace have commonly taken place in private rooms and during meetings within office hours; where individuals have been asked, coerced, or blackmailed into performing sexual acts (DV, 2019a, para. 8). It is important to highlight this social phenomenon, as it signifies of a far deeper issue relating to Germany’s cultural subjectivities and institutionalised social hierarchies. This paradigm of sexual exploitation has been identified on numerous occasions; commonly appearing through the dimension of gender, and often creeping into Germany’s most historical public holidays.

To illustrate, the Oktoberfest is one of Germany’s most celebrated events, having received international recognition and being replicated in all corners of the world. This festival consists of many social events, commonly described as a beer festival, or ‘traveling funfair.’ Oktoberfest has been considered as a valued feature of Bavarian culture, since its initiation in 1810 (DV, 2019b, para 1). The servers (who are predominantly female) must wear a sexualised adaptation of German traditional costume, which has been recently modified to include “cycling shorts under the dress,” (DV, 2019b, para. 3). At first, this appears to be a confusing addition to the Oktoberfest attire. However, through closer inspection, one realises that it is used as “a protection against gropers,” (DV, 2019b, para. 4). Elements of the attire that servers have to wear during Oktoberfest have always been problematic in essence; such as, compulsory wearing of make-up, exposed cleavage, stockings, and “apron strings on the left or the right, depending on your relationship status,” (DV, 2019b, para. 3). However, none of these practices were initiated for protective measures. These gender-based and inherently dangerous ‘customs,’ undermine the historical significance of events like Oktoberfest. However, it has long been the cultural practice for German society during Oktoberfest, and little has been done to try and change this cultural issue.

This realisation hammers home the reoccurring issues of sexual assault/abuse which are experienced in Germany, and the sexualised practices that underpin some of Germany’s largest cultural events. These instances are systemic, perilous, gendered, and exploitative. Many individuals, both within Germany and across the globe, are aware of these cultural patterns of sexual assault/abuse – yet little is done to remedy it.

VBA works to highlight these cultural disparities, and entrenched issues of sexual assault/abuse, to offer an additional platform of acknowledge for the people who fall victim to these sexual crimes. VBA will continue to shed light on these harrowing circumstances, and offer a helping hand to any individual who requests it, no matter where they may be in the world. Our global society must be reimagined into a place of safety, and growth – leaving all of these discriminative practices behind.