I've been living in Berlin for around a year.
During that year, I was assaulted three times on the street.
In the spring, a man on a racing bike hit me in the arm with his fist so that I almost fell off the bike.
Apparently I was in his way, reason enough for him to take a little detour to really get me.
A few weeks later, a man bumped into me with full force after he stood up in front of me and blocked the way.
Here, too, I must have taken up too much space for him on the sidewalk with my groceries.
Months later, on a summer evening, a man hit me so hard that I felt his fist punch on my back half an hour later when I unlocked my apartment door.
I had waited on the side of the sidewalk on an untravelled road, unfortunately at the exact spot he wanted to pass.
And just as if that weren't enough, someone called me a disgusting comment on the way home.
Every third woman in Germany is affected by violence at least once in her life.
This was the result of a dark figure study by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs.
In 2018, according to statistics from the Federal Criminal Police Office, a total of 140,755 women were victims of attempted and accomplished violence.
When I first read this number, I wondered how much higher it would be if one added all the violence that women are subjected to every day in the street and that go unreported, for example because they leave a woman in shock.
It seldom happens that I meet a woman who cannot report an experience of this kind, let's get to this topic.
A representative survey of women from the Ifop Institute on behalf of the Jean-Jaurès Foundation in 2018 showed that every third woman in Germany has been persecuted on the street and every tenth has been the victim of sexual violence.
After the first attack I was shocked, on the one hand by the arbitrariness of the outburst of aggression, but also by the inactivity of the people around me.
I remember shaking all over my body, when I got to work I couldn't hold back my tears.
I was also ashamed for not reacting.
At the same time, I wondered if it would have been wise to confront this man.
He had already proven that he was not afraid to use force to break into the personal space of a stranger.
Maybe he would have gone further if I had resisted.
The realization that I could hardly prevent a situation like this, nor react to it without exposing myself to further danger, triggered a feeling of powerlessness in me.
After the second attack, I was overcome with anger.
It annoyed me that this man believed he had the right to work his way through me - as if I wasn't entitled to stand there, as if he had to punish me for it.
At the same time, I was plagued by the fact that I had become suspicious of men in public spaces because of experiences like this.
After the third time, all I felt was a kind of indifference.
That shocked me.
Was I actually used to this happening?
I later explained this callousness to myself as a self-protection mechanism.
Maybe I wanted to save myself from mentally playing through the scenario over and over and thinking about how I could have reacted.
Ulrich Hafner, project manager at Volkssolidarität Landesverband Berlin, a counseling center for men against violence, says that experiences of violence like this can cause lasting consequences for people: "Women move around more cautiously through the public, making themselves small, invisible."
Bunch of keys in fist, eyes lowered
Historically, public space was long considered an area that belonged to the male part of the population, while women were banished to the home.
And still today some people believe that they can show women where they belong.
And they do this with the help of violence, as if they had hegemonic power over public space.
Almost every woman knows the self-defense trick of having a keychain in her fist to be able to defend herself in a dangerous situation.
For a few years now, there has been a home phone that women can call when they are out alone at night and feel uncomfortable.
I also try to protect myself when I'm traveling alone: I avoid eye contact, wear headphones without listening to music, and switch to the side of the street when a larger group approaches me.
At the latest through the three experiences from last year I learned that I shouldn't feel safe even when I'm surrounded by many people.
Large cities in particular often convey a false sense of security.
On the one hand, this is due to the fact that many people believe that observers would come to their aid if they were in a dangerous situation.
However, it can even be scientifically proven that this is a fallacy.
A well-known sociological example of this is the spectator effect: the more people observe a situation, the less likely it is that someone will intervene.
This goes hand in hand with the “urban overload” hypothesis.
The scientist Stanley Milgram used it in 1970 to explain that the place where a person is is decisive for their behavior.
Milgram believed that in large cities, people tend to concentrate on themselves as much as possible to avoid the overstimulation of their cluttered surroundings.
Isabella Spiesberger from the Berlin Center for Violence Prevention explains the inactivity of observers by the fact that situations are often difficult to assess from the outside: “It is often not clear to outsiders whether intervention is necessary or desired.
It is important to draw attention to yourself in a violent situation.
You should address people around you directly, for example with 'You in the red jacket!'
and ask for help. "
Don't wear short skirts, don't get into strange cars
Avoiding violence against women - this is still largely seen as a task for women themselves.
"Women stop at an early age that they have to be careful where they go and are told what to wear in order to avoid violence against them," explains Hafner.
I can still remember how my grandmother used to remind me when I left that I shouldn't get into the car with strange men.
My mother forbade me to wear short skirts when I went out.
From childhood I was taught that I was responsible for my own safety, which in turn meant that I was also responsible for it if something happened to me.
This also explains why I felt not only anger and shock but also shame when these people beat and bumped into me.
Something in me saw responsibility for what had happened with myself. After all three incidents, I wondered what I could have done differently, whether I could have really taken up too much space or had better pay attention.
But there is no legitimate justification for physically attacking someone, not even if they are supposed to be in the way, of course.
Today I know that I couldn't have prevented any of this - and that it can happen again.
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