Refugees in Norway are being given courses to help prevent sexual assaults and violence against women, Agence France-Presse reported Tuesday. Although the courses began years ago, they have become crucial after mass sexual attacks in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve were blamed on men of Arab and North African origin, according to AFP.
Hero, a private company, started the course after a series of rapes in the southwestern town of Stavanger between 2009 and 2011 were attributed to foreigners. The course teaches refugees how to interpret customs in a country which they find liberal, AFP reported.
"The idea behind this course is to talk about risk situations that can arise when it comes to rapes and sexual assaults," Linda Hagen, who teaches a refugee group, told her class. "We need your help so that we can together detect these situations."
During the teaching sessions, refugees were asked about the difference between love and sex and their interpretations of photographs — shown during the sessions — of women with shoulders exposed or veiled. They were also asked whether violence against women was justified and how they knew if a woman was consenting to sex. Those attending the course agreed the sessions were helpful.
"For me, I have no problem because my city is an open city and my sister, my mum, they're very similar to (the women) here," a 42-year-old Syrian, using the pseudonym Mikael Homsen, told AFP. "But I have friends, they come from a different culture, from a strict family. For them, any part a woman shows [is] a sign she wants to have sex," he said.
Hagen intervened, explaining: "In Norway, it's quite common to hug, to entwine, to dance very closely without it necessarily leading to a sexual encounter." However, she added: "But there are all these grey zones, these situations that are a little difficult to grasp... The problem can arise with any of us." She also told AFP that those attending the sessions agreed that rape was bad.
The mass sexual attacks in Germany caused anger across the country, with some criticizing Chancellor Angela Merkel for her welcoming stance toward refugees. During the assault, about 1,000 young men in Cologne groped, and in one reported case, raped, women. Merkel condemned the assaults and said she would be willing to make deportation practices stricter, while stepping up police presence.