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Backlash against violence Politicians react to shocking attacks on women


Demonstration against violence against women in Geneva

Some 250 people demonstrated to protest about the brutal attack on five women in Geneva on August 8.

(© KEYSTONE / JEAN-CHRISTOPHE BOTT)

Six women were the victims of violent crimes committed by men in Geneva and Zurich in August. The crimes have sent shock waves shuddering through social media channels, newspapers and the world of politics – starting in a Geneva nightclub and reaching the seat of government in Bern.

The viral #metoo campaign brought the issue of violence against women to the Swiss public at the end of 2017. Social media has made the Swiss people aware of the problem.

In the early hours of August 8, a group of men attacked a woman at a night spot. Four other women who tried to help the victim were also brutally attacked. All five were taken to hospital, two with serious injuries. 

The Geneva public prosecutor has identified the assailants. They come from France, but they are still at large. Eyewitnesses describe them as being of north African origin. 

On August 12, as nearly a million people took part in Zurich’s Street Parade, a woman was brutally attacked. Eventually, two men came to her aid, driving the three assailants away. She was taken to hospital with severe head trauma and other injuries. According to the victim, the three attackers are of Tamil origin. Police have not yet caught up with them.

Public protests

August 9: the French-speaking media reported on the first offence, leading to a demonstration of around 150 people who protested at violence against women.

August 12: demonstrations, consisting of around 500 people, calling for an end to violence against women take place in Lausanne, Bern, Basel and Zurich.

August 14: the newspaper Blick brings the second attack to public attention. The issue is not merely about an attack in Geneva, it has also reached the attention of German-speaking Switzerland. In fact, the whole of Switzerland is talking about it. 

August 14: Anne-Marie von Arx-Vernon, a canton Geneva politician, proposes a change to the law making “sexist violence” a new criminal offence. It calls on police to investigate any such incidences.

August 17: the four vice-presidents of the Social Democratic Party present a five-point plan to combat violence against women. 

Migrant issue

The women from the centre-left party leave out the immigrant background of the attackers from their plan. “Stop sugar-coating this: such violence is often committed by men with migrant backgrounds. We also have to protect their women,” responded Sigg Frank, president of the women’s arm of the centre-right Christian Democrats. 

Alliance F, an umbrella group for women’s associations in Switzerland, said it is narrow-minded to suggest that migrants are the problem. “The root cause of violence against women is patriarchy and sexism. Both of these are present not only in our own culture, but also in others.”

Natalie Rickli, a parliamentarian for the conservative right Swiss People's Party, told Blick that there is a need for a broad women's alliance. "In order to protect the victims and punish the perpetrators, we also need the support of left-wing women in parliament,” she said. “Even Swiss men who beat women should be severely punished.”

Christa Markwalder, a centre-right Radical Party parliamentarian, called for more police officers, saying there is no shortage of laws, but of criminal prosecutions. 

Political proposals

These discussions have found their way into social media channels. The topic has arrived in the political arena, and it is building up.

In a newspaper interview, Pierre Maudet, canton Geneva police director and president of the Conference of Cantonal Police Directors, called for the creation of a "national platform to combat violence against women". 

Géraldine Savary, Social Democratic parliamentarian from the canton of Vaud, wants to bring Anne-Marie von Arx-Vernon's proposal to the national political stage. In time for the autumn session of the Swiss parliament, which starts in Bern on 10 September, Savary will propose a bill to make assaults against women an official offence.

In a second initiative, Savary calls for the introduction of statistics recording all attacks on women, from verbal harassment to physical violence. Further proposals are possible from other parliamentarians.

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