1/26/2016

NO Means NO


In Norway, migrants are being given courses to prevent violence against women, especially rape, and to teach them how to interpret customs in a country that may seem surprisingly liberal to them.

The courses were introduced several years ago, but have become particularly topical after complaints of mass sexual assault on New Year's Eve in the German city of Cologne, by a crowd of mostly Arab and North African men. 

This particular morning at the Ha reception center in southwestern Norway, a dozen Syrian and Sudanese asylum seekers fidget in their seats in a small room as their group discussion starts. 

The curtains are drawn and a space heater blasts out hot air to heat up the room, but the participants keep their jackets on. 

"The idea behind this course is to talk about risk situations that can arise when it comes to rapes and sexual assaults," the group's leader Linda Hagen says, kicking off the class in Norwegian, with an interpreter translating to Arabic, the following:

  1. "We need your help so that we can together detect these situations." 
  2.  What is the difference between love and sex? 
  3.  What do these pictures of women projected on a screen bring to mind, one with bare shoulders and the other veiled? 
  4. Can the use of violence be legitimate? 
  5. How do you know if a woman is consenting to sex?

The participants brainstorm scenarios where cultural differences may cause misunderstandings. 

Little by little, they warm up and begin to speak.

A woman holds a sign reading "Sexual harassment against women will not be tolerated"
"If she wants come to my place, that means she's consenting," says one Syrian.
"But if she's drunk, how can I be sure that she wants to sleep with me?" asks a Sudanese man.
"If she says no, I don't do anything against her will," insists a third.
Those attending all seem to agree the course is useful.
"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 tells AFP, asking to use the pseudonym Mikael Homsen.
"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 says.
The need for the course -- which is organized by Hero, a private company that runs 40 percent of Norway's reception centers -- is exemplified when a video normally shown to secondary school students is screened.
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