Cologne mayor mocked over sex assault advice - telling women to stay at 'an arm's length' from strangers

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker addresses a news conference in Cologne, Germany, on Jan 5, 2016.
Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker addresses a news conference in Cologne, Germany, on Jan 5, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN (AFP) - The mayor of the German city of Cologne drew online mockery on Wednesday for her advice to women on how to avoid sexual assaults like those that marred her city's New Year's Eve festivities.

Henriette Reker, 59, told a Tuesday press conference about last week's mob attacks that girls and young women could avoid trouble by staying over "an arm's length" away from strangers.

The comment sparked anger and ridicule amid a heated debate about the ugly scenes blamed on men of Arab and North African appearance which have led to more than 100 criminal complaints in Cologne.

One Twitter user joked that when a man sat down beside her on the subway, she "immediately smashed the window to gain an arm's length. Safety first!"

Others posted Reker's words with pictures of Star Wars villain Darth Vader, cartoon cyborg-detective Inspector Gadget and a Hindu deity, all with their arms extended.

Harsher critics on the Twitter topic #einearmlaenge (onearmslength) argued that abusive men, not their female victims, must change their behaviour.

Justice Minister Heiko Maas tweeted that "it is not women who are responsible, but the perpetrators".

Reker on Wednesday defended her comments on "prevention strategies", which also included advice to girls and young women to stay in groups when in crowds, saying they had been taken out of context by the media.

A former refugee services administrator, Reker was the victim of an attack that shocked Germany last October when a man with a far-right background stabbed her in the neck.

A day later, lying in hospital, she was elected Cologne's first ever female mayor.