Refugees attend anti-violence courses in Norway

Norway sends asylum seekers to take courses on cultural differences to prevent violence and rape against women following sexual attacks in Cologne, on New Year’s Eve

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

An educator speaks at a course to prevent violence against women in Ha, Norway. The text on the board says "The perception of women and cultural codes."

In Norway, asylum seekers 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 come to the fore after many women were subjected to mass sexual attacks on New Year’s Eve in German cities, mainly Cologne, by a crowd of, mostly Arab and North African men.

The course, which is organised by Hero -a private company that runs 40 percent of Norway's reception centres-, aims to address the problem of sexual assault and uses concrete examples for the participants to discuss.

"In Norway, it's quite common to hug, to entwine, to dance very closely without it necessarily leading to a sexual encounter." the group's leader Linda Hagen says, kicking off the class in Norwegian, with an interpreter translating to Arabic.

The participants brainstormed scenarios where cultural differences may cause misunderstandings.

"Everyone is in agreement that rape is bad," Hagen later told AFP.

"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.

Hero started the course after a series of rapes which was committed by foreigners in the southwestern town of Stavanger between 2009 and 2011.

"We invite the residents, both women and men, to have a dialogue about cultural norms and to take responsibility if they see something," says Hero's director Tor Brekke.

"It's not a magic formula, it's just mostly about making an arena for dialogue."

The men attending the course also condemned the sexual assaults in Cologne, in which hundreds of police reports were filed.

"In my opinion it's not men who did that. They're animals. They're sick people," says Sulaiman Adel, a 42-year-old Syrian.

"We want German authorities to say who exactly did this, and not just say they're asylum seekers," adds Shero Demir, a 35-year-old also from Syria.