Skip to main content

Mass Sexual Assault in Cologne and Other Notes from the Week


We’re pleased to bring you “While You Were Out”—the Verily editors’ quick takes on the happenings of this week.

Sexual Assault on a Horrifying Scale

Reports of mass sexual assault on the streets of Cologne on New Year’s Eve emerged in the national and global press several days after the fact. Germans took to Twitter using the hashtag #aufschrei (outcry) to draw attention to the underreporting of the story. Recent reports reveal that around eighty women have come forward with accounts of being mugged and sexually assaulted, with one report of rape. A female volunteer police officer was among the number of sexually assaulted women. Initial evidence seems to suggest that gangs of around a thousand drunken and aggressive men, many of Arab and North African origin, were responsible for the violence. Attacks occurred on the same evening on a smaller scale in Hamburg. Germany‘s justice minister condemned the attacks on Twitter as "a completely new dimension of organized crime." According to a statement from Angela Merkel’s office, the German chancellor called for authorities to find the perpetrators as “quickly and comprehensively as possible and to punish them without regard to their origin or background.” Many believe that the story took so long to break in the national and international media because the events could be used in criticism of Germany's generous policies towards refugees. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure: Keeping silent about sexual assault is not the answer. —Sophie Caldecott

Highlights from the People’s Choice Awards

Wednesday night Americans tuned in for the People’s Choice Awards on CBS. Among notable award recipients: Sandra Bullock won favorite movie actress. Ellen DeGeneres won favorite daytime TV host, Shailene Woodley won favorite action movie actress (against the tough competition of Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron), Melissa McCarthy won favorite comedic movie actress and favorite comedic TV actress, and Nicki Minaj beat all the men in her category and took home the title of favorite hip-hop artist.

Taylor Swift handedly won favorite female artist as well as favorite pop artist all around, and Ed Sheeran won favorite male artist (if you’re a Sheeran fan, look for new indie music for your queue—our inside man shared some ideas at Verily this week). Meghan Trainor won favorite album for Title. “What Do You Mean” by Justin Bieber won favorite song (a question which, by the way, our relationship editor Monica Gabriel kindly answered for him here.)

But also among notable moments was when actress Dakota Johnson’s shirt nearly had a wardrobe malfunction. Apparently her shirt clasp detached upon receiving a congratulatory hug (really?), and Johnson had to hold it together to avoid flashing network television. In response, the actress gave a resigned laugh, “Well, it’s not like nobody here hasn’t already seen my boobs.” Considering that Johnson has often looked slightly uncomfortable with the Fifty Shades film that brought her to immediate stardom, it’s sad to hear her say that. It makes me want to go up and give her hug (one that doesn’t undress her) and say, “That’s not true, Dakota! I haven’t seen your boobs!” —Mary Rose Somarriba

Natalie Cole, Legendary Singer and Inspiration, Rest in Peace

Legendary singer Natalie Cole passed away on New Year’s Eve, leaving the world a legacy of talent, determination, and graciousness. The daughter of music pioneer Nat King Cole and winner of nine Grammy Awards, Natalie Cole had great success in her early career with hits such as “This Will Be,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “Our Love.” After a personal and professional downswing due to drug abuse in the eighties, Cole turned her life around and used her experiences to help her fans, publishing her memoir Angel on My Shoulder and earning an NAACP Image Award. Her triumphant return to music was ushered in with a posthumous duet with her father, “Unforgettable.”

Cole also had a successful secondary career in acting, appearing in the TV shows Touched by an Angel, Law & Order, and Grey’s Anatomy, as well as the Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely. Her health took a turn for the worse in 2008, when she was diagnosed with kidney disease. She underwent a kidney transplant in 2009 after the donor organization One Legacy was contacted by a donor family who requested that, if the kidney was a match, that it go to Cole. As it turns out, the aunt of the woman who donated the kidney had treated Cole during dialysis and had been moved by her kindness. The gift gave Cole another six years with her family and enabled her to record her album “Natalie Cole en Espanol,” which celebrated her love of Latin culture. Her death on December 31, 2015, was the result of congestive heart failure. Her family released the following statement upon her passing: "Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived ... with dignity, strength and honor. Our beloved mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain unforgettable in our hearts forever." Monica Weigel

Monuments Against Terrorism

Replicas of an ancient arch that survived the ISIS attacks in Syria over the summer are going to be displayed in London and New York "as a gesture of defiance" against the terrorist organization, the Guardian reports. The replicas will be displayed in April in celebration of World Heritage Week, which has a theme of replication and reconstruction this year. The arch is reportedly all that remains of the Unesco World Heritage 2000 year-old Temple of Bel in Palmyra, Syria, after the Islamic State attempted to demolish various ancient sites in the area. They also beheaded the 82-year-old Syrian archeologist who had looked after the temple ruins for several decades. It is hoped that the replica arches, to be displayed in London's Trafalgar Square and New York's Times Square, will help people to better understand the importance of preserving cultural sites. —SC

Zuckerberg’s Next Baby May Be Jarvis

Mark Zuckerberg for the win! After a New Year’s Facebook post detailing his resolution to work on a new AI system for his home (my resolution seems tame in comparison), a fan left a comment encouraging her granddaughters to look at Zuckerberg’s success and heed her advice to “marry a nerd.” (As someone who will soon be marrying a nerd, I could not agree more.) But Zuckerberg’s response was spot-on in terms of encouraging more girls to get involved in tech: “Even better would be to encourage them to *be* the nerd in their school so they can be the next successful inventor!” Can’t “like” that advice enough! —MW

Downton Abbey Starts with a Bang

And you can be sure we tuned in. Women facing anxiety about first sexual encounters in marriage, fears of people hearing about past indiscretions, fears of losing your job in a changing economy—once again Downton is off to a running start grappling with the many issues and emotions that touch the human heart. —MRS

Anne Hathaway Photo Raises an Interesting Question

As many of us saw this week, actress Anne Hathaway posted a bikini photo of herself and her growing baby bump. Hathaway appears to have a “pregnancy glow” and looks healthy, happy, and quite literally, full of life. While the photo itself is a lovely representation of early motherhood, Hathaway’s caption states: “I figure if this kind of photo is going to be out in the world, it should at least be an image that makes me happy (and be one that was taken with my consent. And with a filter :).” While calling out the paparazzi, Hathaway’s use of the term “consent” also has some implications.

As Verily’s Baleigh Scott observed, Hathaway wasn’t posting the photo simply because she wanted to; rather, she was posting it because she knew the photos would be released regardless. But as Scott notes, consent is not everything. Although society portrays consent as the only alternative to something against our free will, it still is limiting in some capacity. While doing something freely is better than being forced to do something, it doesn’t mean that every action we do out of free will is a good one. As Scott points out, “I am not criticizing Hathaway’s decision. And I am not offended by her photo. But it is worth pointing out that consent is not the only test of whether someone should post a photo publicly. Consent is important, yes, but it’s not the only thing.” —Diana Stancy

Think Twice Before You Insult a Ballerina

The Pennsylvania Ballet had an awesome response to an Eagles fan who said that the footballers “played like they were wearing tutus,” pointing out that their tutu-wearing women have performed The Nutcracker twenty-seven times in twenty-one days. As they wrote in their Facebook post, "When they have felt an injury in the middle of a show, there have been no injury timeouts. They have kept smiling, finished their job, bowed, left the stage, and then dealt with what hurts. Some of these tutu-wearers have been tossed in to a new position with only a moment’s notice. That’s like a cornerback being told at halftime that they’re going to play wide receiver for the second half, but they need to make sure that no one can tell they've never played wide receiver before. They have done all of this with such artistry and grace that audience after audience has clapped and cheered..." Hear, hear! Never underestimate the power and skill of someone just because they're not doing something you consider to be "macho." —SC

Miscarriage from a Father’s Perspective

Miscarriage is notoriously hard to talk about, and it is even more rare to hear about it from a father’s perspective, which is why it was particularly striking when a father recently shared his experience on Upworthy. As he explains, "As a man, I want to share my version of the events to help others who are going through the same thing. The emotional pain and feelings of loss and helplessness following a miscarriage aren’t something men talk about that often, but it was incredibly difficult for me." We need to get better at letting men and women grieve the loss of their children whether they die inside or outside the womb. As this man writes, "If a loved one outside the womb died, I’d be given the green light to grieve. So, why is it so strange for a man to grieve for a loved one who died inside the womb?" —SC

‘Just Not Sorry’ App Receives Backlash

Remember the Pantene ad that asks why women are always apologizing? Several women are shown, apologizing for interrupting meetings, stealing the covers, or just in passing. But then the commercial takes a turn. The interactions are shown again, but the second time, the women do not apologize. The difference is stark. The women appear more confident and capable as a result of not apologizing for their actions that truly don’t need an apology.

This over-apologizing habit is common for women, and as a result, Tami Reiss and a team at Cyrus Innovation just released an app called “Just Not Sorry.” It's a plug-in for Google Chrome that finds words in emails such as “I think,” “just,” and “no worries.” The targeted words are then underlined and offer an explanation of why the word detracts from the overall message, upon scrolling over the word.

Since the app’s release, though, critics have emerged saying this is another example that criticizes women’s speech habits. Rachel Wilkerson offered more balanced commentary at Verily this week. “Reiss’ aim of reinforcing clear language is commendable, and her app is a creative addition to a web browser,” but if women’s language is known for politeness, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Qualifying words may express gentle consideration for other people’s agendas and concerns. Where these words promote tact and kindness in the workplace, let us use them freely.” I agree and think that women can still maintain politeness and consideration for others, while preserving sincerity. Here’s to a 2016 of unedited, intentional, and kind speech from both women and men. —DS