Thousands of German citizens are mourning a 23-year-old student who was murdered for sticking up for two teenage girls getting sexually harassed by a group of men. Silent vigils have spread across the country, and the president is considering awarding the young woman a posthumous medal of honor.
Earlier this month, Tuğçe Albayrak heard the screams of two girls being harassed in a McDonald’s bathroom in the city of Offenbach. She confronted their attackers, allowing the teens to escape the situation. But later, in the parking lot of the fast food restaurant, the same men attacked her and allegedly beat her with a baseball bat — an assault that was captured on grainy video footage.
Albayrak suffered a traumatic brain injury from the blows to her head, and has been in a coma for the past two weeks. After doctors told her parents that she would never recover from her injuries, they chose to take her off of life support on Friday. It was her 23rd birthday.
Since Albayrak first fell into a coma, supporters have been holding vigils for her at the Offenbach hospital where she has been treated. On Friday, after the news that she had died, the crowd outside the hospital swelled to 1,500 people. Additional candlelight memorials were held in Berlin on Sunday. And 100,000 people have signed a petition urging Germany’s president, Joachim Gauck, to posthumously honor the young woman for her courage.
Gauck sent his condolences to Albayrak’s parents in a letter this weekend. “Like countless citizens, I am shocked and appalled by this terrible act,” Gauck wrote, suggesting that he will consider awarding her a medal of merit. “Where other people looked the other way, Tuğçe showed exemplary courage and moral fortitude.”
Albayrak’s assault has sparked a national conversation in Germany about what it means to be a conscientious citizen who intervenes to help other people; notes of solidarity are being collected online under the hashtag #Zivilcourage. But it’s also a reminder of the price that people often pay for attempting to intervene in incidences of harassment and assault against women.
It’s not uncommon for “good Samaritans” like Albayrak to become the victims of violence themselves. Earlier this month, a San Francisco man was stabbed nine times after he asked catcallers to stop harassing his girlfriend. In August, a Philadelphia man was knocked unconscious after asking a group of men to stop catcalling women on the street. And that doesn’t even include the violence perpetrated against women who try to refuse harassers’ advances.
That’s why groups like Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment have attempted to frame harassment in public spaces as a gender justice issue. Until women are no longer considered to be public property, they argue, it won’t be safe for women or men to push back against the cultural norms that give harassers the feeling of entitlement over other people’s bodies.