A Belgian journalist has told how drunken German yobs whispered ‘would you sleep with me tonight’ into her ear and then sexually assaulted her live on air.
Esmeralda Labye had been unaware of the young men making obscene gestures behind her back as she reported live from the Cologne carnival – where more than 2,000 police had been drafted in following multiple sexual assaults in the city over New Year’s Eve.
But while the New Year’s Eve assaults have been largely blamed on a mob of young migrant men, the assault on Ms Labye was carried out by Germans.
The shocking incident took place in the Alter Markt district of town as she appeared on air for the one o’clock news for Radio Télévision Belge de la Communauté Française (RTBF).
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, she said: ‘The cameraman and I could tell there were a lot of drunk people around. Even someone with flu would have been able to smell the alcoholic fumes.
‘When I started my broadcast at 1.14pm, two or three men monopolised attention. I didn’t see them, as I was focusing on my live broadcast and they were behind me.
‘I got a kiss on the back of the neck. It was women’s day in Cologne, and there was a lot of kissing. In this context I wasn’t worried, so I continued my report.
‘Almost immediately, a young German sang in my ear: “Would you sleep with me tonight?” Then I felt two hands rest on my shoulders.
‘Later, I could see on the footage that the person behind me mimed an obscene gesture – something that shouldn’t have been on camera. He was mimicking sexual intercourse a number of times.
‘I could clearly see on my left a man made a finger to the camera. Many times even. I thought that, logically, there would be no problem, given the large police presence.’
The broadcast lasted for a total of 90 seconds, after which Ms Labye waited a couple of seconds to allow those in the studio to thank her before she went off air.
‘It was at that moment that one of the three men around me touched my breasts,’ she revealed.
‘I lost my temper. Knowing we were no longer live, I turned around and told them in English: “You did that twice, not once! Don’t touch me, don’t touch me!”.
‘The three drunks didn’t seem to understand why I was angry, but they left without a word.’
She added: ‘The cameraman was furious, he had signalled them to stop a number of times, but he did not see the hands on my breast.’
But Ms Labye and the cameraman decided to carry on, only realising how serious the matter was when people began to call to check if they were okay.
‘When the news editor called me to see if I wanted to come home I was confused to begin with,’ she said.
‘It was only later that I saw the mock penetrations, and the hand touching my breasts.’
Yet when they attended a police press conference in the city that Ms Labye became truly angry.
‘The police chief said that nothing serious happened during the day,’ she said.
‘I told him I was assaulted live on camera and that I was definitely going to file a criminal complaint. I said I had recorded evidence.’
Police are now investigating the incident, alongside 22 sexual assaults reported on the first evening of the carnival.There was also 143 reported cases of bodily harm, 30 robberies, and a total of 181 arrests.
The carnival is taking place in a heightened atmosphere this year, after the New Year’s Eve mob attacks, which sparked a nationwide uproar, the removal of Cologne’s police chief and a heated debate about integration at a time when Germany has seen huge numbers of refugees come into the country. Almost 1.1 million asylum-seekers arrived in Germany last year and most of the attackers in Cologne were described as being of Arab or North African origin.
But Ms Labye, a broadcast journalist with 20 years experience behind her, knows her attackers were German, She was keen to stress she lived in an ethnically mixed district of Brussels, and had never experienced any problems with men from immigrant backgrounds.
‘I have worked in Afghanistan and North Africa too, and nothing untoward ever happened to me as a white, female journalist,’ she said. ‘I don’t think there should be any no-go areas for women journalists. We should be able to work anywhere, without being humiliated.’