Oktoberfest, the nearly 200-year-old beer festival that takes place each year in Munich, Germany, conjures up images of free flowing beer, an excessive amount of lederhosen and plenty of pretzels.
Hordes of people travel from around the world to participate in the festivities. Unfortunately, there's also a dark side to all that revelry — Oktoberfest has a serious sexual assault problem.
This year's festival, which takes place between Sept. 17 and Oct. 3, has only half as many visitors as it did in 2015, German paper The Local reported. The low attendance rate is due to a mix of bad, stormy weather and fears over security, which have risen since the shooting spree that took place in the city in July.
But even with so few attendees, Oktoberfest already has one reported case of sexual assault, the news site noted. During the opening weekend of the festival, police officers prevented a rape when they noticed a 32-year-old man trying to have sex with an unconscious woman on Saturday.
Instances of sexual assault is an issue the beer festival has been facing for many years. "Each year, an average of six to eight incidents of rape on the Oktoberfest grounds are reported to police," Kristina Gottlöber, a social worker for the Initiative for Munich Girls, told military magazine Stars & Stripes in 2013.
Others believe that number is much higher. Maike Bublitz of the Women's Emergency Crisis Center Munich told ABC News in 2011 that each year, about 12 women report rape or attempted rape at the festival.
While the number dropped in 2012 — six accounts of sexual abuse were filed with the police according to The Local — that number went back up the next year. In 2013, that number doubled, according to another report by the news site.
Sexual assault isn't just a women's issue at the festival. In 2014, a 24-year-old British man was attacked and raped at Oktoberfest, the Telegraph reported. That attack came just days after a British woman was assaulted by a 16-year-old boy who attempted to molest her while she was leaving the festival, the paper said.
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These reported numbers are likely much lower than the actual number of instances of sexual assault at Oktoberfest. It is estimated that only 15.8% to 35% of sexual assaults are reported to the authorities, the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault noted, citing statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Justice. Victims often don't report their experiences out of fear of reprisal or shame, the report added.
For the past 13 years, many organizations have worked to reduce and prevent sexual assaults at Oktoberfest. In 2011, 5,000 neon-green armbands were handed out to female attendees. The bands had space to write down phone numbers and hotel addresses to help intoxicated folk get home safely, ABC News said.
One of the largest organizations dedicated to the cause is Sichere Wiesen für Mädchen und Frauen, which means to Secure Fairgrounds for Girls and Women, which has been around in 2003. Every year, the organization sets up tents that serve as a safe haven for women at the festival, The Local noted.
Women who have had too much to drink, are lost and separated from their friends or are the victims of assault can come to the tents for help, The Local noted. The tents provide a wide range of services: from new tights to a cup of tea to help contacting officials to report assault.
Every year, Sichere Wiesen für Mädchen und Frauen helps hundreds of women. In 2009 alone, the organization proved services to 259 women, it noted in a press release.
While the services are meant to help, the tents' popularity highlights a devastating reality about the festival. In 2012, the tent was so full that staff had to turn away women at a certain point, The Local added. "It is important to improve it, because every year girls and women are raped or harassed and we just want all women to have safe fun," Christine Rudolf-Jilg, of Sichere Wiesen für Mädchen und Frauen, told The Local.
It's surprising that there aren't more measures in place at such a large, alcohol-driven festival to prevent sexual assault. According to a study published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly half of all sexual assault cases involve "alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim or both." Researchers also found that half of all sexual assaults are committed by men who have been drinking.
Considering that nearly 1.98 million gallons of beer are consumed during the festival, Oktoberfest organizers would be wise to institute more secure measures to help prevent sexual assault. Everyone attending the fun should feel safe to eat, drink and be merry. Mic has reached out to the Oktoberfest organizers for comment.