In a frank set of eyewitness accounts, French newspaper Le Monde has heard from three women who were allegedly sexually assaulted in the now infamous New Year’s Eve attacks that took place outside Cologne’s main railway station. “I’m taking responsibility, I’m speaking for all women” said 24-year old dental student Lisa C, from Dusseldorf.
Reports estimate that on December 31, around 1,500 men, including some newly arrived asylum seekers and many other immigrants, had assembled around the train station on as the new year approached, taking advantage of an overwhelmed police force to rob and sexually assault hundreds of people. The BBC reports police saying 883 people have now filed criminal complaints over the events in Cologne, including 497 women alleging sexual assault. The number of alleged crimes stands at 766, including three rapes.
Lisa said she doesn’t want to be accused of racism, calling that a “heinous form of blackmail,” and insisting she would denounce Germans who behaved the same way just as vigorously. In her account to the news outlet, she explains that she had decided to go out in Cologne for New Year’s Eve, along with three girlfriends, and arrived to a massive crowd of men aged 20-30, whom she described as being of Middle Eastern and North African background. “Dozens of men with a crazy and intrusive look,” she said. “Men who, from the outset, were surrounding and scanning us without any restraint. As if they were undressing us, assessing us, weighing us up.”
Without any police in sight, she felt completely isolated and began to leave with her friends. As the four of them tried to edge their way to the station’s exit, men brushed up against them from all sides, she said, until they were immobilized. Dozens of hands were feeling up her entire body, touching her buttocks, breasts, neck and face, trying to sneak under her jacket and slipping between her legs … an excruciating experience that left her feeling completely paralyzed, she recalled. The women stuck together in every way they could, she told the paper, because knowing that separation from the group could mean “the worst could happen.”
Holding hands, Lisa said, they formed a single line and tried to keep moving forward, while avoiding the groping. “I was afraid that one of us would cry out in panic or burst into tears,” she said. “We bowed our heads not to cross their looks. We tried not to think about their lewd touching, to stay focused on the hand of the friend in front of us.”
Eventually reaching the club where they had reservations was a surreal feeling, she recalled, “as if there were two planets” and they had just survived a scenario in which they were just prey. “I was a fan of Merkel. I subscribed to her ‘welcome’ policy. But I think she lost control,” Lisa said, weighing in on the building tensions over the refugee influx to Germany. “There is an overflow. One million refugees, including a large majority of young men who have a radically different relationship to women than us, that’s not a detail! So let’s face the problem! Let’s debate this! I do not want us, women, to lose anything!”
Jessica P, 18, also described her experience in Cologne, where she had arrived in the station with her boyfriend and another couple of friends. Her discomfort had begun in the train, where a large number of men were staring at her, but things only got out of control when the group made it to the station’s lobby. Jessica’s boyfriend placed her before him, surrounding her with his arms for protection, but groups of men start surrounding them, she claimed, touching them and preventing them from passing through. “We were shaken, groped … I could see in their eyes that I was only an object with which they could do what they wanted. They enjoyed our panic. The station belonged to them. I thought we would die.”
The third witness, Elodie, a 19-year-old high school student, also described experiencing one of the worst moments of her life. “I could not breathe. As soon as I could find a way to advance, at least two men barred my way. I was afraid of being driven into a corner and raped. And I also thought that the press would not even discuss it, since [the men] were immigrants and they are systematically protected,” she said.
It took her several days to decide to eventually press charges against the man who touched her crotch and who she knew she would never be able to identify. “By reporting it to the police, I am taking the upper hand over my abuser again. And I will increase the number of complaints. It’s the only way that crimes against women will be taken seriously.”
One man — an Algerian asylum seeker — has so far been arrested over alleged sexual offenses, suspected of groping a woman and stealing her phone. Cologne police are now investigating 21 people over the attacks — almost all for non-sexual offenses, with eight in detention awaiting trial.
Read the full story at Le Monde.