‘Taharrush gamea’ comes to Germany? Police fear Cologne sex abuse may be imported practice

© Wolfgang Rattay
German police fear repeats of the Cologne New Year’s Eve sexual assaults, saying extra attention will now be paid to fighting similar attacks. Police used the Arab term ‘taharrush gamea’ (collective harassment) to categorize the assaults – causing an angry reaction on Twitter.

The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), the main investigative authority in Germany, said in a response to Welt newspaper it knows sexual harassment of women in public is widespread in Arab countries, and that this is exactly what happened on New Year’s Eve in Cologne. Collective harassment is translated as “taharrush gamea” (حرش جماعي).

"Such crimes are committed by groups of young men… mostly when there are large gatherings of people, such as demonstrations. They range from sexual harassment to rape," the BKA told Welt.

Earlier, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas urged authorities to investigate if the Cologne assaults were directly related to those in the other German cities of Berlin, Frankfurt, Stuttgart and Bielefeld during New Year’s celebrations.

“If such a horde gathers in order to commit crimes, it appears in some form to be planned," the minister told Bild on Sunday. "Nobody can tell me that this was not coordinated or prepared."

The BKA said the assaults “ranging from sexual harassment to physical abuse” were unknown in Germany until recently.

A hashtag similar to “taharrush gamea” has already begun popping up in social media – being used for angry posts decrying either the massive influx of refugees or profane attitudes towards women, with some saying the Cologne assaults “weren’t done by frustrated or drunken people, but by those who planned and elaborated it.”

Taharrush gamea is recognized in Egypt, where it stands for “lighter” sexual abuse or gang rape. A recent study suggests Egyptian crowds practiced “taharrush” during the 2011 revolution that toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak, and it took more violent forms like rape during mass unrest in Tahrir Square. 

So far, the number of criminal cases filed with the Cologne police has grown to 516 - 40 percent of which relate to sexual assaults. Local police said that 19 suspects are under investigation, while in Hamburg police are investigating 133 cases relating to assaults during New Year’s celebrations in the St. Pauli district