Following the mass sexual assault in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, German authorities are talking about the phenomenon of ‘Taharrush‘ — where large gangs of men attack and even rape women during major events.
Taharrush has so far been confined to the Arab world, but with the huge migrant influx last year, authorities are now concerned the Cologne attacks could be the first example in Europe.
The Federal Criminal Police (BKA) told Welt am Sonntag that they are looking at how some Arab countries deal with mass sexual assaults amid fears similar attacks could happen again at other large gatherings in the country.
“Such crimes, committed by groups of young men, are of particular concern to local police during large gatherings of people such as demonstrations,” a BKA spokesman said. “The attacks range from sexual harassment to rape.”
Many of the men arrested so far have been described as of North African origin. Online journal Jadaliyya writes that taharrush is a particular problem in one North African nation, Egypt:
“In Egypt, sexual harassment is widespread and touches the lives of the majority of women whether on the streets, in public transportation, or at the work place, the super market, or political protests,” the journal writes.
It adds that the word taharrush is a relatively new term, with sexual assault previously being known simply as mu’aksa, or ‘flirtation’.
Wearing a veil also seems to offer no protection for women, with Jadaliyya reporting that large groups of men attacked both veiled and unveiled women during holiday festivities following Ramadan in 2006.
The phenomenon came to worldwide attention in 2011, when CBS reporter Lara Logan was sexually assaulted by a crowd of up to 200 men in Cairo’s Tahrir Square while reporting on protests against President Hosni Mubarak.
Ms Logan said how her clothes were ripped off by a “baying mob” who went on to “rape her with their hands”. She said the crowd shouted “let’s take off her pants” after she became separated from her crew.
“Suddenly, before I even know what’s happening, I feel hands grabbing my breasts, grabbing my crotch, grabbing me from behind. I mean, and it’s not one person and then it stops, it’s like one person and another person and another person.”
She then told how as her clothes were ripped from her, the men began taking pictures on their smart phones.
“My shirt, my sweater was torn off completely. My shirt was around my neck. I felt the moment that my bra tore. They tore the metal clips of my bra. They tore those open. And I felt that because the air, I felt the air on my chest, on my skin. And…uh I felt them tear out, they literally just tore my pants to shreds.
“And then I felt my underwear go… and I remember looking up…when my clothes gave way I remember looking up and seeing them taking pictures with their cell phones, the flashes of their cell phone cameras.”
Two years later, a Dutch journalist suffered an almost identical attack in the same place.
A video posted online showed a blonde woman being overpowered by a swarm of men who had been protesting against new president Mohammed Morsi. Egyptian journalist Dina Zakaria said the woman was raped by men who dub themselves revolutionists” and that her “condition is severe and she is hospitalized.”
The woman was later repatriated to the Netherlands.