On Aug. 6, 2016, an unidentified man attacked a 21-year-old female university student from China near the university of Bochum, choked her with a rope and raped her. The woman said the perpetrator had spoken with a foreign accent. The police conducted a manhunt for a suspect with a “Central Asian/dark skin type.”
The two rapes in Germany were picked up by the national media. But one of them didn’t even happen.
The “university rapist” in Bochum, it turns out, did actually exist — and he would go on to attack another female student from China three months later. Ultimately, police captured a 31-year-old asylum-seeker from Iraq, who had lived with his wife and two children in a refugee camp located near the crime scene. A court sentenced him in the first verdict to 11 years in prison.
But the alleged Rostock rapist did not exist. Police had expressed some doubt about whether the incident had in fact taken place in their first press release on the case and a forensic investigation indicated that the woman herself had been responsible for her injuries. In June 2016, the public prosecutor in Rostock closed the investigation, but by then the news of a dark-skinned rapist had already been shared thousands of times on the internet. The Schweriner Volkszeitungnewspaper in the state capital even reported on its website about the alleged sex crime, citing “internal sources.” The article began with the words: “The Rostock chief of police is keeping silent.”
Meanwhile, in a report on the Facebook page NonStopNews Rostock, the dark-skinned man became a “Südländer,” a term often used to describe those living in some Mediterranean countries. “Sex crime in Warnemünde? Was a young woman raped? Südländer reportedly attacked woman.”
The website Rapefugees.net, meanwhile, was even more precise in its allegations. “Rostock police are hushing up oral rape perpetrated by an Arab.”
The truth behind these baseless rumors is important because such stories influence Germans’ image of refugees. They play into age-old clichés about the threat of foreign rapists. Few other arguments were cited as frequently by people in Germany in recent years for wanting to keep refugee camps from being opened in their immediate proximity. Once “they” are here, the argument went, the streets would no longer be safe for women or children unaccompanied by men.
After the events of new year’s eve in Cologne on Dec. 31, 2015, during which hundreds of women were sexually assaulted, the police held young men, largely of North African extraction, responsible for the attacks. The night brought an end to the sense of euphoria that had accompanied the welcoming of hundreds of thousands of refugees into the country earlier that year. Some Germans now found to their horror that the migrants had also brought problems along with them into the country.
In fall 2016, the body of Maria L., a university student, was found in a river in the city of Freiburg, where she had been drowned after getting raped. The suspect in the killing, an Afghan asylum-seeker, is currently on trial. In spring 2017, an asylum-seeker from Ghana whose application had been rejected raped a woman who was camping with her boyfriend near the city of Bonn. In an initial verdict in the case, a court sentenced the man to 11.5 years in prison.
Is Everyday Life More Dangerous for Women Than Before?
These kinds of reports reaffirm the attitudes of those who have always held the view that refugees are dangerous. But is there any truth to the claim that everyday life has grown more dangerous for women living in Germany as a result of the growing numbers of immigrants? Is life in fact less safe than it was for women three years ago? And how often do refugees commit sex crimes?
To answer these questions, DER SPIEGEL reviewed crime statistics, interviewed police officials, consulted academic experts and analyzed around 450 online news reports about purported sex crimes alleged to have been committed by asylum-seekers and immigrants. Our reporters also visited police stations, public prosecutors and courts to uncover the background behind the news reports and the ultimate outcome of any proceedings.
Some cases were revisited up to five different times and in several instances, reporters also met with people involved in the cases for background interviews. The reporters then analyzed the documents and information together with data-journalism specialists and fact-checkers. read more