A survivor of the Cologne attacks — where more than 1,000 men of North African and Middle Eastern descent allegedly gathered near the historic city’s central train station on New Year’s Eve before breaking into smaller groups and committing sexual crimes against women — detailed her horrific experience to The New York Times.
Johanna, 18, agreed to speak with the Times contingent on her last name being withheld because she feared backlash for her statements.
She said she and her friends were some of the first people who were trapped near the train station. Johanna said she was grabbed “continually” by men who surrounded her.
“I have never experienced such a thing in any German city,” she told the Times.
She and her friends eventually escaped and boarded a train, but it was unable to leave the station for an hour and a half because of the mob.
“That was really the worst night of my life,” she said. “I would not want to experience this again.”
Another women, Sara, a 25-year-old who also agreed to speak only if her last name was withheld for similar reasons as Johanna, arrived to the station around 4 a.m. with a friend. She said the scene was still terrifying hours after the initial attacks broke out around midnight.
She told the Times that hundreds of “foreign” men “began to circle around us.”
“I grabbed my girlfriend — I do social work with women who are affected by violence — and told her: ‘Don’t look any of them in the eyes. Keep hold of your purse,'” she said. “Then I got frightened, told them ‘Leave me in peace’ with a hand gesture — anyone in the world understands that.”
Sara said that she and her friend decided to seek safety outside the station with police officers, who were themselves helpless. “I never experienced that a policeman says, ‘I would love to help you, but I can’t.’ That was really the worst,” she said. “Who should I turn to as a woman? What should I do?”
Police have received more than 650 reports of crimes spanning from robbery to sexual molestation and rape stemming from the New Year’s Eve attacks as of Thursday, the Times reported.
A local German government report released Monday said the men carried out “taharrush gamea,” which is Arabic for group sexual harassment in crowds. Germany had not previously been exposed to such a massive combination of sexual violence and robbery, per the report.
So far, at least 31 people, mostly from North Africa and the Middle East, have been charged in the attack, according to CNN.
The New Year’s Eve assault has apparently spurred retaliatory violence against foreigners. Gangs of people in Cologne attacked six Pakistani men and one Syrian man in Cologne near the site of the original attacks Sunday, German police officials said. A local newspaper reported those attackers arranged to meet in downtown Cologne on Facebook to start a “manhunt” of foreigners, according to Reuters.
The attacks have been the cause of much controversy, namely regarding German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy toward migrants and refugees. More than 1 million migrants and refugees entered the country in 2015. Wednesday, German officials announced a plan in response to the Cologne attacks to make it easier to deport immigrants who commit crimes.