Paulina Neuding

Victims of the Cologne sex attacks are still searching for justice

The mass sexual assaults around Cologne’s main railway station on New Year’s Eve 2015 rocked Germany, not just because of their scale (police believe hundreds of men were involved) but because of the sense that news of the attacks was being suppressed, and its links to the migrant crisis then at its peak, denied. In response to public anger, Chancellor Angela Merkel was moved to promise that the crimes would be met with a ‘hard response from the state’.

Three years on, what has happened to that response? In terms of resources, German authorities have delivered on Merkel’s promise. It has been followed by one of the most extensive criminal investigations in the history of modern Germany. More than 600 victims of sexual offences have been questioned. Thousands of hours of CCTV footage have been reviewed with the help of so-called ‘super recognisers’ from Scotland Yard.

As the inquiry draws to a close, however, the results are meagre. Several men have been convicted of theft, robbery, and similar crimes. But no more than three have been convicted for involvement in sexual assaults – an Algerian, Iraqi and Libyan national. According to a report by the German weekly Der Spiegel in March, these men had provided the prosecution with crucial evidence by taking pictures of themselves with their victims. One of them was sentenced to one year and nine months in prison, while the two others received suspended sentences.

It is now safe to conclude that the vast majority of the men involved will walk free and be allowed to continue living in Germany, mingling with women on public transport and claiming welfare benefits, possibly for the rest of their lives.

The Cologne attacks took place at the height of the migration wave when authorities had lost control over the influx of migrants into the country.

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