How New Year's Eve in Cologne has changed Germany

The fact that women were physically attacked, Heitmeyer says, is nothing new. “That has always happened. What’s new is the constellation and the magnitude.”

He says that the interaction of several factors is likely what made the large number of attacks possible. “The police could have handled 20 men. It follows, then, that there must have been a critical mass of perpetrators with the same idea in mind,” he says. He notes that normal New Year’s Eve happenings also played a role. “On New Year’s, many people tend to collect in small spaces, it is loud and screams can easily be misinterpreted. In addition, large crowds make it more difficult to identify individual perpetrators.”

Heitmeyer believes it is incorrect to speak of organized crime, as German Justice Minister Heiko Maas did this week. “Organized crime has a stable structure with targeted and obscured courses of events. But in Cologne, we are looking at the absence of structure. I assume that the perpetrators coordinated using modern communication devices and social networks. We are familiar with that from violence-prone football fans.”

Because words can generate reality, Heitmeyer warns against speaking of sexual attacks. “That trivializes the phenomenon,” he says. “It’s about violence. And violence is a demonstration of power — in this instance, women’s right to self-determination, in order to express their inequality.”