German media reports of mass sexual assaults that reportedly took place on 31 December 2016 and 1 January 2017 have been withdrawn after local police discovered that the rumors were completely baseless.
On 5 February 2017, German-language paper Bild published a report that “masses” of migrants participated in what they termed a “sex mob” during 2017’s New Year’s festivities. (The article has since been deleted, but was archived.) We have translated the page from the original German:
They were silent for a month – but now victims no longer want to be silent: in the Silvesternacht, customers at the Frankfurt restaurant and delicatessen mile “Freßgass” suffered massive sexual assaults.
A witness speaks of incredible harassment by masses of migrants: “Their hands were everywhere.”
A 15 February 2017 article published by Frankfurter Rundschau reported that police cast significant doubt on the claims, finding that at least one “witness” (identified as “Irina A.”) was found to have been elsewhere at the time the mass assaults purportedly took place:
On [15 February 2017], the police confirmed the information from the FR in a press release: “The interrogations of the witnesses, guests, and staff showed considerable doubts about the portrayals, and a person allegedly affected by the actions was not in the city at the time.”
The conclusion of the police is clear: “During the Silvesternacht, there were no massive attacks by masses of refugees in the” Freßgass (Kalbächergasse). The accusations are without foundation and [baseless]. ”
Irina A. had been presented by the local newspaper issue on 6 February  as a witness for the alleged sexualized attacks by Arab men in the First In Bar operated by Jan Mai. In the report, she was quoted as saying that she had been grabbed between the legs and under her skirt. Mai, on the other hand, reported that in his bar guests had been harassed by a group of fifty men. The restaurant, which was also run by Mai, is said to have come to a standstill. The host of the Victory bar had been injured on the same evening during riots.
English-language outlet The Local reiterated the new information, reporting that police expressed “major doubts” upon interviewing purported witnesses:
In an article since taken down from its website, the tabloid interviewed a well-known chef who runs a restaurant on Fressgass street, as well as a 27-year-old woman.
The chef, Jan Mai, claimed that 50 Arab men caused havoc in his restaurant as well as in others. He also claimed that they sexually assaulted women and stole jackets.
The woman told the newspaper that “they grabbed me under my skirt, between the legs and on my breast – everywhere.”
But police confirmed on Tuesday to the Frankfurter Rundschau that their investigation of the allegations had led them to believe that they were spurious.
“Interviews with alleged witnesses, guests and employees led to major doubts with the version of events that had been presented,” the police said.
“One of the alleged victims was not even in Frankfurt at the time the allegations are said to have taken place.”
In a 14 February 2017 correction, Bild apologized for the initial report, and added that police deemed that the self-identified witnesses were not credible:
The BILD editorial team expressly apologizes for the non-truthful reporting and the accusations against those concerned. This reporting does not correspond in any way to the journalistic standards of BILD.
The outlet’s editor-in-chief tweeted the correction and also apologized:
— Julian Reichelt (@jreichelt) February 14, 2017
On 14 February 2017, police in Germany issued a lengthy press release about the status of the investigation, explaining that the claims did not come to their attention until they were reported in the media, and that German law enforcement examined the reports after they appeared in the news. No emergency services requests were logged during the time the purported incidents took place, and there was absolutely no evidence that the claims had merit.
In the translated excerpt below, police not only disputed the claims but confirmed they had opened an investigation into false reporting and potential waste of police resources:
In one article, one concerned individual and several witnesses had spoken out and reported about sexual assaults, bodily injuries, thefts and the extremely aggressive behavior of masses of refugees. The media interest in these descriptions was very high. The police were not aware of these circumstances.
The police investigations were promptly initiated by the police and were carried out by the responsible criminal investigation office.
The inspections of all emergency calls and mission logs of the night showed no evidence of the criminal offenses and the alleged mob in the Silvesternacht in the Freßgass. To date, no other offenses from the Freßgass area have been reported to the police.
The interrogations of the witnesses, guests, and collaborators of the witnesses gave considerable doubts about the portrayed portrayals, such as a person who was allegedly affected by the actions at the time of the crime who was not in the city at all.
The allegations are so unstable that the prosecutor’s office in Frankfurt has now initiated an investigation because of the possibility of a criminal offense.
Criminal investigations are being continued. Furthermore, it is checked whether police costs can be claimed. In addition, concessional reviews are initiated.
The Sydney Morning Herald noted that the debunked “sex mob” report was one of a string of hoaxes which spread globally, but were later proved to be untrustworthy or false, and that those stories were not always corrected by the outlets responsible for disseminating them:
The Bild story was followed by other German media and re-reported around the world – including right wing newspapers such as the UK’s Daily Express and websites such as Breitbart.
At the time of writing Breitbart had still not taken its original report down, though it did publish a new story saying the pair “may” have made up the attacks.
The Express edited its story, adding police denials and Bild’s retraction but retaining the original claims.
Germany has had to deal with a rash of hoax stories targeting refugees and immigrants, with the rise of anti-immigration political party AfD and tensions following 2015’s extraordinary migration of almost one million refugees into the country.
In 2016, large numbers of robberies and sexual assaults were reported during New Year’s festivities throughout Germany, particularly in Cologne. Germany’s federal police found that at least 1,200 women were assaulted across the country, igniting a debate about immigration after many of the suspects were reported to be of North African origin.