Why are refugees disproportionately likely to be suspects in sexual assault cases?

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Why are refugees disproportionately likely to be suspects in sexual assault cases?
A suspect in a rape trial. Photo: DPA

Criminal statistics in Germany have shown that asylum seekers are suspects in rape and sexual assault cases at a rate higher than their representation in society as a whole. Experts discuss the problem.


The Bavarian interior ministry released figures earlier this month showing that 11 percent of all suspects in sex crimes in the first half of 2017 were people who had come to Germany seeking asylum.

This followed national figures from 2016 which showed that reported rape and sexual assault rose by 12.8 percent compared to the previous year. Of the 6,476 total suspects over 800 were asylum seekers, a figure much higher than the relative number of refugees is German society. In the same figures 38.8 percent of all suspects were not Germans, with suspects most likely to be Turkish (15.1 percent), Syrian (9.2 percent) or Afghani (8.6 percent).

“The first factor, which people generally are happy to forget, is the difference in how people report crimes,” argues Christian Pfeiffer, a criminologist at the Crime Research Institute of Lower Saxony.

“Locals are reported less for crimes than strangers because people feel more threatened by strangers.”

A second important aspect is age. Men under 40 are fundamentally more prone to violence and this age group is particularly highly represented among refugees. Around 40 percent of asylum seekers from North Africa are young men.

“These young guys are the most dangerous in every country,” says Pfeiffer.

“It doesn’t matter what religion they belong to, men need to learn to control their potential for aggression,” agrees Maggie Schauer, a psychologist at the University of Constance.

This process can take time, she adds.

“In western societies we have a completely different way of living together and a different way of being socialized as in majority-Muslim countries. These cultures can clash against one another.”

Pfeiffer explains that suspects in sexual assault cases are more likely to come from macho cultures “which is true of a substantial number of the people who have arrived as refugees.”

He argues that German authorities need to place much more emphasis on this issue in integration courses.

“Unfortunately there is no special attention placed on this,” says Nora Brezger, who works with refugees in Berlin. She bemoans that fact that some integration courses don't address women's rights at all.

“We need to be much more open about this. We still deal with it as if it’s a taboo,” says Schauer.

A third factor in the high rates of sexual assaults among asylum seekers can be hopelessness.

“We have a substantial risk group of people who live here but don’t have any chance of gaining asylum or refuge,” explains Pfeiffer.

“Violence prevention is about offering chances. These people also need chances back home. If we make that an attractive option, then we will also feel more security here in Germany,” he said, recommending that the government invest €1 million in return programmes for failed asylum seekers.

Getting the better of high criminality among migrants is a winnable battle, Pfeiffer emphasizes.

“We have followed young Poles, Russian Italians, and Turks who live in Germany over a number of years, and looked at how their criminal statistics have changed - in all these groups criminality sank."

"So those who say that everything can only get worse, that is completely untrue.”


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