People around the world remain in shock after more than a thousand men “of Arab or North African appearance” stormed Cologne, Germany on New Year’s Eve, robbing and sexually assaulting female revelers.

Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker held a press conference Wednesday during which a journalist asked her how women could protect themselves in these situations.

“There’s always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length—that is to say to make sure yourself you don’t look to be too close to people who are not known to you, and to whom you don’t have a trusting relationship,” the mayor said, suggesting that there is a certain “code of conduct” women ought to follow.

Journalists attending the press conference said that Reker had reacted with surprise to the question and that her peculiar answer was indicative of her bewilderment, according to the Guardian.

Reker also suggested that women “stick together in groups, don’t get split up, even if you’re in a party mood.”

The mayor’s comments were met with pitiless backlash on social media, with angered reactions trending under #einarmlaenge (an arm’s length):

The recent assaults have occupied German mainstream media ever since the newspaper Der Spiegel released an initial report Tuesday. As of Wednesday, over 100 criminal complaints of various sexual assaults, robberies and at least one rape had been reported to the police in Cologne.

An 18-year-old German girl who witnessed the attack described to a local TV station the terror she experienced. After being aggressively groped and robbed by a group of angry and seemingly organized foreign men, she and her friends looked for police, but none could be found.

Next month, Cologne will celebrate carnival season, an outdoor celebration that typically attracts thousands. The police, who have admitted major errors in the way they managed the “intolerable situation” in Cologne, have vowed to modify the way they monitor future celebrations, including introducing more mobile video cameras.