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German judge lets 8 men who gang-raped girl walk free
Presiding judge Anne Meier-Goering. Photo by AXEL HEIMKEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

German judge lets 8 men who gang-raped girl walk free

An expert witness who testified before the Hamburg Regional Court suggested elsewhere that rape may be a means to vent migrants' 'frustration.'

A German court delivered its verdict Tuesday concerning those responsible for the barbaric September 2020 gang-rape of a 15-year-old German girl in the northern city of Hamburg.

Of the eleven men initially charged in relation to the gang-rape of the minor — only four of whom were technically German — two were acquitted. Nine were found guilty. Eight got probation, not exceeding two years. Only one is headed to prison.

There has been significant backlash following the release of eight convicted rapists, prompting officials to condemn critiques of the judgment, particularly those of an "anti-migrant" nature.

What's the background?

Spiegel reported that the victim attended a party on the festival lawn in Hamburg's over 350-acre city park on Sept. 19, 2020. Four of the men dragged the girl, then intoxicated, into a bush and raped her. One of the rapists added insult to grievous injury and stole her phone and wallet.

Two other men then joined in, raping the victim.

After the initial series of attacks, the victim reportedly began stumbling away, right into the arms of yet another rapist from the pack. The rapist who intercepted her near the festival meadow was then joined by three additional rapists, who are suspected to have all similarly sexually assaulted the victim. Owing to the uncertainty about whether the final three all raped the victim, one rapist was acquitted.

The brutal gang rape lasted nearly three hours.

According to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, after her violent dehumanization, the victim managed to get onto a train. However, her aggressors, understanding that she was traveling alone, followed her. Fortunately, she fled to a group of people who "recognized her condition and called the police."

DNA evidenced implicated nine of the rapists. There was also video evidence, but Spiegel indicated that the footage was "irretrievably deleted shortly after the crime" such that neither investigators nor the court could confirm what genetic evidence made abundantly clear.

An eleventh defendant charged with aiding and abetting and filming the rape was acquitted earlier this year.

While four of the rapists were allegedly of German nationality, another four reportedly had Afghan, Kuwaiti, Armenian, and Montenegrin nationalities. The Morgenpost Verlag GmbH indicated one was born in Iran, another in Libya, and a third in Egypt. The court has not indicated the nationality of two of the rapists.

Trial

Although the rapists were ages 17 to 21 at the time of the horrific crime, they were tried in a youth court. The trial, where the court prohibited media coverage, began in May 2022 and lasted 68 days.

Ninety-six witnesses and several experts ultimately gave testimony.

Among the so-called expert witnesses was psychiatrist Nahlah Saimeh. Saimeh intimated that the gang rape may have been a means to let off some of the "frustration" that supposedly comes with "migration experiences and socio-cultural homelnessness."

Saimeh said rapists "who live on the margins of society, completely uprooted culturally, linguistically and socially" might face a "mix of emotions of anger, sadness, powerlessness, depression, fantasies of grandeur as a compensation attempt to cope with one's own misery, and drug use."

"Disordered, unprepared migration experiences and socio-cultural homelessness increase the risk of addiction and psychosis," said the so-called expert. Sex, she continued, could serve as a "means of releasing frustration and anger."

The psychiatrist further suggested that gang rape fosters identity and strengthens group feeling.

The rapists' lawyers called for acquittals, suggesting that the traces of their semen on the victim's clothing did not prove the sex was forced.

While presiding Judge Anne Meier-Goering acknowledged that "none of the defendants uttered a word of regret" during the trial, she nevertheless sentenced eight of the rapists to probation, of no more than two years.

Only one rapist, a 19-year-old, received prison time. He was sentenced to two years and nine months in prison without parole.

Matthias Jahn from the Goethe University Frankfurt told ZDFHeute that the court took into account the fact that none of the rapists had previously been sentenced to a youth prison or had been convicted of sexual offenses.

The court's decision can still be appealed.

Apparently Germany has previously been willing to lock up gang rapists. Ten migrants — eight Syrians, an Iraqi, and a Algerian who similarly said their victim had consented — were sentenced to prison in July 2020 for gang-raping an 18-year-old woman in Freiburg. The maximum prison sentence dished out was five years and six months.

Backlash

Spiegel indicated that those involved in the trial have been subjected to overwhelming criticism and hostilities since the rapists were set free.

"We are observing the hostility in connection with the proceedings and the verdict with great concern," said Kai Wantzen, a spokesman for the court.

Wantzen suggested that the hateful messages targeting Meier-Goering and others have both crossed the line into criminal offenses and "reached a new, worrying level in terms of intensity and mass."

The Hamburg Judges Association noted it was concerned over the "unbearable agitation against a colleague who had fulfilled the task assigned to her under the Basic Law in this difficult case."

Heike Hummelmeier, chairwoman of the association, said, "The calls for violence against the judge – which also have an anti-migrant background – are completely unbearable."

Arne Timmermann, a criminal defense attorney on the board of the Hamburg Working Group for Criminal Defense Lawyers, suggested that in the case of outrage over Saimeh's controversial remarks to Spiegel, she was being taken out of context.

"The psychiatrist creates a general profile of perpetrators (perpetrators who live on the fringes of society, completely uprooted culturally, linguistically and socially) and argues with racist stereotypes," said Timmermann. "The reader gets confirmation of what he always thought about 'gang rapists.'"

While the perception that Saimeh meant to write off gang rape as an opportunity to vent migrant frustrations generated outrage, it did not seem to register nearly as much anger as the court's decision to set the rapists free.

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