Thoughts on the Taharrush Trend – Toby Cowern

Since the media coverage of collective sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany on New Years Eve, more and more media outlets are discussing the Taharrush Trend and it’s (potential) impact on Europe and elsewhere.

Now, while it is a worthwhile discussion to have, especially given the desperate need for accurate assessment of the impact of unchecked mass immigration currently happening in many areas of the world, there was one aspect of the dialogue, I feel, is missing.

Before I go into detail, let’s just briefly surmise what ‘Taharrush’ is. Typically, a large gathering of men (Germany saw a gathering of 1000+ Men) will collectively form at a well-attended event or busy public place. In the formation of this crowd a woman will find herself separated from her friends, or just be out alone, she then finds herself encircled by a large group of men who grope her breasts, genitals and buttocks. Attempts are made to pull or cut her clothes off, and her body is pulled in different directions as men move her through the crowd. A short example here; Women regularly report digital penetration of the vagina and anus. Attackers have used sticks, knives and blades, and in several cases sharp objects have been inserted into the victim’s vagina.

The size and disposition of the crowd makes it exceptionally challenging for bystanders or authorities to effectively ‘rescue’ victims trapped within the confines of the crowd, meaning assaults can be brief or last for an extended period of time, with a woman being repeatedly assaulted by different parties for the duration.

Now, while certainly if this is a ‘rising phenomenon’ it should be one that we as self-defense instructors monitor and understand to the best of our ability. With that said, what do I think is missing in the discussion?

While the focus since the attacks that occurred over New Year’s Eve (The incident in Cologne, was just one of many) has been to discuss the motivation of the attacks, I see little or no investigation into the organization of the group. To muster a thousand people, quickly and in a coordinated manner, to then ‘ring fence’ an area to deny the victims a chance to escape is something that should not be overlooked.

If we think back to the peak days of football related violence, crews would spend days if not weeks, carefully planning ‘meets’ to fight rival firms often using elaborate messages and codes to ensure the meet could go down without the police being alerted.  Imagine if a football firm could quickly muster enough people to outnumber AND out maneuver the police!?!

Certainly technology plays a large part, but in combination, in this instance, with language being the ‘code’ that makes it difficult to anticipate what is going to happen and where. One of the ‘delicate’ items of discussing Taharrush in the media, is it is clearly aimed at the current ‘migrant situation’ and largely identifying them as the perpetrators. I am not interested to turn this article into a political discussion, but suffice to say the overwhelming amount of witness testimony highlights the vast majority of the perpetrators are identified as of ‘foreign origin’ mostly of Middle Eastern or African appearance. It is still early days in assessing this ‘trend’ but so far the vast majority of incidents reported all carry a very similar demographic makeup.

It should be noted a vast majority of the migrants entering Europe have done so via extensive smuggling networks which are well organized and deliver time sensitive information primarily via social media. This was seen at unprecedented levels during the emergency ‘border closures’ in the latter half of 2015. Suffice to say, it is not surprising that even after arriving in a ‘safe’ country many people still use, monitor and communicate through these established networks.  Now while this technology can and has been used for a large amount of ‘good’ we also can see it’s potential to be ‘hijacked’ for less well-intentioned means.

Given the large numbers of people currently being kept in poor conditions and suffering with anxiety and boredom waiting for their asylum claims to be processed, and being exposed to significantly different cultures, all with very little forethought to their education and integration from the various governments that ‘invited’ them, we should be swift in acknowledging, identifying and investigating potential new trends or threats as they emerge.

While awareness and avoidance are the cornerstones of defense, the fact these crowds can be so coordinated to ‘appear’ so quickly, means a situation can develop and escalate exceptionally fast. Many of us train with our students to deal with ‘worst case scenarios’, typically ‘more than one attacker’ which is an exceptional challenge to defend from. But rarely do we think in attacker numbers of tens or even hundreds… The events have already transpired to show this is now a potential scenario and the lack of successful prosecution or even authorities (by their own admission) having the adequate means to reduce the chance of these crowds forming again in the future mean it is advisable for us as instructors to assess and identify the solutions to these problems and impart them too our students.

As of right now we have seen coordinated assembly of large groups largely for these sexually motivated type of attacks. But knowing there is ‘strength in numbers’ and acknowledging there is likely to be increased polarization of opinion in a lot of European countries, it’s good to be aware of the potential for large numbers to gather at very short notice in a well-coordinated manner.

To caveat in conclusion. I empathize greatly with the situation many of the asylum seekers and migrants find themselves in and have been a clear advocate of caring for people as they arrive in their new host countries, but demanding far greater, well thought out and delivered policies from the governments that have so far monumentally mismanaged this situation. Yes, during my extensive volunteer work with many of the asylum seekers I acknowledge the vast majority just want a ‘quiet life’. All that said, we cannot ignore the reality of certain deteriorating situations or allow the discussion to get hijacked by politics or political correctness.

I have briefly touched on one potentially ‘newly emerging’ trend today, as an example of needing to keep constantly alert to notable changes in the areas we live and the societies we occupy. Mass migration has occurred many time in the history of humanity and can bring great benefits and rewards but also new trends and challenges. It is our responsibility to stay informed on our student’s behalf AND to offer measured and informed assessment of the developing situations we may see.

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