Breaking down the police statistics gives a more nuanced picture.
Breaking down the police statistics gives a more nuanced picture.

The headlines linked to the recent group rape in Freiburg in southern Germany have implied that perhaps this case is not isolated but rather something that Germany might expect more of given the rise in groups of young men coming from war and crisis regions. But is this scaremongering or based on facts? We took a look at the Freiburg police statistics.

An 18-year-old student was gang raped by a group of eight, maybe more, men in Freiburg. At least seven of the suspects appear to be Syrian. When reading this, it is perhaps easy to think that there must be gangs of migrants and refugees roaming around Germany just waiting to commit these kinds of crimes. 

It is even easier when you read police crime statistics from Freiburg which show a rise in sexual crimes since 2015. But how should these statistics and facts be read? Can we say with any certainty that men who have recently arrived in Germany, from regions of unrest, are more likely to commit these kinds of crimes than other men in Germany?

Police Statistics

Let's take a closer look at the statistics. 

First of all, the overall number of crimes in Freiburg actually went down in 2017, compared to the previous year. Data from the police report about 2017 shows that sexual crimes within Freiburg city did go up by 24,6 percent. But this rise is partly due, say the police, to a change in the classification of certain crimes of a sexual nature. Crimes that may have previously been filed under other categories, for example violent crimes, are now all brought under the sexual crime umbrella when they have a sexual aspect to them. 

In fact, the police have broken those statistics down still further because of this change in the definition of some crimes. Based on 2016’s original definition of sexual crime, the numbers fell: from 138 in 2016 compared to 118 in 2017. But because 54 crimes are now included in this category as well, the overall numbers went up from 138 to 172 in total, of which 121 were solved.

 Freiburg chief of police Berhnhard Rotzinger speaks at a press conference on November 2

There are other factors to be taken into account: The number of solved crimes has also risen proportionately. You could argue that the police are doing a better job, but according to police, there has also been increased sensibility brought to what a sexual crime is and when it should be reported. This has resulted in an increase in reporting of these crimes overall which also accounts for the rise in numbers. For those reasons, they say it is difficult to compare 2016’s figures with 2017.

Who commits these crimes?

In this latest case in Freiburg, this is the big question. The suspects are mostly of Syrian origin. The police themselves say that overall, there is a disproportionate number of foreigners committing crimes compared to the population of foreigners living in the city. So the population of foreign-born people is about 17 percent but around 42 percent of the crimes committed (sexual and otherwise) were committed by foreigners in 2017. That means that around 57 percent of the crimes were committed by Germans on average. 

In the years 2016 and 2017, the figures remained fairly constant. In 2016, 5,938 crimes were committed by German people and 4,443 crimes by non-Germans. In 2017, 6,192 were committed by Germans (a slight increase) and 4,526 by non-Germans, again a slight increase. (These figures don’t include crimes linked to a lack of papers or visa because of migrant status.)

Crimes committed by foreigners in Freiburg in 2017 (excluding crimes related to overstay of visa or residence permits) | Source: Polizei Baden-Württemberg, Polizeiliche Kriminalstatistik

The category "non-Germans" literally includes everyone who is not German. The police have broken the figures down even more. Of the 4,526 crimes committed by non-Germans, 1,675 were committed by asylum seekers and refugees and 2,851 were committed by foreigners with permission to stay in the country. In fact, compared to 2016, fewer refugees and asylum seekers committed crimes in 2017. In 2016, the number of refugees and asylum seekers found to have committed a crime was 1,755.

Who are these ‘non-Germans’?

The Freiburg police also broke down the data to show what nationalities in the category non-German are committing these crimes. Romanian nationals came out top with 349 criminals and 7,7 percent of the crime share. Syria came second with 282 or 6,2 percent, people from the Gambia came third with 270 or 6 percent and people from Italy came fourth with 253 or 5,6 percent. Turkey followed with 246 and an unknown origin category came next with 168. Following closely were French people with 163 crimes committed and then Iraq with 158. Serbia was next with 151 and Algeria at 141, Nigeria at 124 and Afghanistan at 121. Of the top 25 overall, people from Albania and Pakistan shared the bottom position with 59 crimes committed each (1,3 percent). 

Supposable crime scene area near the 'Hans Bunte Areal' nightclub in Freiburg, Germany | Photo: Picture-alliance/dpa/P.Seeger

Overall, sexual crimes accounted for 0,6 percent of crimes committed in Freiburg, compared to 35,2 percent of theft crimes or 22,9 percent for fraud and 18,3 percent for street criminality. Only murder and manslaughter were lower than the sexual crime percentage at just 0,1 percent.

 

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