Italian police raided the homes of 15 youths and three children suspected of participating in a series of sexual assaults during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Milan.
Nine women have so far reported that they were assaulted during the celebrations in front of the Milan Cathedral in the Piazza del Duomo.
The case has sparked comparisons to the mass sexual assaults and muggings that took place in the German city of Cologne on New Year’s Eve in 2015-16.
Police said the 18 suspects are between 15 and 21 years old and are foreigners or Italians of North African origin. The raids were carried out early Tuesday morning at homes in Milan and Turin.
Several women, including two Germans who had been visiting Milan, submitted their reports in the days after New Year’s Eve, with the number rising to nine as of Tuesday. Police believe that more women were assaulted.
Police identified the suspects based on CCTV footage, the accounts of victims and witnesses, as well as through analysis of social media posts.
The women shared similar stories of being dragged into the crowd, pushed and groped during the fireworks display. A 19-year-old woman alleged that a gang of youth attacked her around 1:30 a.m. and attacked her for about a minute before help arrived. Her friend managed to escape.
The two German women said they were pushed against the barriers and sexually assaulted. They submitted their reports after returning to Germany. One claimed that the police did not respond to cries for help. In one video, the women can be seen trying to escape.
“I realized that they were touching me and we wanted to escape, but there were too many,” one of the German women told the Italian news agency Ansa. “I hope they find them and that justice is served for us and all the other girls who were abused that night.”
A young woman was scratched when her sweater ripped and her pants were pulled down. The police took her to the hospital to examine her. Another was attacked in a street near the square.
Italian Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said last week that every effort should be spared to ensure that such “deplorable behaviors” never happen again.
However, the incidents have sparked a political debate, with right-wing parties calling for the removal of the city’s security councilor, Marco Granelli, for managing the New Year’s Eve celebrations.
“The goodness of the left, even in the face of the evidence, is really disgusting,” said Alessandro De Chirico, a Milan city councilor for the Forza Italia party.
The city’s left-wing mayor, Giuseppe Sala, condemned the “very serious attacks” that have sullied the city.
The case has drawn comparisons to the Cologne incident, when up to 1,000 young people, many of North African descent, carried out a series of sexual assaults, rapes and robberies near the city’s cathedral.
Cologne police were also accused of failing to respond to the attacks, while a fierce debate erupted amid allegations of police and media cover-up for fear of stoking anti-foreigner sentiment in the wake of the migration crisis in 2015. More than 1,200 women were attacked, 24 of whom said they had been raped.
The attacks were condemned by then-chancellor Angela Merkel as “abominable.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism