Illustration: Tim Möller-Kaya, Animation: Alexander Epp / DER SPIEGEL

From Digital Hate to Analog Violence The Dark World of Extremist Misogyny

Hatred against women is fostered online, but increasingly often, it erupts into real-world violence. The problem extends all the way into German parliament. Some experts describe it as a new form of terrorism.

The police were already familiar with Stefan B. before he became a murderer. He had spent time in jail on multiple occasions, usually because he had driven without a driver’s license and caused accidents. But there was one area of his activities that police did not look at: the internet. That’s where he is alleged to have committed sexual harassment and incitement to racial hatred along with posting insults. Stefan B. had profiles on various social media platforms and dating sites. His public statements were usually misogynist, right-wing extremist and they glorified violence.

"They’re all whores except for mom,” wrote B., 25-years-old at the time, on July 5, 2013, on Facebook for all to see. A week earlier: "Patricia, lol, the lesbian just had my best piece in her MOUTH.” Two weeks earlier: "But whatever, there is a new dating site, one of them will spread their legs YEAAAAHHHHH.” And on June 20, 2012, he wrote: "I would be in favor of sterilizing women who only have children for money.” If he were ever to meet such a woman, he wrote, he would "do whatever necessary.”

Stefan B. was a fan of the Facebook pages of the German right-wing extremist party NPD and the right-wing rock band Sleipnir. He demanded the death penalty for child molesters and referred to himself as "Adolf H.” in a note on Messenger. When he was 21, he asked for instructions to "just build a bomb” on a blog.

Despite the fact that his posts could be seen by all, B. was not stopped. On Feb. 15, 2014, Stefan B., who according to an earlier evaluation was not a pedophile, raped and murdered a 12-year-old girl near the Bavarian town of Neuburg an der Donau.

Even on that day, he was active online. According to the court verdict, which DER SPIEGEL has obtained, he sent around 1,200 WhatsApp messages with sexual content to women that day, both before and after committing the crime. He was arrested a short time later. Because of the gravity of the crime, B. was sentenced to life in prison on May 11, 2015.

DER SPIEGEL 7/2021

The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 7/2021 (February 13, 2021) of DER SPIEGEL.

SPIEGEL International

The case clearly shows that violence against women in the digital space often goes hand-in-hand with analog crimes – and can be deadly. Yet the two phenomena are frequently perceived, analyzed and investigated separately – both in the public discourse and in law enforcement.

The spectrum of violence against women in the online and offline world is vast. Harassment on the internet, often from the right wing, is aimed at silencing women. They are stalked or exposed, via "revenge porn,” for example, which involves ex-partners posting intimate images of the woman online as a form of retaliation. In relationships, men can become physically abusive, or they exert control by way of apps and spy cams.

Even terror attacks are committed out of misogynist motives, emerging online ahead of time. The mass-murderer Anders Breivik, who slaughtered 77 people in Norway in 2011, discussed his hatred of modern women in his "manifesto.” The terrorists from Halle and Hanau,  who launched deadly attacks in 2019 and 2020 respectively, were also adherents of anti-feminist, right-wing extremist ideologies. Their radicalization took place for the most part in front of their computer screens.

The intensity of the attacks on women may vary, but the goal remains the same. They are part of the fight against gender equality. And the internet is becoming an increasingly potent weapon in the battle.

For years, the so-called "manosphere,” as the online misogynistic scene is known, has been growing, and it is home to many right-wing extremists. It is also becoming more radical. Experts are now even using the word "terrorism” to describe elements within the movement.

Violent crimes perpetrated against women, as listed in the statistics kept by Germany’s Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA), have remained at a high level for many years, despite an increase in the number of programs aimed at reducing the violence. In 2019, a woman was killed by her partner or ex-partner, on average, every second or third day in Germany. Every 33 minutes, on average, police registered a violent crime committed against a woman in her domestic surroundings. In total, the BKA compiled almost 115,000 women that year who were victims of domestic violence.

Because misogyny is often linked to right-wing extremism, women and girls wearing headscarves are frequently attacked. The number of such offenses has been rising for years, according to the Association of Counseling Centers for Victims of Right-wing, Racist and Anti-Semitic Violence in Germany. Transsexual, intersexual, lesbian and bisexual people have also reported a rise in violence.

On top of that, there is a significant number of unreported cases, since most women who are attacked don’t go to the police. And when they do, misogyny is not recorded separately in the statistics as a motive.

In Berlin, a 47-year-old was recently convicted of beating his girlfriend on at least two occasions. She suffered impaired vision, lacerations and a hematoma.

According to his Facebook page, the perpetrator is fond of motorcycle clubs, the Hertha BSC professional soccer team and the smartphone game Candy Crush, in addition to a strip club and Playboy magazine. His political leanings are also clear: He prefers the right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD). And he shares videos that make it clear what he thinks about women’s rights.

In one of the clips, a woman with dyed-blond hair can be seen complaining about a lack of respect and "male ignorance.” It then cuts to a man shoving his penis into the woman’s mouth and pulling her head with both hands. A choking noise can be heard. The Berlin man shared the video with one word: "Cool.”

But during his trial, his attitudes toward women played no role whatsoever, nor are they mentioned in his file.

In the public discourse, the issue is likewise rarely confronted for what it is. The media often still uses labels such as "relationship conflict” or "jealousy drama” when it should really be called "violence against women” or "femicide.” The attitudes of people who perpetrate homicide or assault against women are rarely looked into – with only a few exceptions. Journalist Robert Andreasch of Bavaria, for example, has written about the right-wing extremist ideologies of several murderers of women. "The societal background of female homicide is discussed much too rarely,” he says. "Even more rarely does the hatred of women in the neo-Nazi scene receive attention.”

Many women members of the Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, are demanding a new approach. DER SPIEGEL contacted all 222 women parliamentarians to ask if and how they have experienced misogyny and how they view the situation in society – and whether they think something needs to be done.

Sixty-four representatives, around a quarter of the total, responded. They are from all the parties in parliament, with the except of the AfD. Thirteen additional parliamentarians declined to answer due to time constraints, and three from the Left Party refused to do so because members of parliament from the AfD had been asked to participate in the survey.

Sixty-nine percent said they have experienced "misogynist hate as a member of parliament.” Sixty-four percent receive such messages, mostly online, but some report having received mail in their offices or even at home.

Thirty-six percent have experienced "attacks on their person, their offices or their homes." Exactly half say they have had to get the parliamentary administration involved, or the police and state security personnel. Almost a third – 30 percent – arrange for extra security at public events.

A conservative parliamentarian who requested that we not use her name spoke of "insults like 'whore,’ hopes that she be raped by refugees and threats that a '9 mm’ would be waiting for me in my electoral district.” She says she now does without "obvious signage at the district office” and always ensures that she has male companions when she appears in public. Visitors to her events must register in person and she uses a security service to monitor the entrance.

Ute Vogt of the left-leaning Social Democratic Party (SPD) writes that the abusive messages aren’t even anonymous anymore. "Just recently, I was called a 'filthy refugee whore’ and 'repulsive piece of shit’ by somebody who included their full name and address.” She says she recently discovered abusive graffiti on a power box in front of her house and a stalker also came into her yard.

Lisa Paus of the Green Party says that she has received hate email including "S&M fantasies,” things like "your pussy … tied up naked.” She has received phone calls from people calling her a "slut,” a "piece of shit” and "a cunt.” Because of her blond hair, she is also frequently accused of being dumb.

The Left Party politician Petra Sitte reports: "I have stopped saying certain things because I know that I would just be inundated with deeply insulting comments.”

Women parliamentarians with immigrant backgrounds are particularly targeted. SPD representative Yasmin Fahimi, for example, was sent bullet casings a year and a half ago, along with other labor union members. And, she says: "My electoral office has been vandalized several times and attempts have been made to break the windows.”

Żaklin Nastić of the Left Party says that she constantly receives comments about her origin. "Polish servant wanted at minimum wage!” read one message she received. Another, apparently sent by someone who assumed she is from Bosnia or Serbia, wrote: "Too bad NATO didn’t bomb you back then, you piece of shit.” She is also frequently accused of being stupid. "Why was the girl screwed so badly when it came to brain distribution?”

SPD politician Aydan Özoğuz has had to receive protection from the BKA on several occasions. "The door of my electoral office can no longer stand open,” she says, adding that she has had "rude visitors.” Her posters, she says, "are daubed with red paint under the eyes or stickers are put on them reading 'for disposal.'" The choice of words is no accident. Back in 2017, Alexander Gauland, a leading candidate in elections for the AfD at the time, said at a campaign appearance that Özoğuz should be "disposed of in Anatolia.”

The toxic atmosphere apparently extends into the Bundestag. Seventy-two percent of the women lawmakers who participated in our survey responded with "yes” to the question as to whether they have experienced misogyny inside parliament from other representatives or staff members. When a woman is speaking, respondents said, it grows noisier in the plenary, with others talking or shouting out interjections more frequently. Women chairing meetings are sometimes not greeted and women lawmakers are addressed on occasion with the informal "du” without being asked. Some say they have been accused of sleeping their way to the top.

Most respondents cast blame on the AfD. In the plenary and even in smaller committee meetings, they say, sexism and anti-feminism have reached new levels since the right-wing party has had representatives in parliament, women lawmakers write. One example mentioned: As Green Party representative Britta Hasselmann was speaking about the disproportionately low number of women in German state parliaments, an AfD lawmaker called out: "natural selection!”

Katja Suding, a member of the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP), says: "From both men and women in the AfD, you can hear insulting comments about the clothes worn by women representatives. Things like: 'What is she planning on doing later?’ or 'She’s looking for attention!'" Another FDP representative, who asked to remain anonymous, writes that she has also experienced men trying to block her path.

A conservative parliamentarian, who also asked that her name not be used, says: "Those old women jokes that we all thought had disappeared are also back, as is the doubting of the expertise of women in politics.”

Kathrin Vogler of the Left Party reports that on the occasion of her first time chairing a committee meeting, two male counterparts from other parties refused initially to accept her leadership role. "I had to be rather clear with them.”

Tabea Rössner of the Greens writes of "personal attacks below the belt,” of sentences like "she should be committed,” "go back to the stove,” or "her poor children.”

The Greens are even establishing an office at party headquarters for all members who feel threatened by the right wing. Trained personnel are to help prevent them from feeling helpless and withdrawing in the face of the abuse. Instead, they are to be taught the correct way of dealing with the attacks. "Because fear is damaging to a lively democracy,” says deputy head Ricarda Lang.

On the internet, misogyny is strongest in the "manosphere,” the online scene where misogynist men exchange views, network and egg each other on. They are the superspreaders of hatred against women, because they disseminate and normalize the insults and threats.

A number of different movements are part of the manosphere, such as men’s rights activists and the "pick-up artists,” who merely see women as trophies to collect. For about the last 10 years, other groups have joined them, such as Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) and the Incels, which is an acronym made up of the words "involuntary” and "celibate.”

The MGTOW pay little regard to the needs or desires of women and often see themselves as strong, masculine, disciplined and good-looking. Because they consider women to be unfaithful, egocentric and manipulative, these men see no value in romantic relationships. They often willingly refrain from sex.

"The complete life of a woman, from morning to night every day, is characterized by fake, lies, deception and acting,” wrote, Mustafa Korkmaz, a member of one of Germany’s largest MGTOW Facebook groups. As such, he continued, men should focus on "acquiring skills that could also be of professional relevance.” The list that followed included: "character, find good friends, job, health, money, abilities, knowledge. At the veeerrrry end, if at all, come women.” On another occasion, Korkmaz shared the 10 rules of the movement. Among them: "Never finance a woman’s lifestyle!” And: "Never trust nor believe women.” And: "Don’t marry!”

Behind the screen name Korkmaz is a divorced 32-year-old. He is one of the more active members of the movement in Germany. On his Facebook page, he frequently posts speeches of Muslim and Islamist clerics that primarily focus on the evils of feminism and are degrading to women. He also shares many of the videos in MGTOW groups.

The German-speaking members frequently interact via Facebook. There are three groups on the platform, with the two largest each having around 500 members. Numerous postings glamorize violence against women. Korkmaz even posted a screenshot from his sister’s WhatsApp profile. The image shows a young woman lying on her belly in the grass. Next to her are two men who are resting their heads on her back. Korkmaz’s comment on the image: "My sister. Cock carousel.”

Korkmaz has started a small group chat on Telegram called "MGTOW Deutschland,” with around 30 members. In the chat, someone raised the question as to how a man should react if a woman cheated on him. A group member called Rocco wrote: "The only thing that helps is to beat her. It sounds harsh, but it’s true.” Doing so, he continued, used to be "normal.” Today, he said, "women simply have too many rights, which they use to their advantage.”

The group member in question is Rocco Moosdorf of Leipzig, a man in his mid-20s who is one of the best-known representatives in Germany of the "NoFap” movement, the members of which swear off masturbation and porn. Moosdorf has a YouTube channel with around 9,000 subscribers where he preaches celibacy. He did not answer a query from DER SPIEGEL.

Incels, on the other hand, would like to have sex and blame women for the fact that they are unwillingly celibate. Many develop a deep hatred of women, some cultivating rape fantasies or wishing women would die. Incels are often younger than MGTOWs and tend to communicate in the more hidden corners of the internet. For a long time, they could be found on anonymous internet forums like 8kun and 4chan, though they also used Reddit and the gamer platform Discord. These days, they mostly set up their own closed forums.

The largest Incel online community has existed since 2017 and includes around 12,000 user accounts. Members open up discussion threads with headings like: "Why are foids such giant degenerate whores?” – the term "foid" being demeaning Incel shorthand for "female humanoid." Another discussion is titled: "If women are whores, why aren’t they fucking you?” And: "Is rape really such a bad thing?” Attacks committed by Incels are a frequent topic of discussion, which they call "going ER,” with ER standing for Elliot Rodger.

In May 2014, Rodger – who was 22 at the time – killed six people and injured 14 more near the campus of the University of California, Santa Barbara before killing himself. In his manifesto, he wrote of waging "a war against women” and that: "I will destroy all women because I can never have them. I will make them all suffer for rejecting me.” Since then, he has been an idol for many in the scene.

Statements like "one dead foid is better than none,” and "if you’re going to kill yourself, why not take few degenerates with you?” can be found in the forums. Users frequently insist that such statements are meant "ironically.” In a survey within a forum, though, 33 percent of 76 respondents said they weren’t opposed to such attacks because they hate people.

Hate is a significant issue among Incels. Their contempt and rage isn’t just directed at women, but also usually overlaps with racism. One can read in the forums that it is terrible to see German women together with migrants or Muslims. Many members use swastikas as their profile image, some even use a photo of the concentration camp doctor Josef Mengele.

The hate of the Incels is often also directed against themselves. Many users say they suffer from depression, frequently because of their appearance, which they believe to be repulsive. One member ended a long entry about his suicidal thoughts with the sentence: "No gf, no point.”

One German Incel is called Johannes H. On Facebook, he follows numerous AfD accounts along with the Catholic Rural Youth Movement of Germany. "Still I remain a 27yo virgin for the time being,” he wrote in 2019. He was a member of the Facebook group Incelistan, which had more than 1,700 members and was deleted after DER SPIEGEL spoke with Facebook as part of the reporting for this story. "Fact is that I as a reasonably good looking tall native can’t get a white becky while numerous arabs and negroes can (sic),” he complains in the group (the term "becky" is Incel slang for average-looking women). "German thots LOVE foreign dick (except asian)(sic),” he writes, using Incel slang for "whore." And: "I despise Islam, but they sure know how to treat their 'ladies’ right."

When asked about such posts, H. replied that he has since turned his back on the scene because it is full of "members of ethnic minorities.” He added that he is "of course still a frustrated, horny woman hater.” Politically, he wrote, he is "as far to the right as it is possible to be.” He wrote that he still stands behind his position on Islam because: "You have to persecute sexual minorities, women and especially suppress their proclivity for exhibitionism, and atheism should be treated as a crime. Maybe a califate for Germany wouldn’t be the worst thing.”

Sixty-nine percent of those who took part in the survey said they have experienced "misogynist hate as a member of parliament.”

Just how closely the Incel ideology is linked to far-right ideas can also be seen in a group called the Feuerkrieg Division, which was established in October 2018. Its 70 or so members spread propaganda in the form of videos, texts and images using social networks and the Russian messenger service Telegram. The group has paid homage to the acts of far-right terrorists like Breivik.

Several members drew the attention of investigators for plotting terrorist attacks or disseminating bomb-making instructions. The group officially disbanded in early 2020, but some of its members are continuing under different names. Some are Incels and others are followers of the NoFap movement. Internal chats within the organization that have been viewed by DER SPIEGEL are full of fantasies about violence and rape.

"Heydrich," as the leading figure of the German cell calls himself – a reference to Reinhard Heydrich, the senior SS officer who was the main architect of the Holocaust – speaks frequently about problems with women. "I should honestly just play the Fritzl card and lock one up in basement (sic),” he wrote to his fellow followers in January 2020. Josef Fritzl is the Austrian man who held his daughter captive in an apartment from 1984 to 2009, and molested her, ultimately siring seven children with her. When "Heydrich” reported to the other members that he found a woman attractive who was an anti-fascist, another commented: "Nice rape target."

In real life, "Heydrich” is 23-year-old Fabian D. of the Ostbayern region of Bavaria. At the beginning of December, a regional court in the Nuremberg-Fürth district sentenced him to two years in prison for preparing a right-wing terrorist attack, though the judgment hasn’t yet been finalized. The court considered it proven that he intended to assemble an assault rifle to kill a large number of people.

Experts warn that, although these may sound like individual radical groups, they threaten to become a danger to society as a whole. "We are seeing signs of radicalization in the manosphere,” says Brazilian computer and communications scientist Manoel Horta Ribeiro, who has led a group of researchers in the most comprehensive attempt yet to analyze the manosphere online. The group looked at 6.7 million posts from six standalone forums and about 22 million posts on Reddit as part of a study released in August.

The researchers found that the sentiment in forums belonging to the older groups was less hateful than that measured in the newer ones. At the same time, even as older groups on Reddit have become less popular and less active, trends like MGTOW and Incels are growing more popular. They are still fringe groups, Horta Ribeiro says, but their potential should not be underestimated. He says it is plausible that the misogynistic and nihilistic debates play a role in turning some users into mass murderers.

The series of killings in which misogynistic motives played a role is alarmingly long. In 2019, a 25-year-old went on a rampage in Toronto, killing 10 people. Before committing the crimes, he had praised another assassin from California on Facebook. "The Incel rebellion has already begun!” At least 10 other murders since 1989 have been attributed to the Incel scene.

The growing violence has also increased awareness among law enforcement officials of the fanatical and at times militant misogynists.

A January 2020 threat assessment conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety considers Incels who take up arms to be terrorists and not merely criminals. It also states that a "growing domestic terrorism concern” is emerging from their ranks. In the past six years alone, there have been attacks with a total of 27 deaths in North America. These crimes, "coupled with extremely violent online rhetoric, suggests that this particular threat could soon match, or potentially eclipse, the level of lethalness demonstrated by other domestic terrorism types,” the assessment states.

The perpetrator in Halle, Germany, who attempted to storm the city’s synagogue on the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur in 2019, is also a self-avowed misogynist. After failing to break through the synagogue’s locked wooden door, he instead shot a woman and the patron of a fast-food stand. He began his livestream of the crime by saying:

"Feminism is the cause of decline of birth rates in West, which acts as a scapegoat for mass immigration. And the root of all these problems is the Jew,” he said in English.

Officials later found images on his tablet that "show apparent anti-Semitic, racist, misogynistic and violence-glorifying content,” a memo from the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation notes. They include images that "explicitly convey anti-feminist messages.”

The memo notes that officials see an "ideological connection” to the right-wing terrorists Breivik and Brenton Tarrant. Tarrant committed a terrorist attack on two mosques in New Zealand in 2019, killing 51 people. The memo further states that "anti-feminism embedded in the context of society as a whole could also be an ideological commonality” to the Halle bomber given that Tarrant and Breivik addressed "feminism and its role in the disintegration of traditional Western social forms.” The assassin in Halle was sentenced on Dec. 21 to life in prison, to be followed by subsequent preventative detention, meaning it’s possible he will never leave prison.

It’s very unusual for anti-feminism to be covered in such detail in investigative files. Up until now, it has been an issue that the German state offices of criminal investigation and the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) have barely addressed. Violence against women is usually dealt with only as domestic violence or as acts of online hate – as completely separate phenomena. Authorities contacted by DER SPIEGEL confirmed as much.

The BKA stated that misogyny is not recorded separately in police crime statistics. The office also said that it has no special department for such investigations because they are a matter for the state-level offices and not the national authority. The agency acknowledged, though, that research suggests that "engaging in violence and harassment in the digital space is associated with an increased likelihood that perpetrators will also engage in physical violence.”

For everything else, the BKA refers questions to the state offices of criminal investigation. When contacted, some suggested contacting the BKA – or individual police departments across the country. No one seems to feel responsible. Ultimately, the only thing that is clear is that there is no special department for dealing with these crimes. Most police departments talk about domestic violence or stalking, which are usually dealt with in different departments.

No one keeps statistics on misogyny as a source of crime, meaning that no one can provide a reliable estimate on the size of the problem. The response from the state of Schleswig-Holstein, for example, said: "Investigation proceedings into so-called Incels or other misogynists radicalized on the internet are not conducted by the State Office of Criminal Investigation." The branch in Baden-Württemberg also stated that it has no data available, instead writing: "It can be assumed that perpetrators who use digital violence also resort to analog violence."

Many criminal authorities seem quite uninformed or even underestimate the danger. "We currently have no knowledge of a concrete danger emanating from any of the groups you have named,” the LKA in Hesse wrote. Meanwhile, the Berlin office wrote: "So far, there is no reliable evidence that Incels pose a significant risk.”

But the case of Britain shows that there are methods for addressing the issue. In Nottinghamshire county, police have treated and recorded misogynistic acts as hate crimes since April 2016.

Around two years before that, the civil rights group Citizens UK conducted a survey on hate crimes in the county of 1.1 million people. It found that 38 percent of women who had been victims of hate crimes said they were attacked because of their gender. Not a single man did. Respondents also said they were less likely to report misogynistic crimes to the police than other hate crimes, with only 28 percent of the affected women willing to do so.

The Nottingham Women’s Centre then called for changes to the guidelines on hate crimes. One woman in particular helped push the changes through despite massive criticism. Sue Fish was deputy chief of police at the time and got involved in the issue as the only female in the leadership ranks. "I just thought, we have to do something,” says Fish, who is now retired. She also had the backing of the county’s police commissioner, a politician with the center-left Labour Party. "I wouldn't give up and I could make the decision because of my seniority,” she says. Fish was promoted to chief of police.

Since the reforms, male and female officers in Nottinghamshire have received special training on misogyny, and the results have been a success. "Three quarters of the women that reported incidents were very content with how the police handled it,” says Fish, adding that the survey had been conducted after the changes. Today, she has a small consulting firm through which she continues to promote the concept. She has powerful allies: The mayors of London, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield all favor the Nottinghamshire model. A corresponding initiative is also currently being discussed in parliament.

The consequences for women when law enforcement officers underestimate the issue or even have officials with right-wing extremist sentiments among their ranks are shown by the threatening messages of what has been dubbed the NSU 2.0. Since 2018, women, particularly those engaged in social and political activities, including politicians, lawyers and artists, have been the targets of a wave of hate messages.

The missives make reference to the "National Socialist Underground,” or NSU, a terrorist cell that murdered 10 people, most with immigrant backgrounds, from 2000 to 2006, in addition to carrying out bombing attacks against immigrants and robbing banks. In their mails and faxes, the copycats have threatened the recipients with violence, rape and murder. Frankfurt lawyer Seda Başay-Yıldız was one of the first to get one of the messages. In August 2018, she received a fax containing threats and personal information about her.

That private information had been retrieved a short time before from the police computer of a female officer in Frankfurt who was a member of a chat group, within which right-wing extremist, racist and anti-Semitic content was passed around. Investigations were conducted into several officers, but no charges have been filed to date. Instead, the "NSU 2.0” continued sending its threatening messages.

For those who feel left in the lurch by the authorities and social media platforms, HateAid, a non-profit organization, has stepped in to help. HateAid Managing Director Anna-Lena von Hodenberg says the contempt and disparagement of women has reached a level that stuns even her. She speaks of clients, often with immigrant backgrounds, who have had marks left on their doors or their mailbox photographed, with their private information then being posted on the internet. Women have also been harassed on the street. One client had to move several times.

She says it’s part of the perpetrators’ strategy to "shift the digital into the analog, because it is massively intimidating to the women." The mass dissemination of people’s private addresses on the internet, for example, creates a broad sense of anxiety. Counselors at HateAid provide psychological support and technical safety training in addition to reporting every hate message where it seems likely that the perpetrators can be identified and thus prosecuted.

Of the 64 female members of the German parliament who answered questions posted by DER SPIEGEL, 73 percent demanded that security agencies introduce misogynist violence and misogyny as a separate category in investigations. In addition, 34 percent want updates to Germany’s penal code. Alongside "racist,” "xenophobic” and "other inhuman” motives, they would also like to see "sexist” motives be added to the list for which harsher punishment can be sought.

They’re following the recommendations of experts like Berlin lawyer Christina Clemm, who has spent more than 25 years representing women affected by violence. Clemm is critical of the fact that femicides – the killing of women as a consequence of deep-seated hatred – are often only sentenced as bodily harm resulting in death and not as cases of manslaughter or murder. "The extent and impact of domestic violence is completely underestimated because it is never considered in this context," Clemm says. She would like to see a legal reform to ensure that misogynistic crimes are punished more severely – the only way, she believes, to change things in the long term.

Maria Wersig, the president of the German Women Lawyers Association, holds a similar view. "It already includes 'inhuman,’" she says, referring to the relevant law. "And although it should be an easy step in your mind for that to include misogyny, that unfortunately isn’t reflected in the reality of jurisprudence,” says the lawyer.

Wersig is supportive of the fact that the German Justice Ministry is considering introducing new language in the penal code for "inhuman insults.” The plan is for "gender-specific” insults to be added to racist and anti-Semitic insults on the list. Wersig has submitted draft wording to the ministry to that effect. Also, she is calling for greater accountability for social media platform operators. "I think they should have to meet the same violence protection standards for their digital spaces that you would expect on the street," she says.

"The extent and impact of domestic violence is completely underestimated because it is never considered in this context."

Christina Clemm, lawyer in Berlin

Thomas-Gabriel Rüdiger, a cybercrime specialist, has long been calling for the establishment of a "true digital legal space.” He speaks of a "broken web theory” borrowing from the sociological "broken windows theory,” according to which a broken pane of glass that isn’t soon repaired encourages more vandalism. Or: If small crimes go unpunished, it leads to further and more serious violations.

Rüdiger says entire generations have grown up with the feeling that crimes in the digital space are rarely prosecuted. That cycle needs to be broken, he says. On the one hand, he says, this requires conspicuous digital police work, and on the other hand, the operators of networks and gaming platforms have a duty to take tougher action.

Companies are finally starting to step in, as well. "Elliot Rodger’s murder was a turning point because he became an icon on the scene,” says Erin Saltman, who leads Facebook’s counterterrorism team for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Everything that has to do with radical misogynists will be deleted, she promises, before qualifying it by saying: as soon as Facebook becomes aware of it.

Saltman says that Incels have a surprisingly broad presence in Germany because there is "strong ideological overlap with the far-right scene.” Which, she adds, "is unfortunately more robust in Germany than in other countries.” Saltman believes the measures are showing initial success. She says the main actors are increasingly withdrawing from the network and switching to smaller platforms. But that also makes it harder to track the dynamics of the movement.

The German government originally set out to hold operators more accountable through a law passed for combating right-wing extremism and hate crime. It required that they report illegal posts to the BKA in the future. But because this would entail the accessing of personal data, such as names or addresses, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier had constitutional concerns and asked for improvements. Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht’s staff are now working again on the draft law.

Overall, 61 percent of those members of the Bundestag who responded to DER SPIEGEL feel that "current social developments are a step backward for women’s positions in society and their freedom.” Some wrote that the crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic has further exacerbated the development.

A conservative lawmaker who wishes to remain anonymous says the reports of an increase in sexism and violence against women are "an enormously disturbing development.” Gyde Jensen of the FDP says one indicator is the "worldwide development” of the abortion debate. An alliance of reactionary and arch-conservative governments is increasingly going on the offensive.

Anke Domscheidt-Berg of the Left Party says, "The shift to the right was also accompanied by a step backward in terms of equality.” Agnieszka Brugger of the Green Party sees a "new quality” in the efforts by "reactionary forces to attack and roll back achievements in equality.” Meanwhile, Leni Breymaier of the Social Democrats warns that the situation in Germany could develop the same way it did in Poland. She says the women their have her full solidarity "also because they are involved in a struggle that could just as easily take place here tomorrow.”

There is considerable concern about the rise of hatred and violence against women. Across almost the entire political spectrum.