Hate crime in the age of Brexit – how the current political discourse is motivating hatred

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The Brexit vote to leave the EU has been accompanied by a striking rise in hate crimes in the UK. In light of this, this year’s National Hate Crime Awareness week presents itself as more important than ever to fight back against this division. Hate crime is defined as ‘any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic’. There are five recognised categories of hate crimes: motivated by either race or ethnicity, religion or beliefs, sexual orientation, disability, or transgender identity. However, there is currently a legal review underway that could see the   introduction of misogyny as a new category of hate. 

Hate crimes have been on the rise in the past few years, especially since the Brexit campaign. The latest terrorist attacks have also been an important factor intensifying hate crime in the UK, as some people have wrongfully and unfairly linked the violent actions of ISIS with Muslims living in the UK.  A shocking increase of 123% was seen between 2012/13 and 2017/18, with 94,098 crimes recorded in 2017/18, the bulk of these crimes being racially motivated (76% in 2017/18). These were followed by hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation (12%), religiously-based (9%), disability (8%), and transgender identity (2%); however, the biggest rise was in religiously motivated hate crimes, which more than doubled, according to data. The total sum of these percentages is 107 because some of these crimes have more than one motivating factor.

It is believed that the Brexit campaign, the referendum itself, and the current political discourse are adding fuel to the fire when it comes to the rising levels of hate crime. The xenophobic rhetoric that has become normalised in the political discourse since the Brexit campaign, with the latest example being Boris Johnson’s Islamophobic comments about the burka, is helping to reinforce existing stereotypes about minority communities and immigrants in the UK. It has been because of this change in discourse that some individuals are now feeling legitimised to express their feelings of hate, while at the same time stoking hatred in the minds of others.

Some examples of these hateful acts include the case of a Polish woman being attacked in the street for speaking Polish, a Muslim women being dragged along the floor by her hijab, and two Muslim cousins being sprayed with acid. Stereotypes are very dangerous because they stigmatise entire communities based on false premises, motivating their exclusion and marginalisation. When these stereotypes are legitimised by figures of power, such as politicians, the results can be horrifying, as has proven to be the case in the UK. Politicians should then pay special attention to their words if we are to reduce the growing trend in hate offences.

Hate crimes are a growing problem in our society and action must be taken to control this situation. Steps are being taken, with misogyny potentially becoming classed as a hate crime, which is welcome news as at JAN Trust we have seen first-hand the discrimination that women face because of their gender. At JAN Trust, we believe in encouraging respect and acceptance within communities and embracing diversity. That is why we raise awareness to prevent hate crime, particularly against refugee, asylum-seeking and Muslim women. Visit our website saynotohatecrime.org to find out more about the work we do to tackle hate crime. We must continue to work together to put an end to hatred!

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Representation and responsibility: Film and TV writers need to acknowledge their influence and use it wisely

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Not all film and television writers claim to be trying to alleviate social injustice with their stories or use their creativity as a catalyst for social change. Some may write personal stories, or stories that are completely fictitious or designed as pure, light-hearted entertainment. However, it would be burying your head in the sand to deny that films and television shows have immense influence. Even if your art is deeply personal, the personal is widely regarded as political with the potential to resonate on a wider level. When an individual writes, it is not in a vacuum; they bring the weight of their own world views, experiences and biases to the table. Individual characters or themes explored in a series may consciously or subconsciously change a viewer’s opinion or reinforce a viewer’s existing prejudice.

If we accept this then we must also acknowledge that with influence comes responsibility. For any writer worth their salt, this is a responsibility to not do more harm than good and to acknowledge the messaging your work puts out into wider society, especially in terms of social justice and representation. If your work makes the lives of people who are already marginalised and discriminated against even more difficult, then you must be held accountable.

This has been highlighted recently in the BBC series ‘Bodyguard’, with many critics citing their portrayal of a Muslim woman, Nadia, as Islamophobic. The only hijab-wearing Muslim woman in the series is first showing wearing a suicide belt, which she is about to detonate (representation:  a terrorist). Then it is implied that she is being coerced and abused by her Muslim husband into terrorism (representation: oppressed Muslim woman). However, the series finale climaxes with the revelation that it is Nadia herself who created the explosive devices, free from coercion (representation: determined and autonomous terrorist). Her portrayal as either abused or a coerced/calculating terrorist only plays into already existing stereotypes of Muslim women, and is neither progressive nor ground breaking.

Maybe some could argue that it is just a story with fictitious characters. However, as I have explained, stories are rarely just stories – they have power, especially high profile BBC series. Many viewers are unable to see the storyline as mere fiction. In fact, it may reflect, cement and justify their own biases and perceptions about Muslim women, especially if they do not encounter many Muslim people in their daily lives. Therefore, this storyline has a real life impact for Muslim women and has the potential to fuel negative opinions – and it has already begun. Comedian Ava Videl recently tweeted this:

It is irresponsible to ignore the fact that this show has come at a time when hate crimes against Muslims, especially visibly Muslim women are at an alarming high. It has aired in the wake of the threat of Punish a Muslim day, Boris Johnson’s comments at Muslim women’s expense and at a time when Far-right extremism is rapidly increasing, with recent attacks motivated by Islamophobia in Cricklewood and Finsbury Park. Many Muslim women have spoken out publicly and to us at JAN Trust about feeling scared, isolated and in danger. Many have experienced verbal or physical abuse including being shouted at and called a terrorist, being accused of carrying a bomb and shockingly have been victims of violent assaults. The Bodyguard creative team must know this, and if they don’t, they either haven’t been listening or they don’t care.

This stands in contrast to the praise that some viewers and organisations have directed towards the show’s writer Jed Mercurio, for helping to alleviate the stigma of mental illness, especially PTSD, represented in the show’s main character, David. Moreover, the seemingly deliberate inclusion of women in high power roles within the series has not gone unnoticed by viewers and critics alike. It is a great shame that although positive representation was clearly acknowledged to be important for some groups, it couldn’t be extended to Muslim women or Muslims in general. Clearly, the discussions of diversity, representation and overcoming stigmatisation were happening in those boardrooms; which only underscores the utter starkness of the show’s complete misunderstanding of Muslim representation.

A new test has now been created to measure Muslim representation in film and television called the Riz Test, named after Riz Ahmed who has been a vocal advocate on the importance of representation in the media. The test states:

If the film/show stars at least one character who is identifiably Muslim (by ethnicity, language or clothing) – is the character…

  1. Talking about, the victim of, or the perpetrator of Islamist terrorism?
  2. Presented as irrationally angry?
  3. Presented as superstitious, culturally backwards or anti-modern?
  4. Presented as a threat to a Western way of life?
  5. If the character is male, is he presented as misogynistic? or if female, is she presented as oppressed by her male counterparts?

If the answer for any of the above is Yes, then the Film/ TV Show fails the test.

Unsurprisingly, the Bodyguard fails on each count. It is clear that so much more work needs to be done within the industry to properly represent Muslim people and writers need to acknowledge their responsibility in creating work which isn’t to the detriment of marginalised groups.

At JAN Trust, we understand the importance of representation and know all too well the struggles Muslim women face whether they are facing higher levels of employment discrimination or are more likely to be victims of hate crime. To find out more about the work we do visit our website http://www.jantrust.org

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, british, discrimination, Diversity, Education, Ethnic Minorities, Far right, Hate Crime, hijab, Inclusion, Islam, islamophobia, mental health, Muslim, Muslim dress, Muslim women, police, Politics, Racism, Representation, Society, Terrorism, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why is feminism essential?

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Although there is still much progress to be made in British society concerning women’s rights, it’s easy to be blinkered to the fact that around the globe, Feminism is manifested differently in different cultures. In Argentina, it’s reproductive rights, with 500,000 illegal abortions carried out every year and women pushing for a bill to be pushed through Argentina legalising abortion. India is the most dangerous country in the world to be a woman, with women fighting against sexual violence, human trafficking and discrimination to name a few. In the Western world, it is the #MeToo movement, which shone a light on workplace harassment and the authority that some men hold over women.

Equality is something that women demand. However, it is a slow and arduous path to get there. Women are fighting against multiple grievances: Violence against Women and Girls, against sexual harassment, for reproductive rights, against objectification, against stalking, against the gender wage gap, for equality in the workplace, for maternal and infant health care, for parental leave, for better child care, against human trafficking, for better mental health provisions, for access to education, against discrimination, and for the right to breastfeed (to name just a few!).

We need feminism because FGM still occurs. We need feminism because infanticides still occur because of the gender of the baby. Women’s rights is an issue that affects everyone, not just women. It is also an issue that will benefit the whole of society once women’s rights progresses.

Violence against women and girls is an epidemic. 120 million girls worldwide have experienced forced sexual acts. 38% of murders of women worldwide are committed by a male partner. In some countries, domestic violence is not yet considered a crime! Morocco has introduced a law to combat violence against women, which is great news, but some state which does not go far enough to protect women. Educating societies, and especially men, to treat women and girls with respect and with equality is the first step to ensuring equality for all and the safety of women and girls from violence.

Many of these issues compound and affect women and girls not just physically, but mentally too. Mental health is an issue that affects men at a much higher rate than women. However, the rate of suicide among women and girls is rising. In the UK, the number of young women and girls committing suicide has more than doubled in the last five years. Suicide and mental health must be tackled head-on, or more men and women will lose their lives to pressures that can be inhibited.

At JAN Trust we believe that the global fight for women’s rights is essential and the myriad of ways women are oppressed across the world needs to be recognised. We cater to women that come from many different countries, cultures, and speak many different languages and so have many various issues. We have users who have suffered from domestic abuse and forced marriages, mental health issues, as well as experiencing discrimination because of their gender and religion. We find this unacceptable and work to empower these women so that they can overcome as many barriers as they can in order to live freely and  independently.

To find out more about our work, go to www.jantrust.org.

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, Campaign, Campaigning, discrimination, Diversity, Education, Ethnic Minorities, girls, Inclusion, Representation, Society, Uncategorized, Violence, Violence Against Women, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is Another Way Forward?

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By now, we are sure that you have heard of our project Another Way Forward: Empowering Young Women against Extremism. This is a project, run by JAN Trust, that has been kindly been supported by the Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD), and Google.org. ISD works to empower new generations against extremism, something that we at JAN Trust aim to do with this project!

Another Way Forward is an exciting new project developed by JAN Trust to empower young women. We will travel to schools to deliver our SAFE workshops (Safeguarding Against Extremism), empowering young female students with the knowledge needed to counter extremism. They will have the opportunity to make their voices heard via campaigning and ultimately making a difference to the lives of young people in the UK!

In addition, there will be an online gendered counter-narrative resource. Resources will be created looking at gender specific cause and effects for radicalisation.

JAN Trust has pioneered counter-extremism programmes, most notably our Web Guardians™ programme, which works to empower mothers against online radicalisation. We believe that the future is young people, especially young women, who have a vital role to play in countering extremism.

We are so excited for this new chapter at JAN Trust, please follow and support our work on social media and on our website www.anotherwayforward.org!

Posted in Active citizenship, Campaign, Campaigning, Education, Hate Crime, Inclusion, Iraq, ISIS, Islam, islamophobia, JAN Trust, Jihadi Brides, London, Muslim, Muslim women, Online abuse, Online hate, Politics, Racism, radicalisation, Radicalisaton, Representation, Sajda Mughal, Syria, Terrorism, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

FGM – vital steps forward are being taken, but attitudes need to change

End FGmFGM, or Female Genital Mutilation is a huge international problem that affects millions of girls and women yearly. However, did you know that 137,000 women and girls are affected by FGM in England and Wales? This statistic is shocking and unacceptable. There were 4,495 newly recorded cases of women and girls who had undergone FGM in the period April 2017 to March 2018 alone.

Recently, a man and woman were charged with female genital mutilation of a three-year-old girl. This is terrible and it is a good thing that those complicit in FGM are now being charged for the horrendous act. This case is the third attempted prosecution for FGM in the UK, but there has never been a successful prosecution, which is unacceptable.

Five new cases have been reported in the area of Dorset – the fact that FGM is on the rise in the UK is completely unacceptable. We at JAN Trust are hoping that the fact that FGM is ‘on the rise’ is due to the fact that the previously taboo issue is now being spoken about more easily, therefore the statistics may show not ‘new’ cases but cases that are now being spoken about in the open due to a change in attitude in communities where it is most practiced.

A girl or woman who has been subjected to FGM will likely suffer the consequences of it for the rest of her life. FGM can lead to infections, increased risk of HIV and AIDS, cysts and neuromas, infertility, complications in childbirth, psychosexual problems, and trauma. These reasons alone show why FGM is so inhumane .

FGM has been illegal in the UK for over 30 years, however since 2003 it has also been illegal for UK citizens to take their child abroad to have FGM.

Please call 0208 889 9433 or email info@jantrust.org if you are a school that is interested in inviting experts such as ourselves to speak on the topic of FGM. We offer workshops in schools, colleges, community groups and statutory agencies. These workshops aim to raise awareness of how to detect cases of FGM, as well as offer advice on how to support victims. In the last 5 years, we have delivered over4200 school sessions. We have worked with over, working with 40,000 young people and practitioners across the UK and have worked in over 29 boroughs. See how you can help us continue this vital work here https://jantrust.org/project/against-fgm/ .

If you are worried about this issue in any way, please call the NSPCC helpline on 0800 028 3550 or email fgmhelp@nspcc.org.uk.

Posted in Active citizenship, Campaign, Campaigning, Crime, discrimination, Education, Ethnic Minorities, girls, Health Issues, International, International Affairs, Uncategorized, Violence, Violence Against Women, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A call to break away from forced marriage

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“I will not be a victim for my parents’ honour and reputation. I will not live in shame. I am now free.”

The right to choose who you marry, when you marry and if you marry is a fundamental human right which needs to be safeguarded under all circumstances. Forcing someone to marry is illegal in England and Wales and is a criminal offence that can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison. The duty to protect these young girls is well represented by the recent case of a 20 year old woman from Leeds who just about escaped a forced marriage that would have changed the course of her life at such a young age. She was tricked , in her words, by her “monster” parents into going to Bangladesh on what she thought was a holiday to see family and celebrate Eid. Only a week after arrival, the young woman , in “terror and distress” after becoming a victim of violence, threats or coercion managed to contact the police through her boyfriend in the UK. This case confirms the seriousness of the crime and that the people responsible will be prosecuted; her parents were jailed after a three-week trial. As a reaction to this case, Sajid Javid,  Home Secretary, said more needed to be done to safeguard all UK citizens from a “despicable, inhumane” and “uncivilised” practice.

In 2017, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) provided advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,196 cases. The majority, 77.8%, involved women and 21.4% involved men. Moreover, 10% of the cases had no overseas element, with the potential or actual forced marriage taking place entirely within the UK. A joint report between the Home Office and the Foreign Office emphasised that the above statistics only recorded the cases reported to the unit, stressing that “Forced marriage is a hidden crime, and these figures may not reflect the full scale of the abuse” as some girls are under enormous pressure from their family and community to remain silent and are at a severe risk of retaliation attacks if they do seek help (see our Report Consent Matters).

Unsurprisingly, the Home Office has been accused of not challenging these abusive marriages far enough.  After being coerced into marriage, these girls and women’s remaining chance relies on the UK Government preventing their husbands following them back into the UK. Attention must be centered on those who have attempted to block spouses being granted visas as figures released by the Times expose that the Home Office has received 175 inquiries about victims trying to block their spouses’ visa last year, of which only 88 became full cases from which visas were issued in 42 cases. The Home Office needs to do more to assess visa applications to safeguard young vulnerable adults as this is unacceptable and leads to these women’s and girl’s lives being placed at risk

This human rights abuse is at the heart of JAN Trust’s award winning Against Forced Marriage campaign launched in 2011 which has contributed in raising awareness and has undertaken preventative work around this issue. JAN Trust recommends a dialogue at the grassroots about forced marriages in order to combat forced marriage within communities in the UK. The need to deconstruct those cultural and religious myths around this issue must be undertaken seriously, making sure it does not impede the government from taking a firm stance, especially when flagged in visa applications. Please reach out if you fear for yourself or for a relative to the Forced Marriage Unit: 020 7008 0151.

Posted in Campaign, Campaigning, child marriage, discrimination, Education, Ethnic Minorities, forced marriage, Forced Marriages, Inclusion, JAN Trust, London, marriage, Uncategorized, Violence, Violence Against Women, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

JAN Trust’s impact on countering extremism

JAN Trust has paved the way for the role of women to be taken seriously in society, and especially when it comes to countering extremism. We have recognised the importance of women in protecting their children from online radicalisation and extremism since 2010.

Our work with women began 30 years ago in 1989 when our founder Rafaat Mughal discovered the need for a centre to support marginalised women in the area of Haringey. Marginalised and socially excluded women were approaching Rafaat at her home seeking help and assistance. These women, living in Haringey, were facing extreme deprivation and a dire need for access to basic skills and opportunities, including the English language, education, jobs and an understanding of British services and systems. This was having an increasingly negative impact on their children who had little access to formal education. JAN Trust was opened in order to provide the vital skills and empowerment needed. We aim to encourage, educate and empower women, building their self-confidence and allowing them to become independent and active citizens and take control of their own lives. We aim to enable marginalised individuals to reintegrate with society, and improve life options for themselves, their families and the wider community.

On the 7th of July 2005, JAN Trust’s CEO Sajda Mughal, a recently-graduated student working in the banking sector was on the Piccadilly line on the way to work when a bomb was set off at King’s Cross St Pancras. Luckily, Sajda, survived, but the traumatic event made Sajda wonder why four men were encouraged to perform such a terrible act. This is why she then went on board to JAN Trust and concentrated on tackling violent extremism in the UK.

Sajda wanted the issue of extremism to become a prominent issue in the minds of politicians, and so JAN Trust led in shaping policy by producing reams of documentation. JAN Trust also led in bringing attention to the fact that radicalisation does not occur offline anymore, but predominantly online. This led to the creation of the report ‘Internet Extremism – Working Towards a Community Solution’. This was initiated with the research undertaken from 2009 for this report that included a community consultation with hundreds of Muslim women and mothers, as well as extensive online research and looking in detail at UK based case studies. The findings were incredibly revealing, showing the plethora of extremist material available online. This report has been influential in shaping policy and played a significant role in a shift of thinking; resulting in online radicalisation being taken seriously and widely discussed in all areas of counter extremism. Unfortunately, beforehand the government was not proactive when it came to the issue of extremism material online. The report was pivotal in determining much of the work of JAN Trust today, as the basis for our highly acclaimed Web Guardians™ Programme.

Unfortunately, now, after all of JAN Trust’s hard work aiming to educate women on the dangers of online radicalisation and extremism, the Web Guardians™ programme has had its funding cut by the Home Office without any explanation. After leading the way when it came to tackling extremism, we have now been sidelined by the government. Sajda Mughal, after dedicating her life after 7/7 to tackling extremism, has raised concerns with the Home Office and the Prevent strategy for not prioritising the vital relationship needed with local communities. She warned that instead of working at the grassroots level with the community, the Home Office was working with private companies instead of communities working at the local level. This lack of ability to work with the local community has been accentuated by the appointment of Sara Khan as head of the Commission for Countering Extremism, who has been criticised for being a “mouthpiece” for the Home Office.

There has been distrust of the Muslim community and of the Prevent strategy as it has been allegedly Islamophobic. JAN Trust has worked with Prevent and wants it to work, but Sajda has called for a vital independent review of the strategy in order for people to regain trust in this counter-terrorism strategy. In a recent article in The Sunday Times, Sajda warned that Prevent had become a “toxic brand.”

The work of JAN Trust in countering extremism is undeniable. We have targeted a section of the population which may otherwise have been unaware of the dangers online, mothers. Mothers are vital in shaping their child’s experience, offline and online. With our teaching we have empowered women with the necessary skills to protect their children. We hope that the Home Office realises the mistake it has made cutting funding for Web Guardians™ and now will consider an independent  review into Prevent, which has struggled to have a tangibly successful impact on the community.

Posted in discrimination, Diversity, Education, Ethnic Minorities, Extremism, Facebook, Far right, Hate Crime, hijab, Inclusion, International, International Affairs, ISIS, Islam, islamophobia, JAN Trust, Jihadi Brides, London, Muslim, Muslim women, Online abuse, Online hate, Politics, radicalisation, Radicalisaton, Representation, Sajda Mughal, Terrorism, Uncategorized, Web Guardians, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Refusal to apologise – Endorsement of Islamophobia

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Boris Johnson’s comments should not be taken as a joke, they show how dangerously and increasingly present Islamophobia is in national and political figures’ discourse. As we all well know by now, the MP and former Foreign Secretary, has recently mocked women who wear the niqab by comparing the way they look to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” in a column for the Telegraph. Mr Johnson is currently undergoing an internal Conservative Party investigation over his comments,  with  the Prime Minister, stating that she and the government believe that “the question of how a woman should dress is matter for a woman’s individual choice”.

Johnson has a long history of employing derogatory expressions and having to apologise for them such as for his reference to black people as “piccaninnies” and spoke about “watermelon smiles”.

These statements made in public carry the risk of legitimising hate speech within society. The inflammatory language used by Boris Johnson is suspiciously echoing of extreme right-wing speech. By publicly saying these deeply offensive words, he may be trying to further his own political ambitions and playing into a leadership bid, but at what cost?

At the cost of Muslim women, who suffer from verbal and physical attacks and to the society as a whole for not condemning comments which are pandering to dangerously divisive attitudes. The rise of the extreme right-wing in Britain has been confirmed by Sir Mark Rowley, the former head of the Metropolitan Police’s counter terrorism unit, warning that we have to ‘wake up’ and start preventing it from spreading across British society. Proof of the direct correlation between Johnson’s comments and the door it opens to hate speech within society, lies in his own Facebook page. Even though a source close to Johnson claimed that he “totally condemns the hateful views posted by a small minority”, the lack of acknowledgment of his comments’ consequences and the as of yet refusal to apologise do little to lead us to believe that his motivations were other than fuelling hate speech and gaining sympathy of extreme-right potential future voters. The latter is seen expressed in the hundreds of Islamophobic comments that can be found on his Facebook page, including a #islamophobicandproud.

As a BAMER women’s charity, working with Muslim women for nearly 30 years, we know all too well how this type of language fuels hate crime against Muslim women especially. We condemn these criminalising statements in the case of the comparison to bank robbers; solely based on what these women are wearing. This increasingly divisive and suspicious environment is palpable when looking at the rise in numbers of insults and abuses against Muslim women, a spike allegedly “directly linked to Boris Johnson’s comments”. Some of our beneficiaries sent us their reactions on the day these comments came out; “he should step down…or be forced to resign.” At the core of local community and directly working with women who directly  impacted  by Johnson’s  comments, JAN Trust agrees with Lord Sheikh’s vision, Mr Johnson should lose his conservative whip over his comments. By removing his whip, the Conservatory Party would set a more positive and credible step towards standing against Islamophobia and bigotry.

Posted in Active citizenship, Advocacy, british, Citizenship, discrimination, Diversity, Ethnic Minorities, Extremism, Facebook, Far right, Hate Crime, hijab, Inclusion, Islam, islamophobia, JAN Trust, Muslim, Muslim dress, Muslim women, Online abuse, Online hate, Racism, Society, Uncategorized, women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

BAME women face up-hill battle reporting intra-familial sexual abuse – We must speak out!

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Recently, we read the sickening story of  Ashraf Khan, who has been jailed for four-and-a-half years for three counts of incest after admitting to fathering his daughter’s three children.

The children suffered in various physical ways as a result of the incestual sexual abuse, such as the inability to feel certain kinds of pain, as well as extensive psychological damage since Khan’s crimes came to light.

Khan’s history of depraved sexual crimes was only revealed when the victim, his daughter, confessed the abuse on her deathbed. She had been holding onto the secrets of her abuse and trauma for her whole life. It is devastating to think that justice came too late for her, as she passed away years before this verdict.

The sexual abuse of and violence against women and girls by their own families and communities is ubiquitous and occurs throughout all cultures and countries. In 2006, we heard the story of Banaz Mahmod, who was raped and tortured in an ‘honour’ killing; her body was later found in a suitcase. In 2008, we heard the now infamous and despicable story of Joseph Fritzel, who kept his daughter captive and raped her repeatedly for 24 years. More recently, a young woman waived her right to anonymity to raise awareness and urge others to come forward about familial sexual abuse after having been raped and abused by her father for years. There was also the story of a woman from Leeds, who was abused by her father and threatened that her body would be dissolved in acid. Around the world, we have read the stories of young girls being abused, such as the 11 year old girl who was gang raped by members of her own community and the 8 year old Indian girl who was hospitalised after being raped by her brother. These are only a handful of stories which barely scratch the surface.

The #MeToo movement has recently shed some light on just how common male violence against women and girls is and continues to provide a safe space for women to talk about their trauma and experiences. However, for many, intra-familial sexual violence remains too shameful and painful to speak about.

As we have mentioned, this type of sexual violence is ubiquitous throughout all cultures and communities, however for BAME women and girls, speaking out about this trauma comes with nuanced challenges. In a recent study, it was found that instances of sexual violence against South Asian women and girls are going unreported for many cultural and social reasons.

One of these reasons is the increased likelihood of having the internalised and deep-rooted cultural belief in preserving ‘honour’. This belief system holds that women and girls bear the responsibility for the honour of their families. If this honour isn’t perceived to be upheld, in some cases this ‘justifies’ disowning them or potentially abusing them, such as the case of Banaz Mahmod. Talking about sexual abuse, especially perpetrated by a close relative or someone who is respected within the community, is perceived of as deeply shameful and many women and girls blame themselves and remain silent. In addition to this, sexual violence damages a victim’s marriage prospects as she will no longer be seen as ‘virginal’ or ‘pure’.

BAME women and girls are also less likely to access services that may be able to help and support them. This can be for many reasons, including potential language barriers, lack of awareness of British systems, fear of not being believed or listened too as well as potentially being shunned by her community.

One woman, who was interviewed as a part of the same study stated:

“They think it’s not going to be just the family they have to deal with but the whole community, and they’ll feel repercussions from [that]. A lot of times . . . the male doesn’t take on any blame or any responsibility for their actions. It’s always the female who is blamed for whatever happens.”

 It is absolutely vital to try and change this culture of shame and victim-blaming. BAME women should no longer be shamed into silence about the abuse they’ve faced. This culture of secrecy and ‘honour’ only serves to protect abusive men, and survivors of abuse are not responsible for their abusers’ actions.

Women and men from ethnic minority communities need to speak out against this issue and try and change these attitudes which are leading women, like the daughter of Ashraf Khan, to only speak out on her death bed or for some, never at all. When more people are able to talk openly within their communities without fear of rejection and given access to genuine support, more people will be encouraged to come forward and get the help and justice they need.

At JAN Trust, we have been offering advice, guidance and a support network to BAME women for nearly 30 years. We understand the issues they face and help them access the services they need.

Visit our website for more information about the work we do at http://www.jantrust.org

Posted in Crime, Ethnic Minorities, forced marriage, girls, police, Sexual Violence, Uncategorized, Violence, Violence Against Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Islamophobia is insidious – what can we do to stop it?

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Islamophobia is on the rise in the UK, especially since the 2017 terrorist attacks.

As of late, an inquiry has been called as there have been allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. There have been multiple cases such as Conservative MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman who shared a link from an anti-Muslim US website and retweeted Tommy Robinson. David Boston, running for councillor in Enfield, was suspended days before the local elections this year for posting an image of bacon hanging from a door handle with the caption ‘Protect your house from terrorism. Stay safe lads.’ Baroness Warsi, a Conservative peer, has spoken out against the Conservative Party’s lack of action and has stated that “it’s burying its head in the sand and now unfortunately it’s playing out in a very embarrassing way.”

Anti-Muslim hatred is growing in the UK and it is extremely worrying. The media has had a large role to play in influencing this divisive mindset. Facts have been distorted, and anti-migrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric has merged into Islamophobia. Hatred had been legitimised, especially since the Brexit referendum, which became a chance for those against immigration to make their voice heard.

Anti-Muslim hatred is not just symbolic. It has seeped into Muslim communities and affected their everyday lives. Between 2016 and 2017, religious hate crimes increased by 35 per cent. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of hate crimes directed at mosques more than doubled. A Government report last year by the Social Mobility Commission found that only 19.8% of Muslims (1 in 5) aged 16-74 were in full-time employment, compared to 45% of the population as a whole. Barriers that they face include stereotyping, minority ethnic-sounding names reduce the likelihood of people being offered an interview, and harassment. Young Muslims have also reported having to work “10 times as hard” to get on. Women with headscarves, which includes many of our beneficiaries, had specific discrimination when entering the workplace.

Far-right extremism is on the rise, in response to hatred against the Muslim community and Islam. The #FreeTommy campaign, a campaign to release extremist Tommy Robinson from prison for contempt of court, is dangerous as it legitimises freedom of expression to the extent that it may discriminate against minority communities. There are many new Far-right groups emerging, such as Generation Identity, which believes that Europe is being ‘Islamised.’ Some groups are preparing for a ‘war against Islam’, such as the banned group National Action. These groups are becoming more and more popular. These discriminatory views against Muslims, and other minorities, are being more and more commonplace, and that is extremely worrying in a society in which British values preach tolerance and acceptance.

Three million Muslims live in the UK. That is less than 5% of the overall population. Yet the media and rhetoric has created the image that Muslims are taking over the country. This is unacceptable, and as a charity that caters largely to Muslim women we find it abhorrent that these women suffer Islamophobic abuse.

What can we do to stop it? The Integrated Communities Strategy green paper, released this year, noted that levels of English amongst the Muslim population are lower than the general population. Integration of Muslim communities has been seen as an issue by the British government. However, funding for ESOL has fallen by over 50% since 2009. This is funding that charities, such as JAN Trust, rely on, in order to integrate beneficiaries into British society. Therefore, hatred of Muslims has been exaggerated by the lack of action on the part of the government to integrate Muslim communities and to emphasise the benefits of multiculturalism.

At JAN Trust we aim to keep speaking out about Islamophobia and raising awareness of the issue. Islamophobia must be equated with anti-Semitism and other forms of religious discrimination. If you see an Islamophobic incident, please do not stay silent and please report it to the police. The more the police become aware of the issue of Islamophobia, the more chance there is that it can be tackled.

To find out more about the work we do, visit www.jantrust.org.

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