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The Sexual Assault Epidemic That No One Is Talking About

The Sexual Assault Epidemic That No One Is Talking About

Multiple in 4 Muslim Arab ladies who put on hijab report having been deliberately pushed or shoved on public transit.
Spencer Platt/Getty Pictures

The first time Iffat was assaulted whereas driving the subway, she was on the Newkirk Plaza platform in Brooklyn late one morning two years in the past. Iffat was on the B/Q cease together with her mom and two youthful sisters, ready for a practice into Manhattan. (She requested that her final identify be withheld for her security.)

The station was quiet and principally empty. Abruptly, a person standing close by opened the lid of his espresso cup and threw the contents at Iffat’s again. As the recent liquid seeped into her garments, the attacker turned and sped down the platform. Iffat’s mother wiped off her daughter’s shirt, pleading with the women to not name after the person or say something.

Iffat, who was twenty on the time, had solely lately began sporting the hijab as a strategy to get nearer to God. At first she thought what occurred may need been an harmless mistake — perhaps the person had needed to empty some liquid out of the cup.

No, her mother replied. I noticed him do it; it was intentional.

“This person, he legit felt that he could do this to me,” Iffat tells the Voice. “He does not see me as a person to do that. You feel nasty yourself when you see yourself through somebody else’s eyes and they don’t see you as a human.”

Earlier this month, New York Metropolis’s Fee on Human Rights (CCHR) launched a report, based mostly on surveys with greater than three,000 Muslim, Arab, South Asian, Jewish, and Sikh New Yorkers, charting the prevalence of xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism within the time main as much as and following the 2016 presidential election. The report, which concludes that New Yorkers from these backgrounds face excessive charges of bias-based harassment, discrimination, and violence, reminds readers that our nation’s rising local weather of hate isn’t remoted to Southern cities or Republican strongholds.

One statistic within the report was notably surprising: Of Muslim Arab hijab-wearing ladies who participated within the survey, multiple in 4 (27.four %) stated that they had been deliberately pushed or shoved on a subway platform.

The statistic was particularly disturbing to the report’s authors. Widad Hassan, the lead adviser for Muslim, Arab, and South Asian communities on the CCHR, can also be a Muslim Arab lady who wears a hijab. She tells the Voice that after each terrorist assault or unfavourable media blitz about Muslims, the identical message is pushed out to hijabis by their buddies, household, even social media: Watch out, be cautious, don’t stroll too near the platform edge.

The survey outcomes “actually put a number to something most Muslim women have in their minds,” says Hassan. “One in four, seeing that number — and knowing that it was not only a fear, but an actual experience, that one in four were pushed or shoved — I would say it was both upsetting and shocking.”


The second time Iffat was attacked, in February 2017, she was on the B100 bus in Brooklyn, en path to the CUNY Graduate Middle in Manhattan. She observed a person gazing her and tried to disregard him, considering that perhaps he was simply drunk. However the man began shouting at her, calling her a terrorist, and yelling, “Take that fucking thing off your head.” She obtained scared and moved her seat — and he adopted her.

“That’s when he pulled my scarf from the back” and tried to pour water from a plastic bottle onto her, Iffat recollects. She says she yelled, “Stop, let me go!” and jumped up from her seat, operating to the entrance of the bus and pleading with the driving force to let her off. After he relented and opened the door, Iffat acquired off the bus and, terrified that the attacker would comply with her, ran all the best way again house.

Throughout Europe and different elements of the International North, analysis has persistently proven that ladies are the first victims of Islamophobic discrimination in addition to violent assaults. For her dissertation on the College of Toronto, Sidrah Maysoon Ahmad interviewed 21 Muslim ladies survivors of Islamophobic violence. “A lot of people would be onboard with seeing Islamophobic violence as racist violence,” Ahmad tells the Voice. “We aren’t there yet to really understand it as gender-based violence.”

Ahmad compares pulling off a lady’s hijab to ripping off her shirt in public – one thing most individuals would agree constituted sexual assault: “When it comes to a hijab or niqab [face veil], people don’t have that same visceral reaction” in recognizing the act as a type of nonconsensual undressing or public humiliation. “But we have to remember that the feelings we have about our bodies, and what parts we want to cover or not cover, are completely subjective and socialized.”

After the incident on the bus, Iffat tells the Voice, she felt precisely as she had a number of years in the past — earlier than she had began sporting the hijab — when a person on the road touched her and uncovered himself to her. “Those two moments, I didn’t feel a difference in the way that I felt about my body. I felt disgusted in myself,” she says.

Mariam is one other New York Metropolis resident who’s skilled violence on public transit. By way of a translator, the 45-year-old explains how after the 2016 election, as she was ready to board a practice on the 125th Road subway station, a male passenger getting off the practice noticed her after which deliberately pushed her. “There was space; there was no need for him to do what he did,” she says. She “could have potentially hurt herself but [I] caught [my] balance.” (Mariam requested for a pseudonym for use out of considerations for her security.)

In each Mariam and Iffat’s instances, they stated that no bystanders had moved to intervene on their behalf, and even requested in the event that they have been all proper. Ahmad says that is typical of the ladies she’s interviewed, one thing she says typically “hurts more than the incident itself.”

Of the New Yorkers surveyed by the CCHR who reported experiencing a bias-based bodily assault, most didn’t report the incident; neither Iffat nor Mariam did so. Hassan blames “a normalization of discrimination – this idea that it wasn’t serious enough to report.” She and different advocates interviewed by the Voice additionally talked about language limitations and fears about potential immigration penalties as causes individuals are reluctant to go to the police.

Roksana Mun, director of technique and coaching on the Jackson Heights-based South Asian group group Desis Rising Up and Shifting (DRUM), sees a sort of myopia in most conversations about street-based Islamophobic violence, which are likely to concentrate on the perpetrator of the act and never the local weather that drives the conduct.

“For us at DRUM, we look at it from the larger institutional perspective of Islamophobia, not just what people experience interpersonally,” Mun says. For many years, she says, native and nationwide counterterrorism insurance policies — the obligatory registration of non-citizen Muslim males submit–9/11, the widespread surveillance of New York Metropolis Muslims revealed in 2011 by the Related Press, to the counter-extremism packages put in place by President Obama — have labored to dehumanize Muslims and forged them as harmful outsiders.

Mun provides that businesses just like the NYPD, the FBI, and Division of Homeland Safety have exploitedthe worry of racist violence in Muslim communities to construct group partnerships with spiritual establishments and native leaders, after which used these partnerships to plant informants and collect info.

“When people commit these kinds of individual hate violence,” she says, “it’s really a reflection of the broader behavior that’s been enshrined in policies by law enforcement agencies.”


Ever since she was shoved, Mariam makes positive to be alert and on guard when she travels. She gained’t put on shalwar kameez — conventional South Asian gown — when she rides the subway, and she or he doesn’t enter empty practice automobiles. After being verbally harassed on one other metropolis bus within the spring of 2017, Iffat determined to cease sporting her hijab in public, although she admits, “it did kind of strain my relationship with God.” Taking off the hijab hasn’t made Iffat really feel protected driving the practice, although, and up to now yr she’s struggled simply to go away the home.

“This entire year I could count on my fingers how many times I’ve been outside or hung out with my friends, because of what happened with me on the public transportation,” says Iffat. “Even coming to [this interview], honestly it took so much mental preparation to do this. But I wanted to do it, and I feel it also has to do with trying to get some sort of control.”

The #MeToo motion has introduced new consideration to road harassment of girls, however Ahmad says she doesn’t assume it’s completed sufficient to deal with the experiences of Muslim ladies. “I don’t think they’re doing anything” to deal with gendered Islamophobia, she says. “As a survivor of that specific kind of [Islamophobic] violence, I don’t see myself in that movement. It doesn’t seem connected to the realities of Muslim women.”

Some New Yorkers are taking steps to make their metropolis safer for everybody. The Arab American Affiliation of New York has run bystander intervention trainings to show individuals tips on how to handle Islamophobic violence once they see it, in tandem with an accompaniment program for Muslim residents frightened of touring or commuting on their very own. The initiative was began within the run-up to the 2016 election, when Islamophobic assaults and harassment started to extend. “We’re trying to get our allies to put their bodies on the line for the people who are directly impacted” by Islamophobic violence, explains AAANY group organizer Reem Ramadan.

Apart from calling the police, there are different steps out there to people who find themselves victims of discrimination or harassment, together with reporting it to CCHR on-line. Individuals who need to file an official grievance of discrimination can achieve this in courtroom or by way of the CCHR’s Regulation Enforcement Bureau, which is chargeable for implementing New York Metropolis’s Human Rights Regulation. “Nobody should have to live with these daily indignities and consider it as part of their everyday life, and New York City is working hard to change that,” says Hassan.

In March, Ahmad and others launched Rivers of Hope, an internet toolkit for ladies who’ve survived Islamophobic violence, which includes loads of her analysis documenting ladies’s experiences with Islamophobic assaults. The package additionally consists of poetry, info on how one can get help, and ideas for feeling higher within the aftermath of an assault. “Don’t let anyone judge you with how you cope with what happened,” she says. “The incident happened to you. It didn’t happen to anyone else.” To survivors of gendered Islamophobia, she provides: “It’s not your fault, and you’re not alone.”

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