A Goldsmiths student is urging victims of hate crime to speak out after she was subjected to a humiliating Islamophobic attack where two men tore off her hijab on a busy London high street.
The 21-year-old student was with a friend, who was also wearing a hijab, waiting to cross at the traffic lights on Tottenham High Road at around 7.30pm on September 28, when two men surrounded them.
“I started to feel really trapped and I knew something was wrong. One guy started pointing at my hijab, and while I was trying to work out what he was saying, the other guy comes at me from behind where I couldn’t see him and suddenly grabs it and pulls it off, shouting ‘You look more beautiful without it,’ she explained to ELL.
“It took me a while to grasp what was actually happening. At first I was crying and just in shock, but the guy was just standing there looking at me doing nothing, which made me so furious and angry.”
The victim, who ELL has agreed not to name, then began shouting and confronting the man, urging her friend to call the police after which the two men fled.
She claims that although many passers-by could clearly see what was happening, no one stopped to help in any way.
She said: “In a way, people’s ignorance towards the incident almost bothers me more than what happened itself. To know that so many people were around and not one person even asked if I was okay. No acknowledgement whatsoever.”
“I was just so disappointed in humanity. I have never been on the other side of the situation myself, but I would hope that if I was I would at least act on it in some way. How can you see something like that and just walk past as if nothing happened?”
The British-born psychology student, who has lived in London her whole life, wants to raise awareness about the importance of speaking out, reporting crimes and getting help when incidents like this occur.
“At first I didn’t tell anyone. I stayed at a friend’s house that night because I wasn’t ready to tell my parents, I didn’t want them to freak out.”
“I went home the next day and told them and they were so upset. My dad is protective anyway, but after hearing this he was telling me I shouldn’t go out alone, he was so worried.”
Though the victim says she had never felt particularly unsafe living in London before the incident, she recalls one previous occasion where she was verbally attacked for her beliefs.
“This guy was shouting at me calling me a terrorist, saying people are dying because of me, blaming me for everything. I just froze, I couldn’t even respond,” she told ELL.
Met Police figures show that religious and racial hate crimes including Islamophobia are on the increase, with a rise in figures across Lewisham, Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Croydon from 2015 to 2016.
The student told ELL that she feels that religious and racially motivated crimes such as Islamophobia are far more common than people realise and more frequent than police figures actually suggest, as victims may baulk at reporting crimes for fear that they won’t be taken seriously or that police will fail to take action.
She wants to speak out and encourage people to report crimes and to have faith in the police after her hugely positive and supportive experience with them since the attack.
“I’m going to be honest, at first I felt like police wouldn’t care, as when they first came they were telling me there was very little they could do in terms of forensics and lack of CCTV. I didn’t feel as if I had any hope of getting anywhere with it, but it turned out to the exact opposite of what I expected.”
“When I met the police officer who’s investigating and who’s been working with me, he was so informative and helpful, sitting down with me to explain the full procedure and what can be done.”
“When he saw everything come out in the news he emailed me to tell me how proud he was of me for speaking out, how brave I am. He was so encouraging and supportive.”
The police officer informed her that religious and racially motivated crimes of this nature can be punishable by up to two years in prison. She wants to raise awareness of this not only to deter criminals but to show victims that action can and will be taken if criminals are identified.
“I’ve obviously had lots of support from my family and friends, but I really want to thank Goldsmiths especially for being such a supportive University.”
The victim says she feels extremely accepted, supported and safe as a British Muslim student at Goldsmiths. Both student services and the University’s Islamic Society got in contact with her after hearing the story in the press to offer any help and support.
“I think it’s really important so I can reach out to anyone else who might have been a victim of something like this.”
“I really can’t stress enough how important it is to report it. If you stay quiet, nobody is going to hear you. Please don’t deal with it on your own, absolutely anyone you feel comfortable reaching out to will be able to help, a friend, a parent, your university, anyone.”
Though the student says the fear of such an incident happening again is always at the back of her mind, the attention the story has gained and the outrage expressed by the public about the appalling crime has helped the student to feel a little safer, showing her that behaviour of this kind is not tolerated by the majority.
“I just keep telling myself that not everyone is like this, and you can’t judge everyone based on one stupid person’s actions.”
The victim said she is working hard to move on with her life and to stay positive and strong.
“It just saddens me that it is 2016 and there are still people hating on others purely because of their beliefs and their choices.”
“I love my hijab; I am a very proud British Muslim. This is my identity, it’s who I am. I love wearing it and if anything I love wearing it even more after this incident.”
“Ever since this has happened I’ve become so much more sensitive to hate crimes in general. I want to do whatever it takes to stop this happening. People need to know it’s not okay.”
“Overall I just want to urge both victims and witnesses to report things like this. If you’re out on the street and you see any kind of hate crime happening, not just to Muslims, please just do something. Even if you are too frightened to intervene, you could make sure the victim was okay, just acknowledge them, or call the police.”
“And I want victims to know that there is so much help out there, and I am a stronger person because of the support I have received. Please tell someone.”
Scotland Yard is now investigating the incident. The first man is described as being around 5ft 6 inches tall, with blonde or ginger shaved hair and stubble. He was wearing a burgundy hoodie and carrying a Tesco carrier bag.
The second man is believed to have been in his late 20s or early 30s, of Mediterranean appearance and clean shaven with spiky hair, wearing a grey hoodie.
Any witnesses or anyone with any information is urged to contact Haringey Police via 101, or to call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.