JAN Trust is a multi-award winning charity empowering and providing leadership for women in order to create positive and active citizens of society

crime

Acid Attacks in Britain: A Weapon of Terror

Two Muslim cousins, enjoying 21st birthday celebrations, had their lives irrevocably changed on June 21st after becoming disfigured in an acid attack in East London. Sparking a nationwide debate, the rise of acid attacks in the UK is now under the spotlight.

Jameel Mukhtar and Resham Khan were on their way out to celebrate Resham’s 21st birthday. As they were waiting at a traffic light in East London, a stranger knocked on their window and then proceeded to throw acid across them both. The attack on the two Muslim cousins is being treated as a hate crime.

Resham, who was hoping to begin a career as a model, has written a letter to the public from hospital, alongside a petition, calling for tougher restrictions over purchasing corrosive substances, which can currently be bought and carried legally. Her letter asks:

“Why are acids the new street weapon? Because corrosive substances are readily available in-store and online for as little as £6.50 and the laws surrounding possession is loose.”

Since 2010, almost 2,000 acid attacks have been reported in London alone. Almost a third of these attacks occurred in the borough of Newham, east London. The majority of these cases have not led to trial, with 74% of cases being shelved due to victims being unable to identify perpetrators.

On  July 13th, five attacks were carried out in succession across London by young boys on stolen mopeds. Some of victims were delivery drivers on mopeds, prompting a protest from drivers across the workforce. Delivery drivers are targets of regular motor-vehicle robberies, which are increasingly involving acid attacks which aim to debilitate victims.

Across the world, victims of acid attacks are disproportionately female, often carried out by partners or ex-partners, or even family members in cases of ‘honour’ based violence. However, in the UK both the perpetrators and victims are mostly young men. Experts have suggested one reason for the increase has been tougher regulations on the availability of guns and knives, making acid an attractive and easily available alternative.

In order to stop these attacks, people are calling for stricter laws and regulations when it comes to buying and possessing acid. One solution would be to upgrade acid to a restricted substance, meaning a licence is required for purchase.  The police have been provided with rapid response kits in order to be able to treat victims of attacks as quickly as possible at the scene of the crime.

While not all the victims are Muslim, in wake of these attacks, particularly that on the aforementioned Jameel Muhktar and Resham Khan, many Muslims have expressed fear at being in public or event leaving their house, specifically in east London.

This comes at a time of increasing Islamophobia and reports of incidents of hate crime in the wake of both the Brexit referendum and the terrorist attacks that occurred within quick succession this year. Tell MAMA found that racist incidents increased 530% in the week following the suicide attack at an Ariana Grande concert, and reported a 240% increase in anti-Muslim hate in the seven-day period following the London Bridge attack on June 3.

Last weekend, in Southampton, two Muslim women were victims of a “spoof” acid attack in which they were sprayed with water. This suggests some attacks are being used to incite terror within the Muslim community and prevent them from feeling safe or accepted within society.

Many on social media have highlighted that if these attacks, such as the five attacks carried out on July 13th, were perpetrated by Muslims on white passers-by, the media reaction would have been internationally sensationalised, and they would have immediately been declared as terrorist incidents.

Jameel Mukhtar has himself addressed this issue on Channel 4 News, saying:

“If this was an Asian guy like myself, going up to an English couple in a car and acid attacking them, I know for a fact,and the whole country knows, that it would be classed as a terror attack,”

Although the attack is being investigated as a hate crime, little attention has been drawn to the extremist motivations of this attack. The perpetrator, 24 year old John Tomlin, had previously made posts expressing solidarity with far-right extremists on Facebook. These include posts shared in 2015 that say: “A sleeping lion can only be provoked so much before it wakes up and attacks…and so will us British,” and “We will stand and we will fight. We will reclaim what is rightfully ours. We will not surrender.”

At JAN Trust, we run an online support tool www.saynotohatecrime.org that provides victims a direct link to report crimes, and gives recovery advice alongside access to support networks. As long time campaigners against Islamophobia and violence against women and girls, we offer advice and support to anyone suffering in silence.

We also work hard to highlight the underestimated rise in extremism including far right extremism, and our award winning Web Guardians™ programme.

BBC’s ‘The Betrayed Girls’ highlights ground-breaking work of JAN Trust Patron Nazir Afzal

JAN Trust’s Patron Nazir Afzal OBE features prominently in a 90 minute documentary for BBC One - ‘The Betrayed Girls’. The programme explores Afzal’s instrumental role in delivering justice for the victims of the Rochdale child exploitation scandal.

Over the course of almost four years, 47 young girls endured horrific abuse, grooming and trafficking in Rochdale, Manchester. The response from police was actively criticised, with MP Simon Danczuk stating that the Greater Manchester Police were ‘actively ignoring abuse that was going on’.

In the face of the police’s complacency, this powerful documentary follows Afzal’s decision as former Chief Crown Prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service for North West England to reopen the case. The programme highlights his crucial role in building a case around girl ‘A’ - a victim previously disregarded- which proved to be a clear turning point in the investigation, and ultimately led to the sentencing of nine perpetrators in 2012, and a further nine in 2016.

‘The Betrayed Girls’ illustrates the pervasive culture of victim blaming that still exists for many crimes, including these horrendous offences against children. It also, however, emphasises the role that just a few brave individuals can have in achieving justice, as Afzal did.

What the series did not draw attention to however was the subsequent racist abuse Afzal received. Far-Right extremists called for Afzal to be “sacked and deported” creating a particularly challenging environment for Afzal to endure while pursuing justice.

At JAN Trust we believe that every girl and woman deserves respect and equality in terms of human rights and opportunities, so that everyone has a chance to be an active member of society. Therefore, we at JAN Trust are very proud to have such a brave and inspiring person as our Patron and we are pleased that his achievements have finally gained the wider public recognition he deserves for his incredible work.

‘The Betrayed Girls’ is currently available to view on BBC iPlayer.

Far-right extremism: Europe has seen this before, the time to act is now.

This past weekend, far-right activists and counter-protesters clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia in the US. The protests escalated and one of the far-right protesters drove a car into a group of counter-protesters, leaving 1 dead and 19 injured. The man has now been charged with murder.

The brutal murder of Heather Heyer, 32, which took place at a “Unite the Right” gathering, is just the latest disturbing proof that the far-right, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists, should be considered a real threat. We often hear about Muslim extremists, but the media rarely covers the rise of far-right extremism to the same extent. The group in Charlottesville were planning to rally around a Confederate statue that the city council had planned to remove, claiming that its removal was “an effort to erase white history”. The number of attendees is estimated at between 500 and 1,000 people, making “Unite the Right” one of the largest gatherings of its kind in decades, bringing together a plethora of white nationalist groups for the first time.

While there are many terms for the far right hate groups that gathered in Charlottesville, they have one thing in common: they are often violently racist. If people do not band together to stop the far-right in their rapid advance, they will only grow stronger and more confident. It is widely known that a significant part of Trump’s supporters are known white supremacists. The fact that the US President failed to immediately denounce these groups by name shows how institutionalised this ideology has become. Rather, Donald Trump’s initial statement blamed ‘many sides’ for the violence. After two days of considerable political pressure, he conceded and specifically denounced white supremacy. The next day, however, he was back to blaming ‘both sides’, noting that on each side of the protest existed ‘very fine people’, and used the far-right term ‘alt-left’ to describe anti-racism counter protestors. Several white nationalists expressed their gratitude that Trump did not immediately condemn them. Former KKK leader, David Duke, wrote on Twitter: “Thank you President Trump for your honesty and courage to tell the truth about Charlottesville and condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa [Black Lives Matter/Anti-Fascists]”. This is clear evidence of how Trump’s position as president empowers the far-right.

When figures of authority, such as Trump, are hesitant to denounce the horrible actions and values that the far-right stand for, they will continue with impunity. Media coverage, and their move to unify fractured groups, helps their values and ideas gain traction. Studies showthat young people in America are increasingly exposed to far-right extremist content online. All of these different factors, especially in the context of the country’s polarised political spectrum, contribute to the rising threat of the far-right.

These incidents, and the attitudes held by the people causing them, should set off alarm bells and flashing lights. These people are walking around in the streets with swastika-flags, shouting “Heil Trump!” and making Nazi-salutes. They are not hiding what they stand for. Yet, some people refuse to see how dangerous the far-right is becoming. They bury their heads in the sand and ignore the alarm bells. Have we already forgotten how Hitler rose to power and the horrible events that his rule brought about? Have we forgotten our responsibility as citizens and leaders to take on dangerous groups like these, who champion white supremacy, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and hatred of anyone different from themselves?

At JAN Trust, we work tirelessly to fight radicalisation and attitudes like the ones expressed at “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville. We see daily the abuse that minorities and vulnerable people suffer, especially in terms of racism and Islamophobia. Our work aims to fight hate crime, online extremism, and to support vulnerable and minority women. Through the work we do, we are taking on our part of the responsibility in defeating attitudes like these – are you doing your part?

You can support our work and learn more by visiting www.jantrust.org.

The Difficulty of Eradicating Forced Marriages

New figures released by the NSPCC reveal that there has been a12% increasein counselling sessions about forced marriage in the previous year. Summer is often a high-risk period for potential victims of forced marriage, as many are lured away on “holidays” only to be married off abroad against their will. However, a shocking 11% of forced marriages in 2016 took place wholly in Britain, with no overseas element.

Forced marriage is a serious issue and one that is difficult to tackle. Many victims are too scared to report the forced marriage because it would mean isolation and estrangement from their family. In the same way, it is difficult for young victims to stand up to their parents in situations like these especially after forced marriage was made a criminal offence in Britain in 2014, one can imagine that children are hesitant to report their parents or close family because of the punishment they might face.

It is important to note that forced marriage often happen to children – 26% of victims in 2016 were under 18. These victims are especially vulnerable when coerced into marriage by their parents or close relatives, as they might not have anyone to turn to for help or support. By reporting their family members, they might fear that they will not have anywhere to live or feel that they are betraying their family.  This makes forced marriages hidden crimes, as victims do not often speak up before, during or after they happen. This makes them even harder to prevent, and difficult to obtain proper statistics.

Forced marriages are difficult to deal with for individuals, as they deprive a person of their freedom. Sometimes, this can also include the victim being taken away from their home country, being raped and girls being forced to bear children. In rural areas of Syria, forced and underage marriages are flourishing, as parents see them as a way to protect their children in a time of crisis. However, some of the marriages end in more than just deprivation of freedom. It has been found that some girls who are married off in Syria have become so unhappy because of their marriages that they have committed suicide. This clearly shows the psychological problems can result from a forced marriage, especially if the victim is young.

As mentioned, forced marriage is a difficult issue to handle, as it is so sensitive. One woman, New York-based Pakistani designer Nashra Balagamwala, is trying to approach the issue in a creative way. She is herself a potential victim of forced marriage, as she has grown up with parents and family members attempting to marry her off. Her solutions to avoid the marriages have been many, most recently she convinced her parents to let her study and work in the US for a few years. However, now that her visa is expiring, they are expecting her to come back and get married. But Balagamwala has no wish to do so, she describes herself as a “hopeless romantic” and has yet to meet “Mr. Right”. Like most people, she wants to keep her freedom of choice. In order to fund another visa application and highlight the issue of forced and arranged marriage, she has now designed a board game called “Arranged!” Perhaps it is creative solutions like this one – “Darkness masked in lightness” as Balagamwala says – that will help bring the issue to the attention of people who can make a difference.

At JAN Trust, we hold workshops for participants from affected communities, voluntary and statutory sectors including schools, police and healthcare professionals. These sessions are aimed at preventing forced marriages by making people aware of the issue and the signs they can look out for. By raising awareness and educating, we hope to help combat forced marriage and help potential victims keep their freedom. You can support our work and learn more by visiting www.jantrust.organd www.againstforcedmarriages.org.
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