Cultural beliefs may spur sex attacks, official says

Young Muslim girls in Toronto schools are being targeted for sexual assaults because attackers consider them less likely to report the incidents to authorities, an education official told the Star.

In several cases, the students were harassed or assaulted because, as recent immigrants from the Muslim world, they were assumed to be from conservative families — where, for cultural reasons, sexual abuse can be considered shameful for the victim, say those familiar with the alleged incidents.

At least two sexual assaults against Muslims occurred at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate, the school where 15-year-old Jordan Manners was shot to death in May. But there have been other incidents at other schools, which were reported to police and dealt with, said the education official who did not want to be named because of an ongoing police probe into the allegations.

Others with community contacts said cultural beliefs were being exploited in these attacks.

Nasreen Karim, an assistant manager at the Muslim Welfare Home in Whitby, said sexual assaults are embarrassing for immigrants from Pakistan and India because of their cultural ethos, not their religion.

“I have a daughter. It would be embarrassing for parents,” said Karim, who is from Pakistan. “They don’t want to report, because they feel embarrassed. That’s our culture. It’s a virgin woman who goes to marriage.”

Eman Ahmed, a community worker who also works for the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, said there are many cases where Muslim women are sexually assaulted but afraid to come forward.

“I have heard of this,” Ahmed said. “It would not surprise me that they’re not coming forward.”

Still, Ahmed stressed, many women — irrespective of religion or background — do not report sexual abuse for a multitude of reasons.

But there are additional hurdles for new Muslim immigrants, including language barriers, a lack of knowledge about Canadian laws, and cultural taboos about abuse towards women, several social workers told the Star. Ahmed said there is also a fear of discrimination once sexual assaults are reported.

Police are now looking into whether Muslim girls are being singled out, said Det. Peter Duncan.

“I don’t think it’s based on the specifics of the religion,” Duncan said. “I think it’s simply because they’re different. They’re in smaller numbers. And they’re perhaps more vulnerable.”

On Wednesday, the principal and two vice-principals at Jefferys were put on “home assignment” with pay after an investigation turned up allegations that a sexual assault at the school in October was not reported to police, sources said.

School board policy is clear: administrators and teachers are obliged to report sexual assaults to police.

Naseem Mahdi, an imam and president of the Canadian Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said Islam itself does not promote silence.

“They should educate these young Muslim girls that they should report these things.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday July 2, 2007.
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