Supporting Survivors of Color: Workshop on Sexual Assault in Muslim Communities

Photo by Anandamayee Singh

On October 19, the Bruin Consent Coalition (BCC) and Al-Talib Newsmagazine held a workshop for students on sexual assault in the Muslim community. The workshop was lead by an invited speaker, Seher Pirzada, from Health Education Advocacy Research Training (HEART) Women and Girls. HEART Women and Girls is an organization that promotes awareness of sexual health and sexual violence in Muslim communities.

The workshop aimed to create a safe environment to educate people on sexual assault in the Muslim community. Pirzada began by stressing the importance of confidentiality during the workshop. She also took questions through text message to ensure that pressing issues could be discussed even if people felt uncomfortable asking questions.

During the workshop, Pirzada touched on several elements, including the importance of sensitivity on behalf of the first responder. A video of a woman relating her experience as a sexual assault survivor was shown, and spurred a conversation around defining consent, sexual assault, harassment and abuse. Pirzada also stressed the importance of recognizing that perpetrators and abusers can be family members who are normally meant to protect victims and survivors.

The workshop also discussed the importance of holding leaders in the Muslim community accountable for their roles in preventing and bringing justice to the situation. Pirzada broached the topic of forgiveness, exploring the complex issue within the framework of its religious significance. “Even if you value forgiveness as a Muslim, you can forgive the abuser internally and seek justice externally,” she said. Along with forgiveness, Pirzada highlighted other possible reasons for people refusing to report. These included a lack of knowledge and recognition of one’s own assault, victim blaming and fear of retraumatization.

Of course, in a country currently as flagrantly Islamophobic as the U.S. any conversation surrounding the Muslim community is incomplete without an examination of external oppression.  Pirzada highlighted that one of the barriers many survivors may face when reporting is  a fear of the perpetrators being charged with a graver crime. She stressed the importance of rallying community effort into providing survivors with a supportive space. Suggestions on the creation of such a space included the removal of abusers and facilitation– through transparency and lobbying for legislative changes– in the survivor seeking justice.

The workshop was a necessary space for a community constantly attacked by the vitriol of our President-elect. “With Islamophobia so rampant in this recent election, I wanted to make sure that Bruin Consent Coalition supported survivors of sexual assault from the Muslim community as well as recognize how Islamophobia has limited their access to resources.” signed off Yong-Yi Chan, co-director of BCC, summing up the spirit of the workshop perfectly.  

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