Vulnerability requires sensitivity and more police women: A personal testimony
October 16, 2020
Rotherham became the epicentre of a child sexual abuse scandal in 2014. A key element to the national outrage was the lack of police protection for the victims, many of whose statements were ignored at police stations. Further investigation found that the police prioritised their reputations and ‘community cohesion’, rather than highlight ethnic paradigms or acknowledge the systematic abuse itself.
I am not shocked by the lack of concern afforded to vulnerable girls by the police system.
I was born and raised in Bradford, West Yorkshire. I was two-years-old when my parents converted from Islam to Christianity whilst living in a Pakistani-majority area. News of the conversion spread rapidly around the community, yet it wasn’t until the start of the millennia in which the Bradford race riots conflated religion with race; that the local Pakistani community embarked on an anti-Christian campaign. Pakistanis were Muslims and non-Muslim Pakistanis didn’t qualify.
Verbal assaults and threats gave way to physical attacks during school runs and frequent drive-by brickings of our car and house windows. Dealing with the police became entwined with our daily existence during the early 2000s and walking into the living room to find police officers in conversation with my parents became the norm.
For years we were banned from sitting near the front and rear bay windows, for fear of another brick shattering the glass. Whenever we played in the back garden, certain neighbours launched bricks and glass bottles over the wall, forcing us to stay inside while the police were called yet again.
Procedure. Statement after statement, names of the same perpetrators taken, CCTV installation, video footage taken for review at the station. Culprits sometimes taken in for questioning then subsequently released. Charges never made. ‘Islamophobia’ had recently been introduced to British politics and the police were far too interested in promoting multiculturalism to care about religious persecution within the Islamic community. After a string of incidents, one police officer grew tired of visiting the house and snapped at Dad: ‘Stop being a crusader and move out!’
Things continued to escalate. A particular ring leader known to the police, hurled abuse at my petrified Mum one particular evening, while alone at home with us girls. He circled the house for hours, immediately disappearing once Dad returned. My Mum relayed what had happened in his absence and Dad told her to call the police while he went a few doors down to confront that neighbour. He had had enough. The police arrived, took personal statements from Mum and the neighbour, then came back to arrest Dad. He was kept in a cell overnight.
I had heard the police throughout the years insist their decisions were based on impartiality. These
attacks were specifically religious hate crimes, as we had been called ‘Jew dog ’, ‘f***ing Christian’, since childhood. Yet the police maintained for years that the nature of these crimes were on account of ‘neighbourly disputes’. Looking back I realise their actions had less to do with objectivity and more to do with identity politics. It was the year of 9/11 in a predominantly Islamic community. Tensions were rising between Pakistanis and authority. The police needed to appease and Dad’s arrest was just one example of that.
I was seven years old when I started to distrust the police.
Police incompetence was painfully obvious between 2001-2005, with each attack increasing in impunity. In late 2001, Dad had woken up to the sound of the family car set aflame. We were threatened to convert back to Islam multiple times. One on occasion, a neighbour stopped Dad in the street: ‘you saw what we did to your car, we’re going to burn you out of your home’. The police informed us that such threats were rarely carried out and the man who had made such remarks dismissed, despite admitting setting our car alight.
By the end of the year, we had fled to a nearby vicarage for a week’s refuge after the adjacent, empty house was broken into and set on fire, filling our house with pungent, penetrative smoke. The police felt there was a lack of evidence to follow up on the threats. Publicly, the police maintained to national papers, who had picked up our ordeal as a front page story, that they were taking these hate crimes seriously. Honestly, I can tell you they did not.
Years of further attacks and lack of police protection forced us to leave the neighbourhood in 2006 and move to another area in Bradford, less dominated by Pakistanis and affordable. We were discreet concerning our beliefs for two years, until Channel 4 Dispatches asked Dad to partake in their 2008 documentary ‘Unholy War’, as they were looking for ex-Muslim case studies within Britain. It went viral.
The next ten years were horrific. Community hostility, death threats, frequent car brickings, fireworks thrown into the house via the letterbox. The same police procedures and refusal to act ‘impartially’, which translated to a lack of serious action. As usual we knew the perpetrators as did the police who would take statements and counter-statements from both parties. They willfully ignored that no revenge brickings or assaults were carried out by us.
I developed a habit of avoiding the police upon every visit, unless I was called to give a personal statement, something I loathed deeply. It was always deeply uncomfortable, to sit in front of policeman after policeman ( I can only recall four police women in 18 years), to give a statement I knew they would later disregard.
There is palpable indifference when a policeman asks a girl or woman for her account. My sister was in her final year of school. Throughout the years she had endured the same adversarial
community members (some of which attended the same school), following her in a car as she walked from our house to her school gates. Taunts and threats, time and time again they intimidated her.
One particular evening, my sister and her friends took a walk near the school premises. A group of young men spotted them across the street, one of whom recognised my sister. She recalled her shock at his immediate, virulent tirade, as he spewed curses and threats at her and about my family, while she stood motionless with her friends.
She gave a statement at the police station, later expressing to me she needn’t have bothered. “He simply wasn’t interested in what had happened. First he maintained it was a school issue as it happened on school premises and I had to convince him it actually took place outside of school on the street. Then he kept asking me to identify the man’s age which I couldn’t , which he used to say there was nothing he could do without that information. I could identify what he looked like but the of icer was only interested in his age. I kept telling the of icer what this guy was screaming at me but it was obvious he didn’t want to know. I even told him I had two eyewitnesses who could also give statements but he told me that wasn’t necessary. I felt he didn’t listen to me and in the end I didn’t want to speak to him, he made me that uncomfortable''. The policeman dismissed the incident and no investigations were carried out, leaving my sister to endure frequent verbal assaults and intimidation until she left for university.
This pattern of indifference continued. For a year before The Attack, the usual community members approached Dad, taunting him with death threats. With each threat Dad would call 411 and log the incident with the police. Reference numbers were provided but no serious action taken. In November 2015, Dad had left the house when two men jumped out of their car and attacked him with a pickaxe handle, running away when two Polish neighbours chased them off. During the eleven days he spent in hospital with a broken kneecap and hand, the Daily Mail ran the story, which pressured the police to finally admit the attack was motivated by religious hate.
However, that was all the police were prepared to do. A Criminal Investigation Department officer approached Dad’s bedside to state that the assailants’ car had disappeared and that they were struggling to identify the masked individuals. They did not make any connection between the members of the community who had sustained a year-long death threat campaign, nor make any arrests.
I had exploded at this point, as we had provided clear CCTV footage of the attack which occurred just outside the house. I didn’t understand why they were unable to also use street CCTV and CCTV on the main roads to identify a number plate. I had also exploded as I was still reeling from the trauma my
sister had been put through to hand over all the footage the police needed to make arrests. Yet again, she needn’t have bothered.
The police had come by the night of the attack, two policemen and one police woman. Dad had been
taken away in an ambulance by this point, leaving my mother, two sisters and seven-year-old brother at home. One policeman wanted to obtain cctv footage of the attack and asked my sixteen-year-old sister to run through the surveillance of The Attack. She confessed to me how she’d broken down whilst replaying the footage ‘six or seven times, from four different camera angles. He saw I was really upset. Dad had just been attacked with what looked like a sledgehammer, here we were re-watching it over and over, and yet the policeman never once asked me how I felt. I had to run into my bedroom to try and stop myself from crying. I forced myself to do as he asked, zooming in here and there and downloading it all onto a USB.”
In October 2016, armed police swept into the house stating they had credible information that our lives were in imminent danger . We were told to vacate the property. We left Bradford permanently the following month. I do not believe that those ‘credible’ death threats were any less credible than the very first death threat, 18 years ago. I believe that the police grew tired of the years of religious hate crimes and the deteriorating of their reputation once the national press picked up our story.
As a girl, a woman and a minority within a minority, I have little confidence in the police. I have experienced firsthand their lack of sensitivity and indifference when dealing with women suffering violence. We are not listened to. As a result women are unwilling to cooperate with them as they feel uncomfortable and ignored. The need for police women in such circumstances is imperative, and not just to show up and hover in the background but take charge in interviewing and talking to vulnerable girls and women.
I remain unconvinced that if my life is ever in danger, I can trust the police for help. In fact, I cannot be assured of anything when I go to the police. They remain a part of a deeply personal injustice in my story.
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