UTS Students Targeted in Islamophobic Hate Crime

Pictured: Mariam Veiszadeh, founder of the Islamophobia Register and advocate for the Australian Muslim community

Aaron Taylor

CW: Islamophobia, mentions of violence, racism, and mental illness.

At around 1:40pm on Wednesday 10 May, four Muslim women wearing headscarves were assaulted in a targeted hate crime that occurred between UTS Building 10 and the intersection of Broadway and Harris Street.

The incident lasted 10 minutes, with the perpetrator identified as a 39-year-old woman. Today, she faced court on charges of assault, occasioning two accounts of bodily harm and two accounts of common assault.

One of the victims posted an emotional Facebook status, reassuring that all those who were assaulted are physically fine. She also commended the efforts of the doctors, counsellors, security guards, and the police. The status alleged the perpetrator was “mentally unstable”, but that this should not be used as an excuse for the crime.

 

Kais Al-momani, a UTS academic, was also there as a witness to the crime.

 

Mariam Veiszadeh, founder of the Islamophobia Register and an influential advocate for the Australian Muslim community, spoke with Vertigo to provide some insight into the causes of this horrific attack and what it reveals.

“No doubt irresponsible political and media rhetoric around Muslims and Islam can influence Islamophobic incidents,” said Veiszadeh.

“We can also at times see spikes in incidents when there are terrorism-related attacks overseas… But specifically for this incident, it’s hard to speculate around the motivations.”

NSW Police have asserted that the incident was racially motivated. Superintendent Daniel Sullivan was quoted in a NSW Police media release:

“Abuse and racist behaviour will not be tolerated and police will fully investigate any one who violates the law… We encourage anyone who suspects they have been a victim of a bias-motivated crime to report it to police. If we don’t know about it, we can’t investigate it.”

Veiszadeh believes that NSW Police claiming this incident to be bias-related is highly significant, as they have been hesitant to label similar assaults as racially or religiously motivated in the past.

Veiszadeh has been collecting data on Islamophobic incidents with her organisation. According to early analysis, it has become clear that the overwhelming majority of victims in Islamophobic attacks are women.

“As an Australian Muslim woman you do have, what I call, the triple whammy. Sometimes insults, whether it’s online or in the real world, they can be intersectional in nature. In that they will relate to your race, your gender, and your religion. In terms of Australian Muslim women who choose to wear the hijab, they are obviously more visible and vulnerable targets,” said Veiszadeh.

Veiszadeh also commented on the role of mental illness in Islamophobic attacks in reference to the comments of the victim. Veiszadeh believes that the comments could be attributed to the framing of mental illness in the media, which reveals inequalities between minority and non-minority groups.

“There is perhaps a disparity in how the media reports mental illness as a factor related to the crime in comparing incidents where the perpetrator is of a minority background — say, an Australian Muslim; versus when the perpetrator is of a non-minority background,” said Veiszadeh.

Vertigo is still awaiting the outcome of the trial and recommends that should anyone experience a bias-related assault, they should report it to the police as soon as possible.


For immediate assistance in case of an emergency, call:

NSW Police — 000
UTS Security — 1800 249 559


UPDATE

May 13, 2017 at 3:57pm.

The original article identified the perpetrator as a “39-year-old white woman”. The Sydney Morning Herald has since identified the culprit as Maria Claudia Gimenez Wilson, a 39-year-old mature age journalism student from Paraguay. Her Facebook profile is littered with anti-Islamic and right-wing sentiment. During court proceedings, Ms Wilson interrupted to clarify that she was not (mentally unwell).