Rise in hate crimes prompts workshop for women's safety

SEATTLE – Hate crimes in Seattle is why more than a dozen women attended a workshop called “Hijabs and Harassment” in West Seattle. They say wearing a hijab as part of their religion makes them a target for harassment.

"For my mother and my sisters that cover, you see that they are Muslim walking down the street, so they’re an easier target than myself who chooses not to cover or Muslim men who don’t have outward signs of their faith,” said Nimco Bulale, education program manager at One America.

Bulale, who was born in Somalia, left her home country after the civil war moving to Uganda then to America when she was six years old. She now teaches fellow Somali women how to protect themselves.

Bulale says Muslim women are feeling a heightened sense of anxiety with more negative rhetoric around Muslims since President Trump took office.

"We don’t know what our right, we don’t know what to do,” said Farhiya Mohamed, executive director of the Somali Family Safety Taskforce. She says many women in her community have come to her asking what to do if someone yells a racial slur while they’re at a bus stop or physically attacks them because they’re wearing a hijab, so she decided it was time to put together an educational workshop to address those concerns.

"2017 was our highest year rate for incidents against all groups,” said detective Elizabeth Wareing, the bias crimes coordinator of the Seattle Police Department.

Wareing says police means different things to people of different cultures, she is emphasizing that the Seattle police department is here to help women and anyone affected by a hate crime. She is teaching these women how to report a crime, why that’s important, how the dispatch system works and what to expect when a police officer arrives to their call.

“I want to make sure they know what SPD officers is help, not persecution or embarrassment or something negative they may have faced at their home country,” said Wareing.

She says unlike problems like property crime, hate crimes are more challenging to solve using traditional methods.

“We can throw more officers at the area or change our patrol patterns and it changes the patterns of incident, like for property crimes, but with bias crimes, we’ve noticed they happen all over the city at time frames that are random,” said Wareing.

She says it’s critical for these women and anyone affected by hate crimes to report them because she says if police don’t know it’s happening they can’t act to mitigate it.

The city shows 418 incidents of bias crime in 2017 for all groups, with downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill and Northgate seeing the highest numbers by neighborhood.

This group of women says they want to learn how to work with police to help make them feel safer.

“America is my second home,” said Sofya Omar, one participant who says people avoid her on a bus because she is wearing a hijab and she’s too fearful to go out at night because she may get harassed.

"I wish the larger community would know that we too are here seeking opportunity and a better life just like everyone else,” said Bulale.