HUDSON — A support group for South Asian survivors of sexual violence is trying to end the stigma of assaults in the immigrant community.
Jaago Hudson protested in front of the home of accused sex offender Mohammad Ali on Friday afternoon.
Between 70 and 75 protesters marched from Promenade Hill Park to Ali’s house, said Jarin Ahmed, an organizer of Jaago Hudson.
The purpose of the protest was to raise awareness in the community and pressure local authorities to express support and make sure the case is getting the necessary attention, she said.
Jaago Hudson was founded by Jarin Ahmed’s sister Jabin Ahmed, Farzana Musomi and another individual who declined to be identified due to safety concerns.
They created the group to address the stigma of discussing sexual assault within the immigrant community in Hudson, Jarin Ahmed said, which they have seen among their Bengali community.
“The organization is trying to break that stigma and really promote to the community that this is something we need to talk about and it’s something that we need to stop ignoring because it’s generations and generations of abuse that continue to go untreated,” she said.
“The movement is trying to make sure that stigma breaks and survivors have a way to connect and find a support system... The victims are not being supported. People feel bad for Akkas Ali — even people that believe that this happened to these victims—they feel bad for the man. It’s a male-dominated world,” she said.
Musomi, who identified herself as a victim of Ali’s abuse, spoke at the protest.
It is Columbia-Greene Media’s policy not to identify an alleged sexual abuse victim unless they come forward and voluntarily identify themselves.
Ali has not been convicted of any crime. In her speech, she said Ali reached under her shirt and groped her breasts when she was 8 years old.
“He bribed me with chocolate, ice cream, and many other sweet desserts if I didn’t tell anyone,” she said.
In a second instance, she said, he brought her into his room and got on top of her, forcefully kissing her while groping her, and that in a third instance, he grabbed her breasts in public.
“I filed a case against him when I was 16. That was 7 years ago. I still have not received justice, nor his other victims who have been raped and sexually assaulted,” she said.
While Musomi was speaking, Ali’s son, Abu Max Hasan, stepped outside the house, and moved closer to Musomi, recording her, Jarin Ahmed said.
“At that point the entire crowd that was attending the protest formed a barrier between him and the victim to make sure that he didn’t do anything to her to harm her in any way,” Jarin Ahmed said.
Few members of the Bengali community attended the protest, Jarin Ahmed said, likely because of the fear and stigma of supporting the survivors within the community, she said.
Those who have shown support for the victims have been shunned by other members of the community, Jarin Ahmed said.
“I know people that are involved with the protest and helping the survivors—they don’t get a lot of invitations anymore,” she said. “They’re kind of shunned from the community, basically.”
At the protest, Jabin Ahmed made a speech in Bengali so attendees who don’t understand English could learn about the situation, Jarin Ahmed said.
“Jabin Ahmed made a speech in Bengali and her initiative of her speech was to make sure that community members that don’t speak English or understand the judicial process understand what’s going on, because they are being given false information by the family,” she said.
Family members of Ali have contacted victims, asking them to withdraw the case, Jarin Ahmed said. Bengali elected officials in Hudson have not publicly supported the movement, Jarin Ahmed said.
Third Ward Alderman Shershah Mizan and Second Ward Alderman Dewan Sarowar both said they were not notified of the protest taking place.
“They have my number. They never called us,” Sarowar said.
Mizan and Sarowar both said they think the case is up to the court.
“I respect the law. The case is in the court,” Mizan said.
Sarowar said he has been blamed for not advocating for the cause, but he thinks it is for the court to deal with.
“We have other important stuff to do. I understand this is important, but let the law deal with it,” he said. “Let the court handle this case. What can we do about this? We can do nothing.” Sarowar said he would have considered attending the protest if he knew about it beforehand, but would not know how to feel about it.
“Both of them [the accusers and the accused] are in my community. I can’t make either of them happy or unhappy,” he said.
Sarowar said he believes the Bengali organizers of the protest have been manipulated by people outside of the Bengali community, who do not want Hudson to have Bengali elected officials.
“We are minority people. They don’t want minority people in office,” he said. “They [the organizers of the protest] are part of the Bengali community. But they’re being manipulated,” he added.
Jarin and Jabin Ahmed have been accused of organizing the protest for political gain to secure local positions, but neither of them plan to run for local office, Jarin said.
Mayor Kamal Johnson attended on Friday in support of the protest.
Johnson said the protest was “extremely powerful and deep,” and declined to comment further because it is a legal issue.
Ali’s house was vandalized late Friday night, with “RAPIST” painted on his fence and red paint splattered on his door. Jarin Ahmed said Jaago had nothing to do with the vandalism. Organizers made an announcement at the beginning of the protest that it would be peaceful, and there was no indication that vandalism would be supported, she said.
Ali’s attorney Michael Howard said the protest and vandalism show a lack of faith in the judicial system.
“I’m upset and bewildered that people have such little faith in our judicial system that they believe it appropriate to vandalize and victimize people that are presumed innocent. Mob justice is not what we expect nor what we condone,” he said.
4th Ward Supervisor Linda Mussmann attended the beginning of the protest but was not able to march to the end.
“I support these young people who are speaking out against the potential abuse that they have suffered,” she said. “This case is in front of the courts right now and is awaiting a trial.”