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Girls & Women

Women Who Wear Headscarves Are the Most Frequent Targets of Anti-Muslim Attacks: Survey

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The headscarf is a powerful symbol — and for many Muslim women who don the scarf as part of their traditional clothing, the power is putting them at greater risk for violence and hatred.

In Australia, women who wear a headscarf are more likely to be the victim of an anti-Islamic attack than any other group, including Muslim men and women who do not wear the covering, according to a new report from Islamophobia Register Australia.

A study that analyzed 243 anti-Muslim incidents between September 2014 and December 2015 found that a majority of victims were women, and four out of five female victims were wearing a headscarf during the incident, according to the BBC.

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Nearly 75% of attacks were carried out by men, according to the report.

"Every person I know who wears it is always wary that something is going to happen," Hanan Merheb, a victim of one such attack, told the BBC.

Merheb, 19, was wearing a headscarf while she was walking down a street in Sydney when she was punched in the face by a stranger, according to the report.  

While this specific report only studied attacks that occurred within Australia, anti-Muslim crimes have been increasing elsewhere in the world, including the US and UK.

There have been dozens of anecdotes of Muslim women being targeted in public for wearing their hijabs. In May of this year, two men died trying to defend a woman in a hijab from a verbal tirade on a public bus in Oregon. In April, a woman in a headscarf was attacked with a knife in Wisconsin.

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In Australia, the victims of the 243 crimes were 68% female, and 30% of them were accompanied by a child during the time of the attack. Only about one-quarter of the time did a bystander intervene to try and prevent the attack from happening, according to the study.

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Dr. Mehmet Ozalp, a researcher from Charles Sturt University, coauthored the study and told the BBC that some people associate Islam with terrorism because of political rhetoric and media coverage of terror events.  

And they lash out in anger at that," Ozalp said, “but it is these innocent Muslims - mainly women - that are visible in public.”