A young woman who witnessed three Muslim women being threatened on a Melbourne train claimed police were reluctant to investigate the incident and only took it seriously when she vented her anger on Twitter.
Law student Dana Affleck, 24, was on a train in Melbourne last Thursday just before 6pm when she witnessed a man screaming, threatening and banging on a window when he saw three elderly Muslim women wearing veils.
“He was standing up and screaming abuse the entire time he was on the train, as soon as he saw the three women in veils,” Ms Affleck told Daily Mail Australia. “He was a big, imposing figure. An Aussie, Anglo guy. He was enraged and seemed unstable. There was spit flying out of his mouth.”
Ms Affleck had boarded the train at the same time as the women, two of whom appeared to be in their seventies and the third in her fifties. They were all wearing veils and long dresses, according to Miss Affleck. “The man was screaming from the second he saw them. We were terrified. He was way past being stood up to,” said Miss Affleck.
Ms Affleck said the three Muslim women and another passenger left the train as soon as it came to the next stop, North Richmond Station. The man continued his raging tirade after the train doors closed. “He came up on the window and started bashing on the glass and screaming abuse at them. We were all scared. I was just waiting for the glass to smash because there was so much force.”
Ms Affleck, who is not Muslim, says that the victims of the abuse did not seem shocked and believed calling police would be futile. “I was apologising profusely, worried if they were okay,” said Miss Affleck. “They didn’t appear shocked, they seemed to take it as a given. The fact they were so accustomed to it really frightened me.”
Ms Affleck called the closest police station, East Melbourne, to report the incident, prompted by Victoria Police Commissioner Ken Lay urging members of the public to report instances of Islamophobic abuse in the wake of last week’s shooting of a known extremist.
“Ken Lay told Australia to come forward and report instances of where Muslims are being abused, but is that message reaching the officers at the local police stations who take the calls?” she said. “The police officer who answered the phone would not transfer me or pass the message on to anyone. He said there’s nothing they can do unless the victims come forward.”
This didn’t seem right to Miss Affleck. That night, when speaking with a friend who is a legal professional, Ms Affleck learnt that she was well within her rights to make the complaint as a witness. “Police should take a report. You don’t need a victim if someone is causing trouble in a public place,” she said.
“I shouldn’t have called police. The first mistake I made was not calling 000. Then it would have been a mandate to follow up the call.”
The following day, Ms Affleck called again for an update, only to learn that there was no record of her first phone call to the station.
Ms Affleck decided to take to Twitter to explain her concerns about the lack of police action. “Saw 3 Muslim women being threatened. Called @VictoriaPolice, said can’t help, took details. Called again, no record of call,” she tweeted. The message was retweeted almost 200 times and she was flooded with messages,with members of the public expressing their disappointment and offering advice.
“I had to kick up a huge fuss for anything to happen. I started a Twitter campaign,” she said. “Victoria Police got in touch with me on Monday. It makes you wonder whether the statements that Ken Lay say are just purely PR.”
Ms Affleck has been told that the incident is being investigated, with Victoria Police examining CCTV footage. Victoria Police confirmed to Daily Mail Australia that they pursued the matter when they saw Ms Affleck’s negative comments on social media, and wanted to address her issues with East Melbourne Police Station.
Mariam Veiszadeh, a lawyer and humanitarian from the Islamophobia Register Australia, became aware of the incident on Twitter. She says many Australian Muslim women do not report abuse because they feel there isn’t anyone to help them with their concerns.
“Australian Muslim women have almost become indifferent to the situation. There’s a helplessness, a sense that nothing will be done. There’s a sense of mistrust amongst the community when it comes to authorities. What I would call for is police to take a strong stance.”
Ms Veiszadeh has been meeting with NSW Police authorities on behalf of the Islamophobia Register and feel insufficient resources are being committed to dealing with cases of targeted abuse, considering in the current climate. “My sense, meeting with them, is that there are insufficient resources being committed to this issue at a state level. I imagine it is the same in Victoria.”
Miss Veiszadeh says every incident of racial abuse needs to be reported. “We shouldn’t have to wait for another person to be have their head kicked in to be taken seriously. Verbal abuse is just as offensive and damaging as physical abuse. This (Dana Affleck) is an excellent example of someone going out of their way to record the incident.”