A woman stole an exchange student’s hijab and tried to choke her with it, prosecutors say

People of many faiths came to the April 28, Open Mosque Day at Islamic Center of Naperville, where among many activities was a chance to try on the hijab worn by many Muslim women. (Photo: Syed Khalil Ullah)

A 24-year-old college student from Saudi Arabia was waiting for a train near the library in downtown Portland, Oregon, shortly after 7 p.m. on Nov. 12, when she felt a stranger grabbing her hijab from behind, tightening the fabric around her neck.

Jasmine Renee Campbell allegedly tried to choke the student, who is Muslim, with her hijab before the victim shoved the attacker away. Prosecutors said in a statement Campbell then ripped the woman’s hijab from her head. A probable cause affidavit says Campbell removed all of her clothes except for a leather jacket, “started dancing,” and rubbed the hijab against her “naked breasts” and “naked vagina.” The affidavit also alleges Campbell mocked the victim’s religion and made fun of her hijab.

The frightening encounter ended in an arrest after witnesses called the police, but left the Portland State University exchange student, who isn’t being named by law enforcement officials, afraid to wear her religious garb in public. On Friday, prosecutors obtained an arrest warrant after 23-year-old Campbell failed to appear in court for her arraignment on five misdemeanor charges.

According to court records, Campbell told police officers who detained her that she wanted to show the victim that she “did not have to be a Muslim” and “religion doesn’t define her.” She also told police she was “fighting and playing around” and “wanted to be a stripper.”

The victim told police she did not want the hijab back. After the attack, she stopped wearing the religious head covering in public, opting to cover her hair with a knit cap and a scarf instead because she doesn’t want to draw attention to her faith, according to court documents.

Prosecutors charged Campbell with two bias crime charges, attempted strangulation, harassment and criminal mischief after a grand jury indictment last month.

Campbell did not answer the phone number listed on court documents late Sunday. She told KPTV she had been drinking too much on the night of the incident, and said she missed her court date because she was seeking treatment for a mental health condition.

The anti-Muslim attack comes nearly three years after a man fatally stabbed two men and injured a third after they intervened as he shouted Islamophobic insults at a pair of black teenage girls riding on a light-rail train in Portland. Months later, another man was arrested in Portland for showering a Muslim couple with slurs as he followed them in his car for more than 20 blocks. Another Muslim woman wearing a hijab reported that a man got in her face, gave her the middle finger and spit at her in 2018, but Portland police refused to record the encounter as a crime.

National hate-crime statistics are spotty at best, as many experts agree that crimes motivated by bias go underreported and are sometimes incorrectly categorized by police for a variety of reasons. Despite the missing data, a recent report released by the FBI in November shows hate crimes hit a 16-year high in 2018. Although the FBI counted 188 bias-motivated attacks on Muslims in 2018, civil rights advocates at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) counted 1,664 ant-Muslim bias incidents in 2018, more than six times the number the FBI documented.

Zakir Khan, board chair for CAIR’s Oregon chapter, told The Washington Post that the Nov. 12 attack reflects increased hostility directed at Muslim women, who can be easily recognized if they choose to wear a hijab. He said as an exchange student, the victim is especially vulnerable because she may not be familiar with U.S. laws and norms.

Khan told The Post national rhetoric around Islam emboldens people to act on prejudices and the inaccurate stereotype that women who choose to wear hijabs are oppressed makes Muslim women more likely to be targeted.

“Women wear hijabs as a symbol of faith,” he told the Portland Mercury. “Rather than people respecting that symbol, they are deciding to act out against them in violence. It’s unacceptable.”

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