By Fatima Patel

BGF0001_24082014_ISS66More women have come forward since allegations of sexual harassment resurfaced after a victim came forward with her story published in Issue 64 of Asian Sunday Newspaper

In a shocking revelation it was reported to Asian Sunday in May 2014 that CEO of both the Council for Mosques (CFM) and Khidmat centre had been sexually harassing female employees and service users of the Khidmat Centre, based at Spencer Road, Bradford.

Asian Sunday previously exclusively revealed that a former female employee based at the Khidmat centre had come forward with allegations of gross misconduct and sexual harassment by Mr Mohammed Saleem Khan, CEO of CFM and Khidmat Centre.

In her statement she states after walking out of her job last year, she was approached by Zulfiqar Karim, (who is believed to be vice president of CFM) in November 2013, as to why she quit her job. She gave Mr Karim all the details of how her life was made a ‘working hell’ by Mr Khan and his close associate at the centre. She was assured and promised by Mr Karim that he would take the matter forward and be in touch with her again.

The former employee has provided copies of text messages sent to her by Mr Khan, asking her to come out for a late night drive, as he turns up outside her house on a late evening. Another text message Mr Khan is seen asking his former employee if she could pass his number to any young girls who are looking for some fun. She replies back scared and worried about losing her job “aren’t you married” to which he replies “Lol I am allowed on the side to hv fun”

Asian Sunday believes that despite informing CFM board members of the allegations and the fact that Mr Karim when informed in November failed to follow up allegations puts serious doubts in the credibility and the impartiality of the board, who refuse to detail their role and responsibilities as members.

Furthermore since the allegation of sexual harassment became public more women have come forward, some of whom had registered complaints with the organisation and police dating as far back as 2009.

It is believed that West Yorkshire Police at the time had told the victim that it was ‘her word’ against the perpetrator and that unless any other evidence came to light the matter would be closed.

Since the shocking allegations have been made public, board members of CFM/Khidmat Centre have released no statement or details of whether they have continued their investigations and whether the perpetrator who the allegations are against is still working at the organisation(s)

Asian Sunday had already raised concerns over the way in which previous investigations had been carried out at the organisation(s) whereby according to witness statements a staff meeting was called which included the presence of the perpetrator and staff were asked in an open meeting that if they had any issues to bring them forward to the board.

Following from this Asian Sunday had suggested an independent investigator who has no links to the staff or service users to be hired to conduct a thorough investigation of the allegations stated. It is not clear on the credibility and neither impartiality of their investigator nor the details of when the investigation is likely to conclude.

Ratna Latchman, Director of Just West Yorkshire after reading about the allegations said

“If the allegations are true I don’t underestimate how difficult it must have been for the victims to come forward, particularly in a tightly-knit community such as Bradford where issues of ‘izzat’ (honour) and ‘bheshti’ (shame)mean that not many Asian women find the courage to expose wrong doing. If the women’s testimony proves to be true there should be no room for victim-blaming by the community and faith leaders – instead they should be showing their support and solidarity with the victims and condemning sexual abuse.

“I am deeply disappointed that the outcome of the investigation around the alleged sexual harassment at the Bradford Council of Mosques has yet to be published. JUST West Yorkshire considers the Council of Mosques as a key project partner and we are concerned about the allegations of a potential cover-up. The Council of Mosques has a unique leadership role in the life of Bradford district – they provide a range of services funded by the public purse and theyrepresent the voice of the Muslim community on matters of faith and important issues such as extremism, stop and search, Islamaphobia etc.

“It is therefore critical that its reputation must be beyond reproach. If there are allegations of wrong doing, I would expect an independent investigation process and complete openness, transparency and accountability in terms of how the Board is dealing with the allegations of sexual impropriety so that we have the confidence to continue working with them as partners.”

Ratna added “We have a number of Muslim female politicians in Bradford and I believe that there is an all-female Labour shortlist in Bradford West and Bradford South. My clear expectation is that elected representatives and those wishing to enter politics are unequivocal in their support for victims of sexual harassment and domestic violence. Unless they challenge their male colleagues and community members to condemn violence against women they do victims a gross disservice.”

Coun Naveeda Ikram of Little Horton Ward, who is also on the executive board of Women’s Aid in Bradford said, “Any allegation of sexual harassment must be noted and taken seriously. There must be zero tolerance on sexual harassment at any work place.

“It takes a lot of courage for any woman to come forward to report any such gross misconduct and above all there could be so much at stake, particularly when articulate and seasoned politician who are male chauvinist as MP George Galloway call a sexual harassment report as “bad sexual etiquette”

During my term as Lord Mayor of Bradford I launched the sexual harassment strategy for girls and women at Bradford Royal Infirmary, guidance for professionals at hospitals. Unfortunately in some communities’ women feel reporting such hideous crime could be a stigma, and women do not receive the right support onset as they feel vulnerable and ridiculed.”

Coun Ikram continues “In the recent article on the CFM’s CEO, I understand an allegation is made and the matter is under investigation, I strongly feel in such instance a thorough investigation should be carried out. All checks and policies should be revised immediately and all staff trained and be aware, all actions must be robust as required.”

Naz Shah, activist and owner of Listers Ladies Gym said “The now highly publicised issues at the Council For Mosques/Khidmat centre visa vi the allegations about the CEO, Mohammad Saleem, and the alleged sexual harassment of women is of particular concern, worry and alarm. An organisation which is meant to lead the way and provide guidance across communities finds itself in the public eye for all the wrong reasons.

Many of the women, as has been reported, have raised concerns which appear to have fallen on deaf ears.

As a former ‘whistle blower’ who lost a high flying career, I am all too familiar with issues it raises. Having directly experienced how intimidation can deter people from whistle blowing I can appreciate why perhaps women haven’t come forward in the past. I was lucky as I had supportive family and friends around me and I won a landmark case against my employer and former managers. However what people don’t know is that in the interim there was anguish and hard work where I had to clear my own name without the support of my union and its lawyers and win the case and the landmark ruling myself.

“Whilst I do not know the situation at the Council For Mosques/Khidmat Centre fully, nor do I know or understand the exact nature or the truth or other wise of the allegations made, I am clear that it is an indictment of the highest order that the CFM/Khidmat Centre has allowed this issue to be brought into the public domain. The Muslims of this city need strong representation and confidence in that representation.

“I commend the women that have taken their stories to the press for being brave and I would urge them to consider making the allegations more formal and contribute to a process of proper inquiry to establish the truth. Also as a committed Muslim woman I urge and remind the leadership of the CFM/Khidmat Centre of their moral responsibility to be a guide to the Muslim community and to up hold high standards of public and private probity.”

Many have also raised concerns about a police investigation. Ratna told the Asian Sunday  “I am concerned that a number of women appear to have come forward with allegations concerning sexual impropriety. If the victims have formally logged the incidents with the police then the police have a legal duty to investigate the allegations.

“Unfortunately I have heard anecdotal evidence from victims of domestic violence over the years that when they have reported sexual abuse or violence to West Yorkshire Police they have not been treated seriously. If we are going to break the wall of silence then we have to give women the confidence to report such crimes. If indeed it emerges that victims’ concerns have not been taken seriously, JUST would encourage them to log their complaint with the Independent Police Complaints’ Commission or they should seek the support of victim support services in the district.” said Ratna

Superintendent Vince Firth, head of Partnerships at Bradford District Police, said:

“We would urge anyone who believes they have been a victim of a sexual offence to report the matter to the police by calling 101.

“West Yorkshire Police has specially trained officers who are dedicated to helping and supporting victims of sexual assaults – from the time that the report is made right through to the conclusion of an investigation.

“Victims of sexual assaults are given anonymity by law. This means that no information which could identify them as the complainant could ever be published.

“Bradford, as with every other policing district in West Yorkshire, also has its own Safeguarding Unit – a team of police officers who will investigate all reports of sexual abuse sensitively and thoroughly with the aim of bringing offenders to justice.” 

Coun Ikram further commented that female representation is becoming imperative on any board so that representation is fair and equal . “A member of staff may have been more comfortable in approaching a female board member or staff at leadership level” she said.

“The outcome of the matter will need to transparent and clearly accountable in particular due to the roles of the organisations within the community” she concluded

Asian Sunday will continue to support any victims and will continue to support the investigation. In the first instance any victims should contact the police on 101 or victim support on 0845 30 30 900. Alternatively, you can call us in confidence on 07795 99 6665 or email editor@asiansunday.co.uk