The Accidental Activist: How to Respond to Assault & Death Threats

If you challenge an unjust status quo, those invested in maintaining things the way they are will attempt to silence, marginalize, and may even try to harm you through physical or verbal threats and violence. So you as an activist should try your best to prepare how to respond beforehand. Each situation is unique and it’s hard to predict how a situation will affect you but here’s some advice based on personal experience.

Prepare Beforehand

1. Before you undertake any action, make sure you go into a situation with correct intentions. For the religiously-inclined, saying a prayer and consulting with a spiritual advisor may be helpful.

2. If possible, go with a group, so someone can watch your back, and in case your judgment is clouded, two heads are often better than one. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, …”three’s company.”

3. Be prepared with your technology. Smartphone, digital camera, flip videocamera, etc. Make sure you’ve charged them beforehand and have them ready to use or record at a moment’s notice so you can capture the assaulter in action, which may be useful later on to prove your case. Don’t be afraid to take their pictures or film them as they are not shy to do the same to you.

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4. Always have an exit strategy. Don’t allow yourself to be cornered. If threatened, move to a more open space, preferably one with potential witnesses. Don’t be surprised if people do not offer to help you, they may have their own motivations. It’s been my experience at two separate mosques, that it is often the people who work at the mosque that are the least helpful and most likely to lie and coverup what happened to protect their colleagues and organization. I’m not generalizing this to all mosques, just my experience at two local mosques that when I sought out assistance to either find out information about my assaulter or to thank those who stood up for me that mosque officials were unhelpful.

If assaulted

1. Call 911 or the police and request that they come to the scene.

2. When the police arrive, if they ask you if you want to press charges, say “yes.” Sounds self-explanatory but in the immediate aftermath of an assault, so much is happening that you’re not always thinking clearly. When I was assaulted last year, the police officers asked me if I wanted to press charges and I said, “no, I don’t think so.” They pressed me if I was sure and I still declined. It was only hours later when I was at home and began to process what had transpired that my mind became clearer and I did then want to press charges against the man who attacked me. My reasoning was to send a message to those thugs that it’s not okay to assault anyone and so that they might think twice before doing that again.

3. Allow the police to gather the identifying information from the person who assaulted you and get a copy for yourself. This is crucial.

So what do you do if you decide after the fact that you want to press charges

1. Well, in Virginia, you must go to the County Magistrate and fill out some forms indicating the nature of your complaint. This can be a major stumbling block because in order to file a complaint, you will need identifying material on your attacker including full name and date of birth. Yes, that’s something you might not have learned in your self defense class that in addition to shouting “Stop!” and “No!” don’t forget to say “Excuse me, can I have your full name and date of birth?” Other information that is helpful is driver’s license number or license plate number, home address, and place of work. This information tends not to be something you think about while you are being assaulted. And even if you ask for or try to obtain this information, the other party is usually not very forthcoming for obvious reasons.

How to get around this? If you know where your attacker lives or works, you can have a police officer confront the individual and obtain the information you need. In my case, I knew the man who assualted me worked at the mosque. One day after the assault I went to the mosque for Friday prayer and saw the man that assaulted me setting up orange cones, directing traffic, and opening and closing the gates to the parking lot. So after we prayed, I went over to the police officers who help direct traffic around the mosque on Fridays and explained my situation to them. They listened and one very nice officer walked back to the mosque with me and asked me to discreetly point out my attacker. The officer confronted the man and took down all the pertinent identifying information for me to use to file my complaint with the magistrate.

2. Once, you have the right information and fill out the requisite forms, a magistrate will interview you and determine whether or not to issue a warrant or summons for the offender to appear in court. If a warrant is issued, it should be (but is not always) served to the individual by police officers. Depending on the nature of the case, you may have to advocate for the police to actually serve the warrant.

3. If the warrant is served, you will receive a notice in the mail confirming the date and time for you to appear in court. Make sure you arrive early and familiarize yourself with the courthouse as in some larger cities and counties, like Fairfax County in Virginia, the courthouse complex is massive.

If You Receive a Death Threat

1.  Try and determine the seriousness. In general, threats from someone who knows you and where you live or work and contacts you via direct mail, email, phone calls or text messages tend to be considered more seriously than online threats left on an open forum or blog. If the individual lives close to you that raises the seriousness as opposed to a threat from someone who lives far from you or maybe even overseas.

2. To report the threat, call your local police department. The police department will then make a determination of how to proceed if at all, and may involve the FBI.

3. If the comment is left on a blog, you can trace the internet service provider (ISP) used and lodge a complaint with them. If left on another public forum, lodge a complaint with the site operator.

Take Care of Yourself

1. Give yourself time to process the effect of an assault or threat of violence. Talk about your feelings to someone you trust or write them down in a journal. I’m going into the mental health field and a large percentage of the individuals we see have unresolved issues relating to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or trauma, so don’t be afraid to seek out mental health professionals if needed. There’s no shame in that. What is often detrimental is in keeping silent and trying to bottle up our emotions.

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Author: Ify Okoye

Muslim woman, RN, & rebel with a cause.

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