In Twin Cities’ Somali Community, A Push Against Online Shaming

Yasmin Ali didn’t leave her home for weeks after a video of her having sex with a former boyfriend showed up online. Caught in a wave of community backlash, the Savage mother of four obsessively checked her social media accounts and contemplated suicide.

Then she turned to the police for help. Ali is among what advocates say is a growing number of Somali-American women pushing back against online harassment or shaming, often led by former partners with compromising images or video.

Minnesota and more than 30 other states have passed so-called “revenge porn” laws against sharing such images in recent years, but Somali and other immigrant victims can face steeper hurdles in asking for help and especially devastating consequences from humiliation on the internet. Now, cops and women’s advocates are urging them to come forward, even as the national #MeToo conversation and a starker spotlight on sexual misconduct have clashed with an imperative to stay silent about matters of sexuality.

“Two words you hear frequently as a Somali female are ‘aamus’‘be quiet’ and ‘ceeb,’ or ‘shame,’ ” said Ruqia Abdi, a Hennepin County associate librarian and community leader working on spreading awareness about harassment.

But more women and men are tackling the topic openly. A Somali-language video of a Minneapolis police officer calling online shaming “a major problem” and explaining the state’s 2016 “revenge porn” law garnered almost 10,000 views on YouTube.

Support for victims: Minneapolis police Sgt. Abdiwahab Ali responded several years ago to a “horrific” call: A young Somali-American woman had attempted suicide after a man had posted nude images of her online. Under Minnesota law at the time, police had no recourse to go after the man. Frustrated he couldn’t do much for the victim, Ali was haunted by the case for months.

Ali recently ran into the woman, who left the state after that incident but later returned. She and other community members urged him and his colleagues at the Somali-American Police Association to take a public stance on the issue.

So in March, Ali went on KALY 101.7 FM, a Minneapolis Somali-language radio station, to talk about the 2016 Nonconsensual Dissemination of Private Sexual Images law, which makes the offense a gross misdemeanor or, in some cases, a felony. He urged victims to contact police and warned perpetrators they could face charges, even if victims willingly shared the images with them.

He also encouraged parents to educate youngsters, who can get into deeper legal trouble if those featured in images they share are underage.

Source: Star Tribune