A phenomenal fundraising effort last night saw nearly £250,000 raised for a Sikh community initiative to counter the sexual abuse and exploitation of vulnerable Sikhs.
The Sikh Mediation And Rehabilitation Team (SMART) Centre was launched by award-winning Sikh community group Sikh Youth UK on the Sikh Channel in a programme exposing the sexual exploitation of underage Sikh girls. The centre is a ground-breaking initiative to safeguard Sikhs via prevention, intervention and rehabilitation.
More than 900 people have pledged an average of over £100 each on the online JustGiving page while over £50,000 was pledged by callers to the Sikh Channel throughout yesterday evening. One businessman made a stunning pledge to fund two full time members of staff at the centre.
Towards the end of the over four-hour long programme the total donated was increasing at a rate of £1,000 per minute, with presenter Kam Singh constantly updating the audience of the new total.
As donations flooded in online and via pledges to the Sikh Channel studio, they were accompanied by messages of support, thanking Sikh Youth UK for showing leadership on this grave issue.
Addressing Sikhs at home, Sikh Youth UK Coordinator Deepa Singh said as the programme ended last night: ‘Thank you to the Sangat out there, and of course, overall, Mahraaj’ adding: ‘Whatever we can do to serve the kaum [Sikh community-nation] we will continue to serve the kaum and do what we can.’
A total of £500,000 is sought by Sikh Youth UK to launch the project which will consist of several interlinked areas. The centre will provide 24-hour support within a Sikh ethos to the primary victims of sexual abuse and exploitation across the UK.
The SMART Centre will also be an independent facility providing mediation between victims, local authorities and law enforcement agencies. The centre will also work to tackle sexual exploitation at a fundamental level by employing intelligence officers to identify online predators and collating evidence on their networks and associations. This evidence will be crucial in facilitating the arrests and prosecution of perpetrators.
These functions are already being carried out by Sikh Youth UK, who on the show exposed using undercover footage religiously motivated paedophiles targeting Sikh girls for sexual exploitation. One had even travelled to a Sikh school to meet an underage Sikh girl for sexual acts.
It has been known for decades that Sikh girls have been targeted by sexual predators with religiously-related motives. However, the issue of sexual exploitation is considered by many to be a taboo, which has prevented adequate support being offered to victims and a lack of awareness of how to identify sexual predators.
Sikh Youth UK have been instrumental in raising awareness of the issue, winning two awards in recent years for doing so. They have worked with local authorities and law enforcement organisations to safeguard the Sikh community, supporting victims of sexual abuse and exploitation across the country and raising awareness of how to protect yourself from sexual predators.
Next month the group will launch an in-depth investigative report into the targeted sexual exploitation of young Sikh females, analysing the history and factors of this exploitation to further educate the community about the dangers posed by religiously-motivated sexual predators.