In 2003, Bradford-born 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed was murdered by her parents after suffering years of abuse for becoming ‘too westernised’ and rejecting a forced marriage. Each year on July 14, which would have been Shafilea’s birthday, a day of remembrance is held for all lives lost to honour killings.
During lockdown, some UK charities have seen an alarming increase in calls and emails – up to 200 per cent in some cases – reporting honour-based abuse and expressing fears around forced marriage plans being made.
As lockdown eases and international travel restrictions are lifted, there are fears that these plans may now come to fruition. As we continue to come out of lockdown, we must use every opportunity to raise awareness of these crimes and give victims the confidence to come forward and speak out.
There are many stereotypes surrounding honour-based abuse and forced marriage that need to be broken and I want to take the time to bust some of these myths.
Honour-based abuse only happens to women in certain communities
Honour-based abuse and forced marriage are not specific to any one country, religion or culture and no major faith in the UK advocates forced marriage.
Victims might be female or male, and those at risk can include children, individuals who are LGBTQ+, children and adults that have learning difficulties or those who do not have the mental capacity to understand and agree to the marriage.
Victims can encounter barriers to reporting including being constantly chaperoned, language difficulties and not knowing how to access help. Victims are often groomed into believing that speaking to the police is shameful and fear reprisals.
Honour-based abuse wouldn’t happen in my neighbourhood
Like domestic abuse, honour-based abuse happens behind closed doors. These are complex crimes to tackle as the victim might not always recognise that their abuse is unlawful. It can happen to anyone, anywhere at any time.
We are urging friends, neighbours, communities and professionals including teachers, social and health care workers and those working in transport professions to be vigilant and report any suspicions or concerns. You can report to the police online or visit a police station.
If you are a victim or potential victim seeking help, please be sure to erase all call and website history for your safety.
If a victim does go to the police, their family will be arrested
We know that the decision to arrest a perpetrator can have serious consequences for the victim. Arrest and prosecution are not the only options and there is much more the police can do to support and protect victims, either at home or in place of safety.
Victims will be listened to and are at the heart of any action the police take and how the matter is investigated. Officers will not put victims and survivors at further risk.
Victims will be spoken to alone in a place of safety and trained interpreters, from out of our force area, are available if needed. The report made will be confidential and done at the victim’s pace.
Following any report made, victims and survivors can receive regular support from the Lighthouse Safeguarding Unit and Next Link.
It doesn’t matter how long ago this crime took place or if you are already in the forced marriage as the police and support services help victims of historic abuse.
It is shameful for victims to go the police for help
There is nothing shameful in seeking help and, in fact, we will make every effort to make you safer. Over time, abuse in a relationship will escalate in frequency and severity – it will not get better.
Victims do come forward. Over a 12-month period to April 2020, Avon and Somerset Police identified 150 victims or potential victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage; 30 of these victims were moved to a place of safety.
If you are a victim of abuse, currently or historically, or know someone you think is, you can talk to the police, the Forced Marriage Unit or charities such as Karma Nirvana or Next Link. Please do not wait until it is too late.
To survivors and victims, I want to say that help is available, either from the police or from a support service.
If you are unable or unwilling to talk to us, please talk to the Forced Marriage Unit on 0207 008 0151 or Karma Nirvana on 0800 5999247 who can help.
For anyone who might be at risk, or knows someone who might be at risk, call police on 101, or 999 in an emergency.
More useful information can also be found at www.ourgirl.co.uk.
Punita Bassi works for Honour Based Abuse and Forced Marriage thematic support at Avon and Somerset Police.
Main photo: Avon and Somerset Police/HM Government