The Working with Vulnerable Young People conference hosted by Napo’s Family Court Section in May touched on a range of topics, not least the issue of forced marriages and honour based violence in the UK.
Giving an accurate picture of the amount of young people affected each year is difficult as many incidents go unreported for fear of reprisals or further violence. However, the Forced Marriage Unit – a Home Office and Foreign & Commonwealth Office initiative – reports it has assisted in 1,220 cases in 2015 alone.
Recognising the signs and knowing how to protect potential victims is a challenge for professionals. Deeply entrenched views around “shame” and “dishonour” lead many of those at risk to normalise abusive behaviour from family members or the wider community. However, failure to act can have devastating consequences.
DC Scott Cairns and DC Emma Bee from the Complex Investigation Team of Leicestershire Police used police audio and body-cam footage to relay to conference members a stark and deeply moving account of the violence and trauma faced by a 17-year-old and her boyfriend after she refused to enter into a marriage arranged by her parents when she was just 13-years-old.
The pair fled to Leicester for safety but were ultimately tracked down and savagely beaten by the teenager’s intended husband and his family. They may not have survived if not for the first aid given by police officers at the scene.
Jasvinder Sanghera CBE’s own story echoed the horrors presented by the detectives. Her marriage had been arranged when she was eight-years-old, and her only chance of freedom was to flee her parent’s home when she was sixteen.
Escaping a forced marriage meant Jasvinder was shunned by her family for bringing “dishonour” on them. Fortunately, she has found success as a best-selling author and her work is recognised for being pivotal to the creation of a specific UK forced marriage criminal offence. Her sister, however, was not so lucky.
After suffering domestic violence in the marriage she was forced into, Jasvinder’s sister died after setting light to herself in her twenties. The family preferred this to her “shaming” them by leaving the marriage.
Both presentations highlighted lessons that need to be learned if others are to be protected in future. Education authorities failed to follow up length absences from the girl in Leicester and Jasvinder and her six sisters when they were taken
out of school and held captive by their parents. Schools and colleges should play a pivotal role in safeguarding vulnerable young people, paying particular attention to unusual behaviour particularly around the school holidays when they are likely to
be sent abroad to be wed.
The 17-year-old’s attacker was jailed after been found guilty of two counts of attempted murder. His conviction may not have been secured if not for the initial and sole disclosure the girl made to police officers at the scene. DC Cairns explained how important it was to record initial disclosures as they may be the only one victims may make.
Jasvinder calls her life a “survivor’s story” and the same can be said of the teenager and her boyfriend. A Forced Marriage Protection Order was made and safe housing provided for them. They are still in a relationship and have a baby together.
Karma Nirvana, founded by Jasvinder in 1993, helps people like the Leicester teenagers across the country. Its aims are simple: increase reporting, reduce isolation and save lives.
For more information about Karma Nirvana and its work Website: http://www.karmanirvana.org.uk; Email: info@ karmanirvana.org.uk; Helpline number: 0800 5 999 247.
What is the difference between an arranged and forced marriage?
The difference between the two is whether there is consent from both parties or if pressure or abuse has been used. Arranged marriages may become forced marriages. 20% of forced marriages are men, often gay, to prevent discrimination and shame.
What is honour based violence?
An incident or crime that has been committed to protect or defend the honour of the family or community and is often committed with some degree of approval or collusion from family members and the community.
Best Practice for workingwith victims
• Speak to the individual alone
• Maintain the victim’s confidence. Do not approach family
without expressed permission
• Reassure them they are not going against their religion or
• Do not use family members, friends, community leaders
etc as interpreters
• Do not disclose information that is deemed “shameful” by
• Remind them they are not alone
Jay Barlow and Taytula Burke