Forced marriage and honour abuse are not a new phenomenon, yet many are still just beginning to hear about these abuses and get their heads around the staggering statistics impacting victims in the UK.
by Jasvinder Sanghera, CBE and Natasha Rattu, Barrister
The governments Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) was established in 2005 after the report 'A choice by Right' highlighting how British born subjects were subjected to forced marriages, suffered in isolation, how families would go to great lengths to track those who ran away including the use of bounty hunters. In 2012, the FMU gave advice or support related to possible forced marriages in 1,485 cases whereby the youngest victim was just two years old, and the oldest was 71.
The need for legislation was highlighted as a priority as it became evident that existing offences did not go far enough. This led to the the Forced Marriage Civil Protection Act 2007 with statutory guidance. Since the act came into force on 25th November 2008 and up to the end of September 2014, 762 applications for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) have been made, and 785 FMPO's have been issued. The number of orders made generally exceeds the number of
applications as FMPO's are sometimes made during the course of applications for other family orders, and there is no differentiation between interim orders and final orders. There were 63 applications for an FMPO made between 1st July to 30th September 2014 according to parliament.
After years of campaigning, Prime Minister David Cameron criminalised forced marriage with a specific criminal offence in 2014 highlighting how these abuses are a modern form of slavery.
I was born in Britain, attended a British school alongside my siblings and one of seven sisters. Over 30 years ago I watched the majority of my sisters being taken out of British schools to marry men they had only met in photographs. One by one they would disappear with long absences that were never questioned only to return as someone's wife. I was 14 years old when my mother sat me down and presented me with the photograph of a man I was to learn that I was promised into marriage at the age of 8. My protest fell on deaf ears and the family colluded against me removing me from education until I agreed to the marriage.
Over the weeks the pressures mounted in various form but the greatest weight was emotional blackmail 'if you don't marry, dad will have a heart attack and it will be your fault' beyond this was the constant reminder that this was an arranged marriage part of my tradition, culture, religion and saying no was a cause of dishonour. After weeks of being worn down I agreed only to plan my escape and I ran away from home aged 16.
It is important to note that victims will always have multiple perpetrators and often they will be made to feel that they have been disloyal to their family which victims often internalise as guilt and shame, not able to own the abuse perpetuated by the very people who are meant to love them the most. It remains the case that British born South Asian women have a suicide and self harm rate that is 3-4 times higher than the national average and these abuses are a factor. Many women are driven to commit suicide due to a lack of family support, collusion, witness intimidation, isolation and encouraging victims to return back to
My sister Robina was one of these victims as she suffered years of abuse, seeking support from both family and community members only to be encouraged to return back to her husband as leaving was deemed dishonourable. Finally Robina committed suicide by setting herself on fire and this was deemed more honourable than divorcing her husband and this was also to be the catalyst for the charity Karma Nirvana.
The term ‘Honour Based Abuse’ is the current established terminology used by the police service. The notion of 'honour' is often associated with the behaviour that is expected in relation to the family rooted within their belief and value systems. Victims clearly understand how their behaviours are invested in the families reputation and how they have the power to honour and/or dishonour the family. It will be important for advocates to identify how victims experience a families honour system as this will provide clear indicators linked to risks and motivations that can lead to significant harm, forced marriage and the extreme murders.
If a family deem a dishonourable act has or could occur they will be motivated to maintain or restore the families honour and this is often the motivation for a crime. It is important to note that an honour based system is not only rooted in a patriarchal system as victims also experience abuse from females who have a fundamental role in core parenting which is an opportunity to enforce honour codes. Furthermore past criminal cases highlight mothers and mother-in-laws committing murders as a means to restore honour.
Honour based systems are not linked to any one religion, culture or society. It has been identified as more prevalent within South Asian communities in Britain. However it can occur in other communities, including African, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Kurdish, Afghan and includes White, English women who marry into families that operate honour systems. Advocates must consider these experiences when dealing with cases of forced marriages which is clearly defined by The FMU. Furthermore there will be greater motivations for a marriage to take place where a promise of marriage has been agreed. These cases often present greater risk and victims often know who they are promised too, especially if first cousin marriages are practiced within the family, or a victim may have been promised into marriage from birth. It is extremely important to consider the family tree and the practice of marriages within the family as this will provide information related to expectations, belief and value systems.
Karma Nirvana provide a range of specific services including providing emotional support to victims throughout the criminal justice process. This is probably one of the most important services to get right alongside appropriate risk assessments, as victims will be feeling a number of emotions including pressures from family members who may not be named in the case. The family tentacles are vast spreading across the UK and internationally carrying the risk of kidnap and abduction which is widely documented in cases such as that of murdered teenager Shafilea Ahmed.
Since 2008, the national Karma Nirvana helpline has taken 44,473 calls supporting victims and survivors of honour based abuse and forced marriage across the UK. Forced Marriage cuts across many areas of law from criminal and immigration law, through to private and public family matters.
Dealing first with the criminal aspect, the topic of the criminalisation of forced marriage has been a long-standing contentious issue, creating a real between individuals and organisations alike.
The Home Office first consulted on the need to criminalise forced marriage back in 2005. A decision was then made not to criminalise as many individuals were dubious as to the real benefit of a criminal offence and feared that it may discourage victims from reporting. Concerns that “a new offence would disproportionately impact on Black and Minority Ethnic communities and might be misinterpreted as an attack on those communities” was also provided as a justification to not criminalise forced marriage. After long standing campaigns by non governmental organisations and survivors, the Home Office consulted more widely on this issue again in 2012 and a majority consultation agreed that the time had now arrived to create a criminal offence.
In 2014 forced marriage and the breach of FMPO’s became a criminal offence in England and Wales and in June 2015 Karma Nirvana welcomed the first criminal conviction for forced marriage. This involved a 34 year business man being jailed for 16 years for forced marriage, rape, bigamy and voyeurism. Forced marriage inevitable encompasses a multitude of offences, notably rape and sexual assaults.
Since the criminalisation of forced marriage, Karma Nirvana has received an increase in calls from victims, in addition to professionals such as the police and social care. There has been a notable increase in awareness amongst professionals, however the training that should have gone hand in hand with this
increased awareness has sadly not been provided. This often leads to ineffective risk management in these cases with misguided safeguarding plans implemented, leading to victims being left to inevitable additional vulnerability.
Since 2013, Karma Nirvana has trained 20 police constabularies nationally to improve responses and effective risk assessment and safeguarding. Notably, South Wales Police were the first constabulary to pilot this programme and were also (non-coincidently) the first constabulary to achieve a successful forced marriage conviction.
The area of forced marriage is also a growing issue within private family and public care proceedings. With increasing reporting levels and awareness within social care, more referrals to care proceedings are being made whereby forced marriage and honour based abuse is an issue. Karma Nirvana is often instructed in these care proceedings to provide an expert report on the risk posed to a young person. Further more, the Court of Protection is also witnessing a growing number of applications for the local authority to pursue nullity proceedings on behalf of incapacitated adults forced into marriage. Incidentally, the criminal law makes no exception for incapacitated adult to be forced in marriage, yet we have not witnessed a single prosecution relating to incapacitated adults forced into marriage.
In order for the victims we support to receive justice for the heinous abuses committed against them, it is first imperative that we as professionals understand
the issues. It is only then we can begin to get it right and see the changes this area needs. It is clear that that awareness and law has resulted in greater
accountability that dispels myths linked to these practices forming part of a communities religion and/or tradition. However victims responses are still likely to be very much dependent of the professionals awareness as many victims continue to report how they are misunderstood, not believed and options of mediation are often advocated clearly placing victims at greater harm.
Our hope is that professionals seek advice as these abuses are extremely complex as victims experience abuse from multiple perpetrators within a family
dynamic that will be advocating themselves as a protective factor. The tool box for professionals remains vast with Karma Nirvana's dedicated national helpline a resource for both victims and professionals, a government forced marriage unit, 15 CPS regions have now been trained, statutory guidelines, experts, specific refuges for men and women experiencing forced marriages and honour abuse. Furthermore, HMIC (Majesties Inspectorate of Constabularies) is currently inspecting all police forces to identify how they are performing in this area of abuse with a view to improve standards.
My message is simply that there is no excuse not to effectively advocate these issues effectively and sending out a clear message how cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable.
Passionately working to break the silences of the many silenced through Karma Nirvana mission, increase reporting, reduce isolation & save lives.
Karma Nirvana voted City Women's Network Charity of Year 2012
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Natasha Rattu is the Head of Learning and Development at Karma Nirvana and is a non-practising barrister. She was awarded the coveted Crown Prosecution Service Anthony Walker Scholarship in 2010.
Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, is an Independent Expert Advisor to the Courts and Independent Reviews providing expert evidence and cultural risk assessments, reports and acting Chair for Domestic Homicide Reviews. Jasvinder’s evidence has been tested in the Court of Appeal case of B-M Children 2009 and Lord Justice Wall cited extensively from this evidence stating it to be ‘impressive and compelling’ after compelling stating how she speaks from the professional experience of being involved in numerous cases. She is also Author of best selling book Shame, personal biography
Awarded: CBE 2013 For Services to Victims of Forced Marriages & Honour Based Violence, Woman of Year Award, Pride of Britain Award, Guardian listed as one of Worlds Most Inspirational Women and Honorary Doctor University of Derby