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Police attend ‘honour-killing’ awareness day

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forced marriage, honour based abuse, murder, IKWRO, Karma Nirvana, the Met, police“It cannot be right that so many girls go missing each year in the summer holidays.”

In the last five years an estimated 60 young women have been murdered in the UK in the name of ‘honour’ – and a further 12,000 have been the victims of ‘honour’ crimes which include both beatings and abductions.

Last year, the Forced Marriage Unit, a task force comprised of staff from the Foreign Office and the Home Office and set up to deal with the issue, reported that it dealt with 1,220 cases, taking an average of 350 calls a month. Calls which came from many different communities in the UK.

The Metropolitan Police Service (the Met) in London, working in partnership with the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO), recently held an awareness session with police officers to discuss the challenges around identifying and tackling the problem of forced marriage and honour based abuse of young girls and women.

Around 35 officers from various departments in the Met attended the event aimed at helping them get a better understanding of the issues and how best to uncover these often hidden crimes.

During the session, a screening of the BBC film ‘Murdered By My Father’ was presented to officers, and they were given a chance to discuss its content.

In an interview with the Radio Times about this TV drama, one of the advisors for the BBC film, Derby-born Jasvinder Sanghera said: “Nazir Afzal from the Crown Prosecution Service said a while ago that we have no idea how many unmarked graves there are in Britain, let alone the girls who are taken abroad, because their parents obviously don’t report them missing.

“And sadly, the NHS reports that for South Asian women born in Britain between 16 and 24 years old, the suicide and self-harm rate is three to four times higher than national average for the UK.

“I understand that statistic because the victims are so isolated because they internalise that guilt and shame.”

Sanghera ran away at the age of 15 to escape forced marriage and was then disowned by her Sikh family.

After one of her older sisters, trapped in an abusive forced marriage, killed herself, Sanghera set up the charity Karma Nirvana to support victims in similar situations.

“When people say ‘forced marriage a cultural thing, it’s their problem, we shouldn’t get involved’, what I say is this; ‘I was born in Britain, I want to be afforded the same level of protection to my white counterparts,” Sanghera said.

“It cannot be right that so many girls go missing each year in the summer holidays, the time when young people get taken out of this country and forced into marriages.

“Why is it that when we go missing the same questions are not asked about us as they are of my white counterparts? It’s the attitude of ‘oh it’s cultural’, but I expect people to take abuse for what it is — abuse.”

Along with the discussion about the film, IKWRO’s advice team gave the officers practical advice on how to identify a potential victim and highlighted the ‘dos and don’ts’ in cases of honour based violence.

Police officers have an important role to play in identifying victims. Whenever they attend a domestic incident they need to think, could this be a result of honour based abuse or being forced into marriage?

Officers were also advised not to discuss the incident with the victim around the family members, as they are often the ones involved.

They were also reminded to keep an eye out for any siblings who might be potential victims in the future.

These situations are very sensitive and support from partner agencies like IKWRO are very important. Last year, IKWRO alone received calls from around 2,500 women, girls and professionals. They also assisted 800 women through intensive one-to-one casework. The Met received just 79 reports about forced marriages in 2015-16.

IKWRO supports women and girls through advice, advocacy, making effective referrals, training and one-to-one and group professional counselling. The advice team speaks seven community languages as well as English and counselling is provided in Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi and English.

Below are just some of the signs which might indicate that someone is facing or is already a victim of forced marriage:

Domestic abuse or rape;
Depression, or becoming worried or withdrawn;
Poor performance at work, school or college or often being absent;
No control over their own money; and
Many may not come back from a visit to another country.

But this is not just a London-based problem, and anyone can  help to raise alarm if they feel something untoward is happening to a young women or child.

Anyone with information or concerns relating to forced marriages or honour based abuse are asked to contact the police via 101, or can call 0800 555 111 – Crimestoppers – if they want to call for help anonymously.

Anyone who is being directly threatened should call 999.

Forced marriage is not the same as an arranged marriage which is a cultural practice, which is not unlawful, and takes place with the consent of both spouses.

Detective Constable Christine Roberts, the organiser of the event, said: “It is clear this issue is being under-reported but simply contacting the police isn’t that straightforward for victims who are faced with a dilemma of going against their family. If it is not fear that stops them, it’s a sense of betrayal.

“We want to make it clear to young girls and women who are being subjected to honour base abuse or being forced into a marriage, it is a crime and we are here to help and protect you.”

  1. Tina Price-Johnson says:

    I wish they would stop calling these crimes “honour killings”; since when did the suggested motive of the murderer become acceptable as a description? They are murders. In no other crime is the motive given as the title of the crime.

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