by Lisa Bradley
On the first national annual remembrance day for victims of honour killings, West Yorkshire Police are calling for Leeds families to be vigilant over the summer holidays – and help protect women forced into marriage.
Figures show an increase in forced marriages over school holidays – and police are now working with schools Leeds-Bradford airport staff and the wider community to raise awareness of the signs to spot that someone may be being forced to marry against their will or be the victim of honour-based violence.
During the last financial year, West Yorkshire Police recorded 200 incidents related to forced marriage and honour-based violence, with 27 crimes recorded including one offences of forced marriage and other offences including rape, harassment and assault. Over this period 26 Forced Marriage Protection Orders were put in place.
Saliha Rashid is a victim of honor abuse who in July was named Yorkshire Woman of Achievement 2015 for her brave work as a campaigner against it.
She said: “This day is very important. It’s a day for us to remember those killed in the name of honour and for us to reclaim our honour.
“It’s important for police and authorities to work together, to tackle honour abuse and forced marriage in West Yorkshire.
“It’s all about raising awareness.”
The Force’s focus on this issue coincides with the first annual national day of remembrance for victims of “honour” killings today, marking the the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed, originally from Bradford, who was killed by her parents in Warrington after suffering honour-based violence and an attempted forced marriage.
Superintendent Ged McManus said: “While most people will be looking forward to their summer holiday, there are a small minority suffering behind closed doors with the prospect of a trip abroad to be married against their will.
“It is important that potential victims are aware that, regardless of what they may have been told by their family, everyone has the right to choose and that forcing someone to marry against their will is a crime.
“We have specially trained officers who work with victims to offer them support and protection and I would urge anyone with concerns for themselves or someone they know to make contact.”
From June last year it became a crime to force someone to marry against their will. This is very different to arranged marriage which is a cultural practice, which is not unlawful, and involves the consent of both spouses. Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
The police can also apply for Forced Marriage Protection Orders to safeguard victims or potential victims and to put legally binding conditions on those involved in trying to force another person to marry. Anyone breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order faces up to five years in prison.
West Yorkshire Police is delivering a training package on forced marriage and the signs to look out for to neighbourhood policing and counter terrorism officers based at Leeds Bradford Airport and Safer Schools Officers.
Assistant Chief Constable Russ Foster has also written to all head teachers in West Yorkshire to raise awareness of the issues of forced marriage and honour-based violence and to reiterate their responsibilities should they encounter these ‘hidden crimes’.
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, said: “It’s important that victims of these abhorrent crimes – like Shafilea Ahmed – are not overlooked and not forgotten. Forced marriage and honour-based violence are appalling crimes and we must do everything we can to support the brave victims and witnesses who report those responsible.
“I have promised to use my position as Police and Crime Commissioner to raise awareness about these crimes and to help and support victims have the courage to come forward.
“I have and will continue to work with community partners which includes grants from the Safer Communities Fund, where money taken from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act are given to local organisations to help their communities be safer and feel safer.
“These grants have been awarded to a number of organisations including Staying Put in Bradford and Karma Nirvana in Leeds which specifically help the victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence.
“It is vital that we look at how we can best reach victims – they are often hidden away and not fully engaged with their wider community. Working with partners we need to raise awareness, which includes engagement with potential victims, and address how we can make it easier for victims and witnesses to report forced marriage and honour-based violence.”
Anyone wishing to report concerns about forced marriage or honour based violence, whether for themselves or someone they know, can talk to the police via 101, or 999 in an emergency. Alternatively if someone wants to speak directly to one of the district Safeguarding Units, they are available via the following numbers; Wakefield on 01924 878383, Calderdale on 01422 337041, Kirklees on 01924 335073, Bradford on 01274 376116 and Leeds on 0113 3859590.
More information about the new forced marriage legislation and support available for victims or those concerned about a friend or family member is available on the West Yorkshire Police website at: www.westyorkshire.police.uk/forcedmarriage.
Listen to how you can help spot the signs that could save women from forced marriages.