(L-R) Hardyal Dhindsa, Alan Charles, Jasviner Sanghera CBE and Tom Winsor
Leading figures involved in the protection and support of victims of Forced Marriage descended on Derby for the UK’s first national conference on the issue.
Representatives from a broad range of criminal justice fields including policing, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Association of Chief Police Officers, and the HMIC shared their knowledge, experience and best practice during the one-day seminar held on May 6 at Derby’s Council House.
The event, jointly hosted by Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Alan Charles and prominent Forced Marriage campaign charity Karma Nirvana, was held in anticipation of new legislation next month which criminalises Forced Marriage for the first time and was designed to promote discussion on what more can be done to raise awareness of the crime, increase protection to survivors and increase confidence among victims so more come forward to report their experiences.
Delegates heard from a range of prominent speakers including leading family lawyer Anne-Marie Hutchinson OBE, who presented findings from the Forced Marriage Commissioning Report, Chaz Akoshile, joint head of the Forced Marriage Unit and Commander Makhdum (Mak) Ali Chishty, ACPO national lead for honour-based violence and Forced Marriage as well as Derbyshire Chief Constable Mick Creedon.
Visitors collectively welcomed the arrival of the new legislation which provides greater legal protection for victims and helps police pursue perpetrators however it was widely accepted that more work was needed to persuade victims to break family loyalties and seek help from police. During the conference, Jasvinder Sanghera CBE, survivor of forced marriage and founder and Chief Executive of Karma Nivana, revealed that abusers are almost always family members and mostly women (mothers, aunts and dominant female relations) and that there are physical, emotional and institutional barriers preventing forced marriage victims from seeking help. Progress is dependent on closer working between statutory bodies such as police and non-statutory organisations which are working with victims on the ground so that more awareness and sensitivity is invested into the justice process, she added.
There was also wide agreement among the attendees that forced marriage should be rejected by every community and had no place in a civilised society regardless of faith, culture and family expectations. Chief Constable Mick Creedon said forced marriage infringed every article in the Human Rights Act while Nazir Afzal OBE, Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West of England, said forced marriage was effectively an issue of control and that no religion forced marriage.
Speaking after the conference, Commissioner Charles said: “This is the first time so many of the nation’s experts have come together for a dedicated forced marriage conference and so much value has been achieved by listening to such a wide range of perspectives.
“The new legislation is a very important and symbolic step forward and reflects the seriousness at which this crime is being viewed however I think we are all in agreement that it is by no means the solution. More work is needed on a holistic level to increase confidence among sufferers to report their experiences and seek the help they need. We also need to ensure that the practical help is in place once they have made this bold decision as coming forward is only the start of a very long and possibly frightening journey. Those who seek legal help might find themselves in further danger and may require protection measures, refuge and ongoing support. Together, we have a responsibility to ensure these systems are in place so that victims never feel alone.
“I would like to personally thank Jasvinder and Karma Nirvana for their help in hosting this conference and helping us to understand the complexities involved in enforcing this legislation so that we can deliver a more sensitive service to victims in the future.”
During the conference, delegates heard three brave and moving accounts from survivors of forced marriage which helped to convey the difficulties women face in coming forward and helped to give the new laws a wider context.
Despite being considered a crime affecting mostly women, Chaz Akoshile told the conference that in fact 18% of victims were male and that the FMU supported 1,300 calls for help last year.
The Rt Hon Helen Jones MP, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, said training of key workers was essential to detecting the crime, particularly GPs and those who work within the education sector who were mostly likely to come into contact with victims. The conference heard that the Government remains committed to tackling the problem and will monitor progress through HMIC inspections later this year.
Media Enquiries: Sallie Blair - 01283 821012 / 07702 541401
Posted on Thursday 22nd May 2014