Ahead of the start of the school Easter holiday, West Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner and West Yorkshire Police is reminding people of the signs to look out for of forced marriage and honour-based violence.
A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities0, cannot consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used.
The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.
From June 2014, it became a crime to force someone to marry against their will.
Over the school holidays intelligence suggests that there tends to be an increase in forced marriages. In the run up to, and over the easter holidays, officers are working with schools, airport staff and the wider community in raising awareness of the signs to spot that someone may be being forced to marry against their will or be a victim of honour-based violence.
This is very different to arranged marriage, 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 saw an increase in reported incidents related to forced marriage between 2014 and 2015, with 252 reports in 2015 compared to 234 in 2014. During 2015, 47 crimes were recorded for a variety of offences and 29 Forced Marriage Protection Orders put in place.
Detective Superintendent Darren Minton said: “Forced marriage is a largely hidden crime but the information we do have suggests that offences of forced marriage increase over the school holidays when opportunities arise for families to travel abroad.
“We are working to raise awareness of this kind of crime; both for those working in schools, airports and other settings where early signs could be spotted, but also among those at risk of being forced in to marriage. We are trying to get the message across that, regardless of what someone may have been told by their family, everyone has the right to choose and forcing someone to marry against their will is a crime.
“It is encouraging that we have seen more people coming forward over the last year to report incidents to us. If you or someone you know has concerns about forced marriage, West Yorkshire Police has specially trained officers who are here to help and will take every report extremely seriously.”
West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, said: “Forced marriage and honour-based violence are not acceptable and we must do everything we can to support the brave victims and witnesses who report those responsible for carrying out these crimes.
“I have promised to use my position as Police and Crime Commissioner to raise awareness about these crimes and to help and support victims who have the courage to come forward.
“I have and will continue to work with community partners which includes giving grants from the Safer Communities Fund, (SCF) 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 and provide specialist advice and support.
“It is vital that we look at how we can best reach victims. Working with partners we need to raise awareness, engagement with potential victims, and address how we can make it easier for victims and witnesses to report forced marriage and honour-based violence and receive the support they need.”
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 or call the Karma Nirvana helpline on 0800 5999247.
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.