David Cameron occurs Britain's first Girl summit in 2014. The summit discussed forced marriage and FGM. Photo: Getty Images
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Britain's first forced marriage sentence: a lot more still to do

This month’s forced marriage sentencing was a great step forward, but why is it the only one?

Last week, the British courts handed down its first ever sentence to a perpetrator of forced marriage. The perpetrator - a 34-year-old businessman from Cardiff - raped and imprisoned a woman, before forcing her to marry. It was just a year ago today that forced marriage became a crime in the United Kingdom.

What does this sentencing mean? Well, first and foremost, it will be a huge relief for the survivor, a young woman who had reportedly been dragged through the long and tortuous process of the defendant flip-flopping on his plea. This is all we can know about the case without putting the survivor at risk.

This unknown woman can now begin to try to put her life back together. Yet, she is the only one of an unknown number of victims living in this country to have been brought justice, those whose families – those who are supposed to support and love them no matter what – would often sooner see dead over shaming the family.

Due to the very nature of this vastly underreported crime, there is no way of knowing how many people go through the turmoil of forced marriage and subsequent marital rape each year. But it is in the thousands. In 2013, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit gave support or advice related to a possible forced marriage to more than 1,300 people.

This conviction was the result of several stars aligning. The first was that the victim felt she could talk to her family about what she was being put through by her perpetrator, and they had the confidence to report it the police.

Sadly, this is not always the case. Many survivors I have met grew up believing the ‘honour’ system they had been brought up in was normal. Going against that system - from wearing ‘Westernised’ clothes, to refusing to marry their promised stranger, to leaving home - is often viewed as shameful, not only by the perpetrators but by the victims themselves. As a result, many have claimed to feel like the perpetrator rather than the victim, someone who is hurting the people they love – their family – through shaming them in the eyes of the community.

Going to the police to ask for help is therefore seen as just another layer of betrayal, often by all parties involved. Last year’s criminalisation of forced marriage therefore enables victims to redirect the blame away from themselves to be able to say “what you are doing is illegal” to the perpetrator. It will also hopefully give families the confidence to stand up to the wider community and say “we don’t want to go to prison”.

Secondly, the South Wales police who handled the case had previously signed up to training by Karma Nirvana, a charity run by forced marriage survivor Jasvinder Sanghera and the driving force behind an attempt to change this lack of awareness among all professionals who regularly come into contract with victims. According to one of the officers involved in the case, PC Leane Caddick, Karma Nirvana’s forced marriage training and specialist risk assessment enabled her to “identify incidents and victims of forced marriage, [and] understand the barriers faced by victims, as well as how to respond, investigate and handle cases, conduct risk assessments and safeguard victims”.

However, not all police forces have been as proactive in engaging with Karma Nirvana, despite the group’s repeated attempts. According to staff member Natasha Rattu, “we really want to get into West Yorkshire because Leeds and Bradford are consistently among our top five calling areas. From West Yorkshire we do get calls from victims that haven’t had fantastic responses”.

Sara (whose real name cannot be revealed for her own security) from Bradford, West Yorkshire, was one of many to have been let down by untrained police officers. After initially ringing 999, her initial call was not followed up on, and she “went back into this hole of accepting that help would never come”, until a year later when she found the courage to police to ask for help for a second time. A police officer assumed the male friend she was with was a boyfriend. After being referred to a refuge, the police did not make contact with her again: “there was no welfare check made to see if I was ok. Until this day I've never been followed up on which is a shame really as the police have powers which could make the difference between freedom and being oppressed”. I have heard testimony after testimony of others being told to go home and try and make things work with those who are perpetrating the abuse. PC Caddick from South Wales adds that “untrained officers are fearful of upsetting communities by asking questions about culture and religion”.

While the law criminalising forced marriage is an important step, it is the first of many down a long road in tackling forced marriage. In order for more convictions to happen, all professionals who come into contact with potential victims and survivors need to be able to identify ‘honour’-based abuse and know how to deal with it appropriately. It is also time that we have an honest conversation about what one conviction means in the backdrop of over 1,300 reports to a government department. These steps forward cannot happen without groups like Karma Nirvana, who are experts in supporting victims and empowering survivors to gain the independence they have previously been denied. 

Emily Dyer is a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society. She tweets as @erdyer1.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.