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Forced marriage in the UK? It's a bigger problem than you think

To solve the problem, people must first acknowledge it, says Emily Dyer.

Last month, seven British survivors of ‘honour’ abuse and forced marriage spoke out in public about their experiences. They explained how it felt to be abused by those closest to them – their family and community members – in the name of ‘honour’. This marked the UK’s first ever Day of Memory for victims of ‘honour’ killings.

The survivors spoke about how their families’ rules, or ‘honour’ codes, forbade them from doing things that many of us take for granted, from texting a boy to wearing make-up. They talked about how they were made to feel as though this was normal, and that the abuse that resulted from breaking these ‘honour’ codes was their own fault. Some talked about how they felt as though they had nowhere to go as no one outside their community was listening or willing to believe them.

As part of my latest report, Britain’s Forgotten Women: Speaking to Survivors of ‘Honour’-Based Abuse, these women provide a range of personal insights into what is a national problem that affects men, women and children. Earlier this month it was revealed that, from 2010 to 2014, UK police have recorded over 11,000 cases of ‘honour’-based violence including beatings, abductions and even murders in a new study by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO). This problem stretches across the country, with cases recorded in every single police force in the UK over the five year period.

Yet, given the nature of this vastly underreported crime, the number of cases is still likely to be far higher. Many victims do not go to the police or when they do, forced marriage is not identified or reported. Diana Nammi, Executive Director at IKRWO, said: “unfortunately the figures do not even show the extent of the problem. So many crimes are never reported because the perpetrators are the victim’s own families and/community members”. Last year, Karma Nirvana – a national charity that supports all those affected by ‘honour’ abuse – received over 8,268 calls to their helpline, the majority of which were from victims themselves. This is thought by the group to be “the tip of the iceberg, as this abuse remains largely hidden”.

Despite the abhorrent nature of this abuse, there are still those determined to derail progress being made in fighting against it. They claim that talking about this form of abuse is in some way alienating minorities due to the fact that it predominantly takes place within South Asian communities. ‘Honour’-based abuse is not limited to one religion or culture, but this is surely beside the point. These are British men and women who deserve the same rights and roles in society as everyone else regardless of belief or background. To deny someone the same rights as other British citizens as a result of their culture or religion is as about as intolerant as it gets.

In fact, according to survivors themselves, the misguided fear of offending communities has often stood in the way of protecting and supporting victims. A survivor who has asked to be referred to as  Layla, says that “Despite rumours circulating about my engagement at school, my teachers never intervened-they just saw it as being part of my cultural practice”. According to another survivor, Sara, “the fear of offending communities remains unresolved. What many don't realise is that religion itself does not condone forced marriage or ‘honour’ abuse.” Jasvinder Sanghera, CEO and founder of Karma Nirvana and a survivor herself, agrees: “cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable. It cannot be right that some groups of people are not afforded the same level of protection compared to their white counter parts on the basis of difference.”

Mistakes are currently made when professionals do not have the awareness needed to identify signs of ‘honour’ abuse. This does not mean racial profiling. It means having an understanding of a very real problem and how it works. For example, common child protection procedures would advocate family reconciliation. However, given that perpetrators of ‘honour’ abuse and forced marriage are often family members this would likely to put the victim at far greater risk than before. Consider cases of paedophilia as an example – would any professional in their right mind send the victim back to the paedophile to work out their differences? Without knowing the basics about what ‘honour’ abuse is, professionals are likely to think they are simply following normal procedure and doing the right thing by the victim and their family.

These common mistakes in care are often due to a lack of awareness rather than willingness to help victims. There are police forces and schools who been proactive in seeking out or accepting training from groups like Karma Nirvana. However, there are still those who are dragging their feet. As a result, there is a gap in support for victims and survivors who are time and time again being let down by those whose job it is to protect and support them. It is only when achieving awareness becomes mandatory rather than an optional add-on that this trend can begin to reverse.

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

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Rising crime and fewer police show the most damaging impacts of austerity

We need to protect those who protect us.

Today’s revelation that police-recorded crime has risen by 10 per cent across England and Wales shows one of the most damaging impacts of austerity. Behind the cold figures are countless stories of personal misery; 723 homicides, 466,018 crimes with violence resulting in injury, and 205,869 domestic burglaries to take just a few examples.

It is crucial that politicians of all parties seek to address this rising level of violence and offer solutions to halt the increase in violent crime. I challenge any Tory to defend the idea that their constituents are best served by a continued squeeze on police budgets, when the number of officers is already at the lowest level for more than 30 years.

This week saw the launch Chris Bryant's Protect The Protectors Private Member’s Bill, which aims to secure greater protections for emergency service workers. It carries on where my attempts in the last parliament left off, and could not come at a more important time. Cuts to the number of police officers on our streets have not only left our communities less safe, but officers themselves are now more vulnerable as well.

As an MP I work closely with the local neighbourhood policing teams in my constituency of Halifax. There is some outstanding work going on to address the underlying causes of crime, to tackle antisocial behaviour, and to build trust and engagement across communities. I am always amazed that neighbourhood police officers seem to know the name of every kid in their patch. However cuts to West Yorkshire Police, which have totalled more than £160m since 2010, have meant that the number of neighbourhood officers in my district has been cut by half in the last year, as the budget squeeze continues and more resources are drawn into counter-terrorism and other specialisms .

Overall, West Yorkshire Police have seen a loss of around 1,200 officers. West Yorkshire Police Federation chairman Nick Smart is clear about the result: "To say it’s had no effect on frontline policing is just a nonsense.” Yet for years the Conservatives have argued just this, with the Prime Minister recently telling MPs that crime was at a record low, and ministers frequently arguing that the changing nature of crime means that the number of officers is a poor measure of police effectiveness. These figures today completely debunk that myth.

Constituents are also increasingly coming to me with concerns that crimes are not investigated once they are reported. Where the police simply do not have the resources to follow-up and attend or investigate crimes, communities lose faith and the criminals grow in confidence.

A frequently overlooked part of this discussion is that the demands on police have increased hugely, often in some unexpected ways. A clear example of this is that cuts in our mental health services have resulted in police officers having to deal with mental health issues in the custody suite. While on shift with the police last year, I saw how an average night included a series of people detained under the Mental Health Act. Due to a lack of specialist beds, vulnerable patients were held in a police cell, or even in the back of a police car, for their own safety. We should all be concerned that the police are becoming a catch-all for the state’s failures.

While the politically charged campaign to restore police numbers is ongoing, Protect The Protectors is seeking to build cross-party support for measures that would offer greater protections to officers immediately. In February, the Police Federation of England and Wales released the results of its latest welfare survey data which suggest that there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults on officers over a 12-month period, and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon.

This is partly due to an increase in single crewing, which sees officers sent out on their own into often hostile circumstances. Morale in the police has suffered hugely in recent years and almost every front-line officer will be able to recall a time when they were recently assaulted.

If we want to tackle this undeniable rise in violent crime, then a large part of the solution is protecting those who protect us; strengthening the law to keep them from harm where possible, restoring morale by removing the pay cap, and most importantly, increasing their numbers.

Holly Lynch is the MP for Halifax. The Protect the Protectors bill will get its second reading on the Friday 20th October. 

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