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Coronavirus (COVID-19): the policing response and what you need to know

“Don’t wait until it’s too late.” Remembering those lost to honour killings. Reaching out to those at risk.

In 2003, Bradford-born 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed was murdered by her parents after suffering years of abuse for becoming ‘too westernised’. Each year on July 14, which would have been Shafilea’s birthday, a day of remembrance is held for all lives lost to honour killings. 

Tragically, the crimes of honour-based abuse and forced marriage are not isolated incidents.

Accurately predicting the scale of such crimes is difficult as so many incidents are hidden and unknown.  However in the year to April 2020, Avon and Somerset Police identified 150 victims and potential victims at risk, all of whom were safeguarded, including 30 victims who received enhanced support from police and our partners to help them reach a place of safety or refuge.

During lockdown, some UK charities have seen an alarming increase in calls and emails reporting honour-based abuse and expressing fears around forced marriage plans being made.  As lockdown eases and international travel restrictions are lifted, there are fears that these plans may now come to fruition.

We want to reassure victims and potential victims that we are available to listen, advise and support 24/7 on 101, our non-emergency number (call 999 in an emergency). Those at risk, or who know someone at risk, can also report to us online or visit a police station.

We are also urging friends, neighbours, communities and professionals including teachers, social care workers and those working in transport professions to be vigilant and report any suspicions or concerns. 

Detective Superintendent James Raphael, Avon and Somerset Police force lead for forced marriage, said:  “Honour-based abuse and forced marriage are domestic abuse crimes.  Everyone has the right to freedom of choice and there is no honour in activities which cause suffering and undermine fundamental human rights.

“These are difficult crimes to tackle as they often happen behind closed doors to victims who may not always recognise that their abuse is unlawful.  These victims may also be terrified to report and have limited opportunities to do so. 

“We want to emphasise that there is absolutely no shame in seeking help. Prosecution is not the only option and there is much police can do to support and protect you, either at home or in a place of safety. We won’t put you at further risk.

“If you are a victim of abuse, currently or historically, or know someone you think is, you can talk to us, the Forced Marriage Unit or charities such as Karma Nirvana or NextLink. Please don’t wait until it’s too late.”

Honour-based abuse and forced marriage are not specific to any one country, religion or culture and no major faith in the UK advocates forced marriage. 

Victims may be female or male and those at risk can include individuals who are LGBT+, have learning difficulties or who do not have the mental capacity to understand and agree to the marriage. They can encounter many barriers to reporting including being constantly chaperoned, language difficulties and not knowing how to access help.  Victims may be groomed into believing that speaking to the police is shameful and will fear reprisals.

Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens added: “Sadly, we know that honour-based abuse and arranging of forced marriages has continued to take place during the global health pandemic. As we continue to come out of lockdown, we must use every opportunity to raise awareness of these crimes and to give survivors and victims the confidence to come forward and speak out.

“There is no honour in crimes that cause suffering and we will continue to work with our partners and communities to support victims. To survivors and victims I want to say that help is available, either from the police or from a support service, and you do not deserve to suffer in silence.”

We will be sharing information about honour-based abuse and forced marriage, inviting questions and offering confidential chat sessions via our Facebook and Instagram pages on Thursday 16 and Friday 17 July.

If you are unable or unwilling to talk to us, please talk to another organisation who can help.