Practice blog

State Accountability for All: Why Should BME Organisations Do Strategic Litigation?

Dr Hannana Siddiqui is a freelance policy and research consultant with over 30 years of experience on tackling violence against BME women and girls. She works for a number of organisations, including the leading BME women’s organisation, Southall Black Sisters  (where she has worked for 30 years in various capacities, including as a casework advocate) and the Angelou Centre in Newcastle (where she helps to co-ordinate the Fatima Network, which involves 15 BME women’s organisations across the UK). For an audio version of this blog, scroll to the bottom of the page or visit our Soundcloud profile.

The blog is based on a speech made by Dr Hannana Siddiqui at a seminar organised by the Centre for Women’s Justice in Bristol on 20 April 2017.

Many black and minority ethnic (BME) women’s violence against women and girls (VAWG) organisations are stretched for time and resources. Not only do the day-to-day services have to be provided, but yet another grant application needs to be submitted so that these services can survive. In this midst of this whirl of activity, it is often difficult to step back, consider and act upon what more can be done to help BME women and girls whose cases may seem hopeless. What, for instance, can be done to find safe accommodation for those without legal rights to access social security benefits and Council housing if their non-spousal visa states that they have no recourse to public funds, even if they have fled forced marriage or ‘honour-based’ violence (HBV)?

While many organisations would be angry and frustrated by a law that fails BME women and girls, few consider legal remedies to the problem, particularly if there is no obvious legal argument to be made or legal aid to support the action. Strategic litigation or casework which aims to push the boundaries of the existing law, or the way it is applied by the state, is something few BME women’s organisations have time and resources to pursue. Yet it is precisely this type of action which can trigger a quantum leap in improving the rights of BME women and girls by setting new legal precedent which assists both the individual, and a highly vulnerable and disadvantaged social group. Indeed, strategic litigation can be successful when campaigning alone has been met with refusal by the state to create wider reform in the face of injustice. Strategic litigation is therefore a vital tool in holding the state accountable for all women.

The specific benefits for BME women and girls of such action are highlighted in several cases brought by a few BME women’s organisations which undertake strategic litigation in addition to providing routine casework and campaigning or policy advocacy. For example, in the 2000s, I helped to change family law in a case of forced marriage while conducting casework advocacy for Southall Black Sisters (SBS). The case involved a young Asian woman who had been forced into marriage while visiting Pakistan. With our help, she obtained an annulment rather than a divorce from her husband, which had been normal practice in England and Wales in such situations. The woman said that this meant she was not regarded as a divorcee (which can be a cultural taboo), but as someone who had never given valid consent to the marriage. This outcome also meant that more BME women are encouraged to challenge the validity of forced marriage; and helped to deter abusive families from holding them hostage for fear of bringing shame and dishonour by obtaining a divorce. 

Also remember, in some cases, organisations can act as interveners or interested third parties, which can help to support individual litigants, as witnessed by the current case of ‘Worboys’ where a number of women’s organisations, including SBS, are intervening to hold the police accountable for failing to protect women from rape and gendered violence.

However, as organisations cannot obtain legal aid, legal costs can prove to be a barrier, particularly if the organisations lose the case and are required to pay the costs of the opposing party. This is where campaigning is important as it can help raise donations, although the courts can grant a waiver. For instance, in 2002, I intervened with SBS as an interested third party involving the tragic deaths of an Asian woman, Nazia Bi, and her young daughter to demand that the Coroner hold an inquest to establish if they had died as a result of suicide or murder in a context of domestic violence and HBV. Although the case denied SBS permission for a judicial review, the courts nevertheless accepted that SBS had a standing with a right to bring such action as an interested third party. While SBS had raised some money through a public campaign, the courts ordered that no legal costs should be paid by SBS as it had acted in the public interest.    

So, how can BME women’s organisations pursue effective strategic litigation?   

1. Find the right case: not all cases are suitable for strategic litigation as some can establish ‘bad’ law if unsuccessful. Be guided by your passion and sense of injustice, but sound legal advice is needed before you launch into legal action.

2.Find the right lawyer:  not all lawyers understand the needs of BME women and girls facing VAWG. Find a high quality lawyer with an understanding of intersectional or multiple discrimination, and who is willing to work with you to push the boundaries of the law in directions which seek to end race and gender discrimination. This often means lawyers have to be very imaginative and committed as they may have to work pro bono, at least at the beginning while they establish the basis for obtaining legal aid.

3.Find the money: not all cases would qualify for legal aid. Check if the service user would be entitled to legal aid. If you are pursuing a legal case as an organisation (as an interested third party), you would need to raise money for legal costs through donations, including crowd funding. Legal costs, however, can be high, particularly if you lose a case and you need to pay the legal costs of the opposing party (unless the court orders otherwise), even if your own lawyer/s are pro bono. So be very careful – check the strength of your case with lawyers and try to raise sufficient sums to cover all legal costs.

4.Find support for the case:  not all cases are successful without a campaign behind them.  While some cases should not be publicised, ensure, where possible, that there is public support. This not only helps to raise donations for legal and campaign costs, but also raises the profile of the issues and adds pressure for legal and policy reform.         

      

Contact Dr Siddiqui on Twitter: @hannanasiddiqui 

Website: www.hannanasiddiqui.uk (under construction)  

For more survivor stories, practice tips and research, visit our Spotlight homepage

Dr Roxanne Khan: Three myths about 'honour'-based violence

Dr. Roxanne Khan is a Chartered Psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology at the University of Central Lancashire. An expert in family violence, she publishes and presents her research on ‘honour’-based violence to national and international audiences.

Dr Khan is also Director of HARM (Honour Abuse Research Matrix), a network that connects professionals working to combat this form of abuse. 

For an audio version of this blog, scroll to the bottom of the page or visit our Soundcloud profile.

There are many myths about ‘honour’ based violence (HBV) that distort our understanding these crimes. Before we explore 3 of these myths, it is important to understand how they formed.

‘Honour’-based abuse ranges from daily pressures to maintain a “respectable” image to extreme violence for tarnishing this reputation. As HBV is often premeditated and inflicted by males against female relatives, ‘honour’ crimes seem irrational, ruthless, and indefensible.

The media’s interest in torturous ‘honour’ killings keeps HBV newsworthy, fueling public outrage and professional concern. Yet, these extreme cases often overshadow less sensationalist research findings. Graphic news stories pack an emotional punch. They steer our attention away from subtle but important details, shaping our opinions and playing a part in creating myths.

These following 3 myths, in particular, are important to dispel because they may influence the way practitioners perceive and approach victims or perpetrators of HBV and forced marriage.

Myth #1: “Males can’t be victims of HBV and forced marriage…

Unquestionably, the majority of victims are female, yet …

  • …often ignored is the abuse experienced by a notable proportion of males. Annually in the UK, for example, males represent one-fifth of cases reported to the Forced Marriage Unit [1] and one-third of ‘honour’ killings [2].
  • Male victims are abused for associating with a ‘dishonourable’ woman. Or if they are perceived not to be heterosexual. Gay males may be forced into marriages if their sexuality is thought to pose a threat to their family’s reputation [3], and so ‘coming out’ may lead to HBV.
  • This ill-treatment reflects the wider abuse both men (and women) experience if they openly identify as LGBT+ [4], [5], 6].

Myth #1 must be dispelled; studies show that professionals are not immune to stereotyped or prejudiced beliefs about male and LGBT+ victimisation in the name of so called ‘honour’, [7] [8] [9] and this may obstruct genuine efforts to help.

 

Myth #2: “Females don’t commit HBV...”

Overwhelmingly, HBV is committed by male relatives, yet…

  • …female relatives, particularly mothers, also inflict extreme ‘honour’ violence [4][ 5]. In two notorious British ‘honour’ killings, the mothers of Rukhsana Naz and Shafilea Ahmed were instrumental in each of their daughter’s abuse and violent murders [10]. While Shakeela Naz and Farzana Ahmed are currently serving life-sentences for these crimes, they still deny any wrongdoing.
  • More commonly, females (unwittingly or not) amplify this abuse when they ignore, minimise, excuse, or forgive the harm caused by male kin. Women continue the cycle of violence by ‘policing’ family and community members, or spreading harmful rumours about someone’s ‘dishonourable’ behaviour [11].  When this gossip triggers an ‘honour’ killing, it has been called “murder by language” [12].
  • So why do females, most at risk of HBV themselves, encourage or inflict it on others? Often, because they are caught between a rock and hard place. Globally, in male-controlled honour cultures, females can protect themselves with a ‘respectable’ image, and this, in part involves identifying ‘dishonour’ in others [13].

Despite this catch-22, Myth #2 must be dispelled as studies show that females can be just as abusive as their male counterparts. For practitioners, this means being alert to the methods of abuse used by women, as these are less easy to detect.

 

Myth #3: “Females ‘at risk’ of HBV condemn it…”

Females are typically HBV victims, so it is unsurprising that they strongly oppose it, yet…

  • …a proportion of females, including healthcare workers [14], from honour cultures endorse ‘honour’ abuse and killings of other females [15] [16].
  • In a survey of 500 young British Asians, 18% of both males and females agreed that there was at least one reasonable excuse for committing HBV against women, ranging from disobeying a father, marrying someone unacceptable, or wanting to end a marriage [17].
  • As with Myth #2, this seems contradictory, but victim-blame is a strategy commonly used by females to make sense of violence in an unjust world [18]. The strength of a woman’s religiosity might also play a part in their acceptance of HBV [19].

Myth #3 must be dispelled so educational and intervention programmes are not designed naively to assume that all females, simply based on their gender, fully disapprove of HBV [20].

These are only 3 of many myths that shape the way HBV and forced marriage is publically perceived in the UK. It is important that professionals are alert to such myths when working on HBV cases, as they may obstruct genuine efforts to combat this perplexing form of abuse.

For more research, expert insight and survivor stories, visit our Spotlight homepage.

'Honour'-based abuse: Amala's* story

In this blog Amala* talks about the abuse that she suffered from her parents-in-law soon after her arranged marriage to her husband. The abuse from her parents-in-law was replicated by other members of the family, her husband and subsequently their children.  To protect anonymity, this blog was written using the words from a recorded interview between Amala*, her Idva and a SafeLives Advisor. For an audio version of this blog, scroll down to the bottom of the page or visit our Soundcloud profile.

I’m sharing my story to give a voice for other women who have experienced this, so they might seek help too. My mum and dad gave me a really good upbringing. They taught me right from wrong and to always side with what is right, and to think about what is supposed to be equal.

I’m a mother with 5 children, and my husband no longer lives in the country.  I met my husband through an arranged marriage in another country. At the time my parents met my husband’s family they put themselves across as a nice, loving family. When we got married I found out what the family was really like, what the expectation was. It all started from the day we got married. My husband and I lived with my mother and father-in-law and their other adult children. There were 8 people living in the house. I wasn’t allowed to go out anywhere. While my husband’s family went to work and school I was expected to make the lunch, the evening meal, to clean and dust the house, making sure that everything was prepared by the time that they got back. With 8 people living in the house, that’s all it was day in and day out, picking up and taking away. My husband’s family had all of the control, whatever I did was on their terms.

When my mother-in-law would wake up it was my duty to have the breakfast ready by the time she came out of the bathroom, to have her tea at a certain temperature. If the evening meal wasn’t ready for my father-in-law by 5pm when he came back from work, he’d go around picking up dishes, suggesting that if I hadn’t made new chapattis, I’ll just have the ones from yesterday. Just trying to have a dig at me “It’s fine, give me the ones from yesterday’’.

I could see that my husband loved and cared for me, but it wasn’t how it should be because he was scared of his parents. He never fully showed his love and care towards me. For my first birthday after we got married my husband got me a bouquet of flowers. My mother-in-law shouted at him ‘’why did you buy that? It’s a waste of money!’’ Things began to change with my husband too. After doing all of the work in the house, I’d go to bed late and this would upset him.  I was not only having to take care of my in laws, but also having to take on what he was saying as well and that really upset me. When I tried to tell him what was happening with his parents, he’d say his mum was right because he was frightened of them. He used to work all day and he didn’t want to get involved in all of this. He’d be tired, he wanted a peaceful life.  

As our family got bigger and we had more children my husband and I decided to get a house of our own. When we got our own house life seemed better, it seemed more peaceful. My husband realised…my husband felt guilty, he realised he hadn’t given time to his wife and children. We went out as a family. But even after we moved out of the house, his family’s expectation was that I’d drop the children off at school, come back to do the housework and my duties. They put pressure and control on my house, they got a spare key to come and check when we were home and what we were doing. I wasn’t allowed to go to parent’s evenings, children’s parties, they’d send my brothers-in-law instead.

When I stood up and said, I’m not going to go to your house and do all of the work, that’s when they turned against me. They manipulated my husband and my children. I began to see the change in my husband. There was soon no financial support and the first time there was physical abuse, it came from my husband. My father-in-law knew and didn’t do anything, he didn’t support me. My husband started the physical abuse, and the other family members soon followed. His family began to give the children expensive gifts and my children began to turn against me. My husband ignored it and it was not spoken about again. I got complaints from the school as well about the children getting involved in fights. My children now have no respect for me, they don’t listen to me, they swear at me. I’m not a statue, how I’ve been treated is wrong, that anyone can do what they want. I’m human too, I can’ t be treated like this. What is my life, what can I do, what am I allowed to do? From day one, my mother-in-law, father-in-law, sisters and brothers in law, and then my husband and now children too. What was I going to do?  I felt so upset and sad, like my life had ended. My in-laws threatened that if I told anyone they’d call the police, throw me out of the house and take my children from me.

The important thing to me is my children. I want to put them first. I could see what was happening to them, what was going on. I’ve got this hope, that now with the support from my Idva and the children’s social worker, the police, and I can see little changes and there are boundaries with my in laws and their influence on our lives.  All I want is for the children to go back to how they were before all of this, I want my husband to realise that he has a responsibility as well. For him to be supportive towards me.  I want to live independently with my children. I want them to have respect for women, to not hit women, to not swear at women. I don’t want my children to have that kind of attitude - looking down on everyone, thinking they are above everyone else. Most of all, I want my husband to take responsibility, to be supportive, to encourage their good behaviour. But for now, there is his ego, he can’t see right from wrong, only that I am wrong and to blame for everything.

For more research, practice advice and survivor stories, visit our Spotlight homepage

'Honour'-based violence and risk

Dr Lis Bates researches gender-based violence at the University of Bristol. She is currently working on a project developing what justice means to victims of domestic and sexual abuse, and a European project to address sexual violence amongst refugees.

Lis’s interest lies in connecting research to policy and practice. Prior to 2016, she worked as Head of Research for SafeLives and, before that, for parliamentary select committees on Home Affairs and Education, running national inquiries on domestic abuse, immigration, crime and child welfare. Between 2010 and 2017 she completed her PhD study on ‘honour’-based abuse and forced marriage in England and Wales, analysing 1,500 cases known to the police and domestic abuse agencies.

Why risk assessment?

Perhaps the most famous case of ‘honour’-based violence (HBV) in this country remains the 2008 murder of Banaz Mahmood. And that’s because Banaz’s case really stirred things up. It drove the police to overhaul their response and write the first national HBV policing policy. The major failing in the police response to Banaz’s request for help was that they did not understand the context and therefore the risk signs of HBV. Consequently, they thought that her assessment of the threat to her own life was “hysterical” and unfounded. Her brutal murder a few days later showed just how misguided this was.

A key aim of risk assessment is to identify the contexts of abuse and help understand the threats to the victim. It enables professionals to help the victim safety-plan, manage risks and access the right interventions. Risk tools such as the 24-question DASH-RIC (used by police and domestic abuse services in England and Wales) draw on research from previous cases, and what victims say, to develop a checklist of questions professionals can ask to assess risk.

More HBV cases are high risk

HBV is much less prevalent than domestic abuse, but there are still a sizeable number of cases in this country each year. Annually, around 1,800 incidents are reported to the police in England and Wales (HMIC, 2015).[1] Of course, these numbers are just what are visible – the tip of the iceberg.

SafeLives Insights data published as part of the current Spotlight on 'honour'-based violence and forced marriage shows that HBV cases were more likely to score high-risk (68%) than non-HBV domestic abuse cases (55%).

Some HBV cases score more highly than others

The dynamics and risk factors for domestic abuse are quite well understood. However, little research has been done on large sets of cases to identify risk factors for HBV. My PhD research (as yet unpublished) addressed this gap, looking at almost 1,500 cases of HBV identified by the police and domestic abuse services in this country.

My study developed a new ‘typology of HBV’, with three types based on the relationship between victim and perpetrator, and number of perpetrators. In Type I the sole perpetrator was a current or ex intimate partner (very similar – arguably identical –  to other domestic abuse cases). In Type II the perpetrator was one or more of the victim’s family members, generally their birth family. Type III involved a current or ex intimate partner perpetrator, and in addition one or more of the victim’s family members – most commonly their in-laws.

When cases were divided into these types, risk diverged. Type II scored lower, with only 52% high risk (as measured by Insights data), compared with 66% in Type I and 74% in Type III. This correlation between risk and type was statistically significant. Despite this, all three types were equally likely (around 30% of cases) to go to Marac. See figure below.

The key difference was that cases which did not involve an intimate partner perpetrator (Type II) scored lower risk, but went to Marac at the same rate. This is intriguing, on both counts.

So what?

What might be going on here?

Are the risks posed by family members (compared with intimate partners) less visible, or their dynamics less understood – and so these cases under-scored on risk? It could be that tools like the DASH-RIC, initially developed from analysis of intimate partner violence, are less well-equipped to identify risks from family perpetrators. For example, items on child contact, separation, pregnancy, or prior criminal history may be less relevant in familial HBV cases, and thus the sum total number of ‘yeses’ fewer. It is true that family member perpetrators can be an ‘unknown quantity’ in terms of risk, since (unlike many intimate partner perpetrators) they often do not have a prior police record and therefore it is harder to draw on past behaviour to judge the risk they pose. Some HBV cases also have characteristics which might lead to them being judged lower risk. For example, in my Type II, a female perpetrator (often the victim’s mother) was more likely to be involved (alongside a male relative). Is it possible that professionals scored cases involving a female as less risky (perhaps because a mother can traditionally be seen as a protective factor)?

If this picture is true, some items on risk assessment tools may need revisiting, especially for familial HBV – but professionals may be right to elevate these cases to Marac.

On the other hand, perhaps risks posed by family members can be less than those from an intimate partner. In some cases, family members can be protective as well as risk factors – and these cases usually lack certain elements such as sexual violence or the victim having children. If so, some Type II cases may be mistakenly elevated to Marac unnecessarily, perhaps reflecting local policies – such as referring all HBV cases – which operate in some areas.

These new figures and understandings about different types of HBV case – and the questions they pose about risk factors – are just the start of a much-needed conversation. But that conversation is timely, in light of this SafeLives Spotlight, and the current review of the DASH-RIC. I would love to hear the thoughts of front-line professionals, of HBV campaigners, Marac chairs and so on. What do you think these case types mean for risk, and for policy and practice responses?

Lis can be contacted at lis.bates@bristol.ac.uk.

Visit our Spotlight homepage for more insight and guidance for professionals encountering 'honour'-based violence

 

[1] In the ten months to 31 January 2015, a total of 2,600 incidents of HBV, forced marriage and FGM were recorded by 41 out of 43 forces in England and Wales. To make the figures comparable to other annual reports, if these data for ten months were uprated to 12 months (using a simple multiplying factor of 1.2), the annual number of incidents would be 3,120 incidents. 60% of these were HBV (the rest were forced marriage or FGM) – this would equate to 1,800 incidents. HMIC (2015) The depths of dishonour: Hidden voices and shameful crimes. An inspection of the police response to honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Available at: http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmic

 

The Problem with Forced Marriage Legislation

Maz Idriss is a Lecturer in Law at Manchester Metropolitan University. In 2015, Maz wrote an article in the Criminal Law Review about the criminalisation of forced marriage in England and Wales. In this short blog, he discusses some of the points arising from that article about whether the forced marriage legislation has had the desired effect of combating this major human rights violation. For an audio version of this blog, scroll to the bottom of the page, or visit our Soundcloud profile

A forced marriage occurs where one or both spouses are forced into marriage without their consent, or where consent is ostensibly given; there has been duress or coercion. Forced marriages are somewhat different to ‘arranged marriages’ where parents and relatives may help in the selection or choosing of marriage partners, although the ultimate decision to enter into marriage lies with the person/s entering into a marriage contract. 

However, there may sometimes be ‘slippage’ or a ‘blurred line’ between what is an ‘arranged’ and what is ‘forced’. Parents and relatives may present a range of marriage partners for a person to choose from, but if one analyses the dynamics and nature of those relationships, certain marriage scenarios may be more ‘forced’ when presented as ‘arranged’. For the purposes of this blog, I will solely be focusing on ‘forced’ marriages – those cases where consent is clearly absent. 

It is fair to state at this juncture that there are no accurate statistics on forced marriages in the UK. There are statistics available from the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) that provides a glimpse of the nature and the extent of the problem. The latest statistics by the FMU in 2015 (as of 8 March 2016) state that the FMU gave advice or support in 1,200 cases, with 80% involving female victims and 57% of cases involving South-Asian communities. 

Yet these statistics do not reflect the extent to which forced marriages exist – as a hidden crime and a form of domestic abuse, commentators agree that it is underreported and any statistics that are cited are likely to be substantially less than the actual incidences that take place. What explains underreporting? This could be for a number of reasons – victims may fail to report their abuse due to a number of fears – they may be scared to report their families to the authorities and may be scared of the repercussions if they do report their abuse. 

Forced marriage reforms 
In June 2014, the government introduced the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, which amended the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 and the Family Law Act 1996. It created a new separate offence of Forced Marriage as well as criminalising breaches of Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs). FMPOs under the 2007 Act were previously only a civil remedy. An FMPO stipulated certain conditions aimed at protecting victims from forced marriage, including a prohibition of forcing a person into marriage, not to take a person abroad to take part in a forced marriage and the surrender of passports (including the victim’s). If an FMPO was breached, it was considered a contempt of court and a person was liable to serve a custodial sentence of up to 2 years, a fine or both. The FMPO nevertheless was ‘civil’ in its nature as was treated as a breach of an order of the court. 

However, under the June 2014 reforms, breaches of an FMPO now constitute a breach of the criminal law (although it also retains its civil/family law nature, as FMPOs are issued in the family courts). If the police or the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decides to instigate criminal proceedings, a breach of an FMPO can now result in a term of imprisonment of up to 5 years, although it depends on which route is taken – civil or criminal. Victims who have experienced breaches of FMPOs have dual routes to choose – they can either choose to enforce breaches in either of the civil or criminal jurisdictions (but not both). 

The offence of Forced Marriage separately can also result in perpetrators being sentenced up to 7 years for forcing a person into marriage (even if there is no FMPO in place). 

However, have these reforms worked? The new offences empower victims to make complaints and to rely on the state to positively end their ordeals. Criminalisation in both areas is a positive step because it demonstrates that the government has a strong intention to challenge what it sees as a major human rights violation. Criminalisation under the 2007 Act was not pursued because the original drafters and proponents of the legislation had hoped that the civil remedy would curb instances of forced marriage without the criminal law. However, in the lead up to the 2014 reforms, the FMU had consistently reported over 1,200 cases on average, which some suggested showed that the 2007 Act had lacked ‘teeth’ to address the problem. Now that we have criminalisation for breaches of FMPOs and a separate forced marriage offence, the government has argued that it provides a major deterrent and perpetrators will think twice about committing this horrendous act because of the substantial custodial sentences and penalties involved.  

Furthermore, as breach of FMPOs and forced marriage now constitutes separate criminal offences, the police no longer have to ask the civil court’s permission to arrest perpetrators for contempt of court – as separate criminal offences, the police can investigate a complaint and make arrests as soon as a complaint is made (whether by a victim or a third party). This is a positive step because the police can now, on its own volition, investigate complaints and make arrests as a state agency with the responsibility to protect members of the public from crime. With just the private civil jurisdiction, family members may exert pressure upon the victim not to pursue civil remedies – now that both offences constitute crimes under the criminal law the police can now investigate a matter itself. 

The consequences of criminalisation 
However, a major concern about criminalisation is whether victims retain a sense of control over proceedings. With the civil remedy alone, the victim was able to decide what course of action to take. With criminal proceedings, there is the possibility that control will be taken away from victims – with the police and CPS deciding to go ahead with criminal prosecutions, potentially ignoring the wishes of victims. This could lead to catastrophic consequences, especially if the victim states that they may be harmed or even killed for shaming the family if a prosecution is brought. While the CPS prosecution guidance on its website on forced marriages state that the views and opinions of victims will be considered, there is no guarantee that a prosecution will not be brought if the victim disagrees. Thus, victims may feel that power and control to initiate proceedings (and which route to pursue) is taken out of their hands. 

Furthermore, the new law is complicated by the fact that perpetrators are often family members, including parents and loved ones. While victims may want to escape forced marriages, some may not want to see their mothers or fathers prosecuted because of the love and emotional attachments involved. Thus, some victims may choose to tolerate forced marriages to avoid parents being prosecuted. The ‘shame’ and ‘dishonour’ associated with bringing a prosecution against family members may also dissuade some from coming forward and reporting crimes. Criminalisation may also prove ineffective due to the burden of proof in criminal proceedings, which is much higher than the civil jurisdiction – there is no guarantee that prosecutions will be successful because the CPS will have to prove to the jury ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that an offence has been committed. In the latest figures provided by the CPS in its VAWG Crime Report for 2015-2016, there was a 60.4% prosecution success rate for forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation. If prosecutions are unsuccessful, what further danger does this pose for victims within their wider familial settings and community networks? 

There is also a concern that the new law may stigmatise certain communities and increase racial hostility against those who are perceived to practice forced marriages, namely South-Asians and Muslims. This may have a negative effect and prevent victims from reporting forced marriages for the fear of confirming racial stereotypes and increasing Islamophobia at a time when Islam and Muslims are under attack for supposedly being responsible for committing acts of terrorism, forced marriage, honour-based violence and grooming offences. 

In the first year of the new reforms between June 2014 and June 2015, The Guardian also reported that there was only one successful prosecution under the new offence of forced marriage – and that was not a traditional case of forced marriage one would normally associate with the offence either. This was a case in Wales of a married man who committed rape, voyeurism, forced marriage and bigamy – it was not a case of parents forcing a child to marry a person against their will. In this sense, the legislation has proven far from being effective. As noted earlier, despite criminalisation the FMU still reported in 2015 that it dealt with over 1,200 cases of forced marriages. Perpetrators have not been deterred by the substantial sentences available for breaches of FMPOs and for forced marriage. 

In pursuit of preventative measures 
In my 2015 article (and in another article that I wrote for the International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice in 2017), I argued that criminalisation was unnecessary due to the small number of breach hearings for FMPOs and the fact that most FMPOs (prior to the 2014 reforms) appeared to be complied with. While I understand the importance and the declaratory effect of the law, criminal justice responses are not the only option. Preventative measures and responses to deal with the problem of forced marriages must also be pursued. This includes aiming education and awareness at local communities, schools, colleges and universities about the wrongs and ills of forced marriages and information about where victims can access support. There must be increased funding from the government to support these initiatives by specialist support organisations and activists. The government must not rely solely on a criminal justice response, which it seems to have done. 

In relation to education and awareness, initiatives should also be aimed at men in order to destabilise patriarchal ideologies that supports men’s oppression of women. Again, this should be led by specialist support organisations and activists, but with the support and assistance of more men. The battle to end forced marriages and honour-based violence (as the two are inextricably linked) cannot be won by feminists and women alone – men (in particular, South-Asian men) must be prepared to stand up and to be counted and argue that forced marriage and honour-based violence are anything but honourable. We need to shift the narrative and make people realise that forced marriages and honour-based violence are dishonourable acts and expressly go against the tenets of Islam. In this way, we can inform and challenge the causes of forced marriages, as well as challenge the racist stereotypes that exist. Victims do not benefit from forced marriages; similarly no one benefits from attacks on other people’s religions and cultures. 

 

 

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