Next week, Suffolk and Norfolk Police will unite with other forces across the country to support an annual national day of remembrance for those killed in honour crimes.
The campaign, which was kick-started by the charity Karma Nirvana and Cosmopolitan magazine, aims is to raise awareness about this serious issue, which is hidden behind closed doors.
The day will be held on July 14 every year and will be known as Britain’s Lost Women - it also marks the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed who was murdered by her parents in 2003.
She had suffered years of honour-based abuse at their hands, including an attempted forced marriage and was suffocated to death by them in front of her siblings when she was just 17 years old.
It is estimated that 5,000 women across the world are killed each year for bringing ‘shame’ on their family.
“Honour-based crimes predominantly affect Asian communities and women and children from the Middle East and Africa, but this can and does happen in many other communities,” said Detective Chief Inspector Jim Gooding, Suffolk’s lead for this specialist and complex area.
“There is no honour in honour abuse and we are committed to working to keep victims safe and prevent further crimes happening,” he added.
The government estimates there are 12 so-called ‘honour killings’ per year in the UK and in Suffolk officers deal with around 30 cases of Honour Based Abuse (HBA), Forced Marriage (FM) and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) combined every year.
Detective Chief Inspector Jim Gooding said: “The remembrance day falls at a critical time, because it co-incides with the start of the school holidays - a period when young girls and boys are more likely to disappear and not return to class after the summer break, a scenario that has happened in Suffolk.
“This is a period when they can be taken abroad to be forced into marriage and we are keen to help anyone who may be at risk. Along with our community safety partners, we will be contacting schools across the county to highlight the issues connected to this area.”
Detective Superintendent Julie Wvendth, of the Norfolk Police Safeguarding and Investigations Command, echoed his concerns: “The school summer holidays are the time when young people are at the highest risk of being taken overseas for a forced marriage or FGM,” she said.
“Forced marriage happens everywhere, including in Norfolk, and in many cases we have only one chance to identify the signs early and give people the freedom to make their own choices.
“As well as the obvious physical impact, the psychological affect FGM can have on a victim should not be underestimated.”
Posters and leaflets have been distributed to schools and higher education establishments across Norfolk as well as being displayed at Norwich International Airport.
Forced marriage became a crime in England and Wales on June 16, 2014. The police have adopted a multi-agency approach to tackling honour-based abuse and have a dedicated team that works with partner agencies to raise awareness about these complex issues.
Norfolk Police had a protocol in place for a number of years to assist officers and staff in dealing with such victims.
Between mid-July 2010 and mid-June 2015, some 86 incidents of honour based abuse were reported to Norfolk Police, of these 12 were reports of potential forced marriage and four reports of forced marriage.
Det Supt Wvendth said: “This is an under-reported area of crime and we want to encourage victims to come forward and speak to us or the Freedom Charity.
“As a force we will always take positive action against such abuse which includes supporting victims, ensuring a full risk assessment is carried out, conducting a vigorous investigation and charging and convicting the perpetrators.”
Bal Howard, Suffolk’s Honour Based Abuse (HBA) Projects Officer, has played a huge part in developing the police response to HBA, providing a vital partnership link to deliver training to thousands of staff in health, education and other agencies, so they can unite to safeguard those most vulnerable.
He said: “Our thoughts go out to all those who have been affected by honour based abuse and if you or someone you know needs our help, I would urge you to contact us. If you are a victim and it is too risky to get in touch, I would advise getting someone you can trust to do this on your behalf.
“We can and we will help you and are currently looking after a number of victims who are being assisted to live in difficult and risky situations. We understand the sensitive nature of these cases and our officers are trained in dealing with victims in a discreet manner to provide support in the way most suited to their situations.
“If you are not happy to talk to police, you can contact the national Freedom Charity, which is committed to helping victims of this type of offence.”
Tim Passmore, Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said: “It is very upsetting that honour based crimes do occur in our county and as a community we must all do whatever we can to prevent these appalling acts taking place.
“I am very pleased that Suffolk Constabulary is joining this national day of recognition for those who suffered honour based killings.
“There is no place whatsoever in today’s society for this kind of intolerable behaviour which is why we have dedicated policing resources in Suffolk to bring the perpetrators to justice and to work towards preventing such acts in the first place.”
Stephen Bett, Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner, added: “Young people must be free to make their own choices in life. The practice is one of real concern and one which we must ensure we are well placed to address.
“I have been working closely with Norfolk Police and partners from health to make sure we can provide the right support to those who need it and protect those who are vulnerable. I would urge communities and agencies to be on alert over the summer holidays so we can help prevent young people being taken abroad to suffer FGM or forced into marriage.”
James Joyce, Chairman of the Children’s Services Committee at Norfolk County Council, said: “People might be shocked to learn that forced marriage and FGM can affect children and women in Norfolk but these are traumatic experiences that can affect any community. That is why we are keen to work in partnership with the police to highlight the signs so that we can work together to keep children and young women safe.
“Additionally, we are engaging with Barnardo’s and the national FGM centre to ensure there is better training in this area and professionals are able to consult experts on the signs of FGM and how they can help to keep young people safe.”
* A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both people do not (or in the case of some people with learning or physical disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used.
* FGM is prevalent in 28 African countries as well as in parts of the Middle East and Asia and it is estimated 103,000 women aged 15-49, 24,000 women aged 50 and over and 10,000 girls aged under 15 who have migrated to England and Wales, are likely to have undergone FGM.
* FGM comprises all procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.
Impacts and effects of Forced Marriage:
* Isolation is one of the biggest problems facing victims of forced marriage. They feel they have no one to whom they can talk.
* Many young women run away and the lucky ones end up in a safe home but many return for fear of serious repercussions if they did not.
* They live in fear, and suffer because they have to leave behind family, friends and all that is familiar to them. Some families may resort to ‘honour based violence’ as the woman is seen to have ‘dishonoured’ the family.