Feature: Forced marriages in East London
- Credit: shuttercock
With perpetrators of forced marriages facing jail terms when the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 comes into effect next month, reporter Janine Rasiah speaks to a victim who has turned her life around and a Newham-based charity which supports those looking for help.
Almost half of the women supported at Beverley Lewis House last year had either been threatened with forced marriage or had experience it.
The safe house which protects women at an secret East London location also helped one woman who had experienced more than one forced marriage.
But Suzanne Bailey, service manager for East Thames Group, which runs the house, hopes giving victims of forced marriage the option of prosecuting the perpetrators will help more people come to terms with their past.
“There is an argument put forward about whether it [the new law] is going to have this underground effect on reporting because there is usually a family connection and victims might not feel comfortable with that,” she said.
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“But the really important thing is that victims will have that choice.”
A recent case she dealt with involved a woman who was married and had children despite not really having the capacity to consent to the marriage and the relationship.
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East Thames helped her to continue her relationship with her children through social services and enabled her to understand what a healthy relationship is and to understand she does have a choice.
Having worked at East Thames for two decades, Suzanne has seen an increase in victims seeking help, although she believes that this is due to support networks being in place which encourage people to report.
“These are the ones that are reported to us and, because of the nature of the issue, it is very likely that there are more incidents occuring which we are not aware of,” she added.
How is the law changing?
Once the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 comes into force on June 16, victims will have the option to prosecute.
A person found guilty of an offence could be jailed for up to seven years for using violence, threats or coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage.
If the victim is found to lack capacity to consent to marriage the perpetrator could also be found guilty of the offence.
Victims could decide not to prosecute and instead obtain a Forced Marriage Protection Order, which were introduced in 2008.
This is an order in a civil court but its breach is punishable with a two-year jail sentence for contempt of court.
FMPOs can prevent a forced marriage from occuring or offer protective measures when a forced marriage has already taken place.