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Sue Mountstevens to represent PCCs nationally on work to tackle 'honour'-based abuse

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Raising awareness of and tackling so-called ‘honour’ crimes will be the focus of Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Sue Mountstevens, in representing PCCs nationally on honour-based abuse, forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

Throughout her time as PCC, Ms Mountstevens has been a fierce advocate for survivors of FGM and was asked to submit evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee for their ‘FGM:  The case for a national action plan’.  The PCC will now expand on this work by bringing new focus to tackling ‘honour’ crimes, including forced marriage.

Honour-based abuse (HBA) is any practice used to control behaviour within families to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or ‘honour’. It is a violation of human rights and is a serious crime.

Examples of HBA includes intimidation, rape, assault, abduction, domestic abuse, physical, sexual, financial, emotional or psychological abuse, forced marriage (FM) – where you’re not given a choice if you want to marry a person - and murder.

PCC Sue Mountstevens said: “’Honour’-based abuse and forced marriage is a particularly difficult crime to tackle as it tends to happen behind closed doors and victims are terrified of coming forward.  Victims often worry about what will happen to their family if they disclose the abuse they’re suffering and many don’t want to see their families prosecuted.”

On behalf of PCCs across the country, Ms Mountstevens will act as a voice for victims and survivors, aiming to raise awareness of HBA, working closely with national partners to ensure freedom of choice remains a protected entity.

This work will aim to inform the PCC when joining representatives from across the country, at regular meetings of the So Called ‘Honour’-Based Violence Roundtable, hosted by the Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Sarah Newton MP.     

Sue continued: “If you are or have been a victim of forced marriage or so called ‘honour’-based abuse, I want you to know that there are people to talk to and who can help.  You can access this support regardless of whether or not you choose to report your experience to the police.  All I ask is please do not wait until your life is in danger to get help.”

Between 2010 and 2016 there were 419 reports of honour-based violence across Avon and Somerset, not including those unreported and which have been dealt with by partner organisations, leaving the true scale of these crimes unknown.

Avon and Somerset Police lead for honour-based abuse and forced marriage, DCI James Raphael said: “It is great news Sue has taken up this position as she will be a strong advocate to help raise awareness of HBA and FM and encourage victims to come forward.  HBA and FM impacts on victims across a number of communities, and these are often complex crimes with victims feeling they have no means of escape.

“We are committed to protecting and supporting all victims and whilst prosecution will always be a powerful tool to combat this type of crime, we appreciate that often this is not want the victims want. We don’t want victims to remain silent or think they have nowhere to turn so would advocate that victims use support services like Nextlink if they want some advice.”

Over the coming months, PCC Sue Mountstevens will be working with victims and those who support victims, to better understand this crime at a local and national level, to learn about the challenges people face in seeking help and to shine a light on this hidden crime.

On Thursday December 14, the PCC will be meeting with local domestic abuse services, NextLink’s honour-based violence and forced marriage specialist and support worker to talk about how they’re supporting victims and working with professionals to spot the signs.

In the afternoon, the PCC will then be visiting Integrate UK to meet with some of the young people who are encouraging people to ‘reflect on the consequences of our actions and recognise the darker side to cultural norms’.

Through the medium of film, the young people have made a video called ‘Onur’ – the Turkish word for honour.  The film is about the concept of so-called honour and how so many of us are unconsciously complicit in perpetuating the culture that shames and traps girls.  Watch the video here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=o17Kq4sPpW8

Speaking about the project, Integrate UK’s Director, Lisa Zimmermann said: “This film was very important to our young people, many of whom have been affected by the issues raised. The key to change is breaking cycles, and that is best done through changing the attitudes of the next generation of adults. Our young advocates create safe spaces for young people to discuss these issues and to identify and challenge the cultures that allow honour-based abuse to happen”.

What to do if you need help

If you feel you are at risk of HBA and you’d like to speak to the police, please call 999 if you are in immediate danger or 101 to talk to someone.  However, if making contact online is the safest way for you to get in touch, you can do so here.

Last year the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) handled 307 suspected cases in the capital and 1,428 nationwide.  If you are concerned that someone you know is going to be taken abroad and forced into marriage you can get in touch with the FMU here.

The FMU works closely with victims, potential victims and survivors of honour-based abuse and forced marriage to offer protection orders where required, support prosecutions of the offence and offer lifelong anonymity for victims. 

Posted on Tuesday 12th December 2017
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