Honour-based violence 'massively under-reported'

Image caption,
Honour-based violence can occur in many communities, police say

Police have urged honour-based violence victims to come forward after warning that many crimes go under-reported.

North Wales Police says such incidents as violence and forced marriages are not confined to Asian communities.

At a conference to raise awareness in St Asaph, officers said the crimes can occur elsewhere, including in Gypsy and travelling communities.

However, the Gypsy Council responded later that forced or arranged marriages did not happen in its communities.

The conference was organised by police and north Wales community safety partnerships.

Det Insp Kelly Isaacs said: "We want people to know it's on our radar."

Police said honour-based violence can cover imprisonment and murder, where victims are punished by their family or community "for undermining the accepted code of behaviour, thereby bringing perceived shame and dishonour on the family".

It also focused on forced marriages, where one or both spouses do not consent, or can not consent because of learning or physical disabilities.

DI Kelly Isaacs, said: "Whilst an awful lot of reported cases come from south east Asian communities, it's by no means confined to those communities.

"One case from any community is a policing priority for us as a force.

"One of our key issues is that these crimes are massively under-reported.

"We hope to give people the confidence to contact us. They need to know they can come and talk to us."

She added: "We do have large travelling and Gypsy communities. Reality TV shows have highlighted particular elements of these cultures.

"This is about appealing to all these communities."

The conference heard from Saima Afzal, an independent member of Lancashire Police Authority, who was forced into a violent marriage 20 years ago.

Image caption,
Saima Afzal wants women to know their rights

Ms Afzal, from Blackburn, a Pakistani Muslim, said: "At the time of the marriage itself, my dad was adamant I was going to marry this man, even though I protested.

"It's the way it worked in our community. It's not part of religion, but some people do believe it to be related to religion."

She added: "My crime was getting a job. I was expected to stay at home.

"It was very violent, very abusive. I did try to go to the Imams, but nobody wanted to listen."

Eventually, she left the marriage, but it took her 11 years to get a divorce.

Ms Afzal, now an equality and diversity campaigner, said the problem was not exclusive to Asian communities.

She said: "We don't have the statistics for travellers. The roles set out for women are often quite clearly defined.

"These communities face prejudice themselves from the outside world and often they disengage from other communities.

"There's high levels of violence and a lot of it is accepted. If people see that as normal, how do we solve it?"

She added: "We have to ensure women have the knowledge of what rights they have. The issues are identical to the ones I faced."

But Hughie Smith, of the Gypsy Council, contacted after the conference, said violence against women was not tolerated, and forced or arranged marriages did not exist within Gypsy and travelling communities.

He said: "We never get that sort of thing. That's not a fair comment, it's not the norm at all.

"I think one of the biggest problems we face as a Gypsy community is all these people on the periphery making all these assumptions."

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