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16 June 2014, 06:46
Norfolk Constabulary has joined up with the locally based Freedom Charity as a new law against forced marriages comes into effect.
From today forced marriage will become a crime in England and Wales, meaning anyone found guilty of forcing a person to marry against their will could face up to seven years in prison.
Detective Superintendent Julie Wvendth, who heads Safeguarding for Norfolk Constabulary said: "It is about getting it right the first time.
"We have only one chance to help and support people when they contact us. Forced Marriage takes away a person's freedom. Let's not waste this chance, it may be their only one.
"Young people forced into marriage often become estranged from their families. Sometimes they become trapped in the cycle of abuse with serious long-term consequences including self-harm and suicide.
"Many women forced into marriage suffer further domestic violence including rape. These women feel unable to leave because of the lack of family support, economic pressure and other social circumstances.
"Forced marriage happens everywhere, including in Norfolk, and in many cases we have only one chance to work together to identify the signs early and to give people the freedom to make their own choices."
Despite the introduction of the new laws, Norfolk Constabulary has had a protocol in place for sometime to assist officers and staff in dealing with victims of forced marriage.
The force has also been delivering a training programme across the county to health, education and social services leads to help to spot the signs and assist victims of honour abuse and forced marriage.
The Home Office and the Freedom Charity, which is now based in Norfolk, have joined together to release a short film to explain how important the new law is.
A social media campaign has also been launched on a national scale to encourage supporters to take a photograph of themselves with #Freedom2Choose.
Led by Chief Constable Simon Bailey, officers across Norfolk will be spreading the message on Twitter.
Mr Bailey said: "The fact such laws are being introduced on a national basis goes to show how seriously the issue is being taken and I hope it will encourage victims to find the courage and confidence to speak out."
Between mid-July 2010 and the end of May 2014 63 incidents of honour based abuse have been reported to Norfolk Constabulary, of these 11 were reports of potential forced marriage and two reports of forced marriage.
Det Supt Wvendth, added: "We need to be mindful that Norfolk's statistics do not paint an accurate picture. 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 now charging and convicting the perpetrators.
"One of the key things is the victim's ability to decide - even after they contact us they still remain in control and have a voice and we will be there to support and assist them whether they decide to take the criminal or civil route.
"This is not an issue the police can tackle alone and we will continue to work with other agencies, including Freedom, to provide the necessary support needed to break the cycle of abuse for those affected."
Other impacts and effects of Forced Marriage can be:
Isolation is one of the biggest problems facing victims of forced marriage. They feel they don't have anyone they can talk to.
Many young women run away and the lucky ones end up in safe homes but many return for fear of serious repercussions if they didn't
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.
Stephen Bett, Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk, said: "Forced marriage removes a person's fundamental right to free choice. It can lead to a life of slavery and abuse and today it will become a crime. I support the #Freedom2Choose campaign because quite simply, everyone should have the right to choose."
Aneeta Prem, founder of Freedom Charity, added: "The criminalisation of forced marriage is a landmark decision - it's what Freedom Charity have campaigned for - it gives us the freedom to choose.
"But our challenge now is to make sure we help people understand what this means and the power it gives. We need to irradiate it for good. We also need to continue our work in schools and in our call centre to make sure this law is backed up through education and enforcement. Everyone needs to understand that forced marriage is now a crime.
"I am delighted that the government has taken action to criminalise forced marriage. In the most tragic cases, people forced into marriage become domestic slaves by day and sexual slaves by night. Today's announcement sends out a powerful message that this indefensible abuse of human rights will be not be tolerated.
"Everyone should have the freedom to choose."