‘I was so badly beaten I had swollen legs and knees. I couldn’t walk. I thought that my dad might kill me’ - Woman speaks of her forced marriage ordeal

Rashid is giving her backing to the new legislation following her own horrific experiences at the hands of her father. Photo: Bill Smith Rashid is giving her backing to the new legislation following her own horrific experiences at the hands of her father. Photo: Bill Smith

Monday, June 16, 2014
2:05 PM

A woman who fled her home after being subjected to years of abuse for refusing to marry her cousin has bravely spoken out in a bid to give others hope that they too can find freedom.

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Norfolk's police and crime commissioner Stephen Bett showing his support for Freedom Charity campaign. Pic: Submitted.Norfolk's police and crime commissioner Stephen Bett showing his support for Freedom Charity campaign. Pic: Submitted.

From today forced marriage becomes a crime in England and Wales with a maximum prison sentence of seven years.

Rashid, who has asked that her surname not be used, lives and works locally, and is giving her backing to the new legislation following her own horrific experiences at the hands of her father, who has since died.

Rashid was taken to Pakistan a week before her 18th birthday on the premise of a holiday when she met, for the first time, her cousin who she had been “promised” to years earlier, when she was just 12 or 13.

“At that stage I was just absolutely petrified, said Rashid, who “publicly refused” to but was then “beaten to a pulp” for shaming her father in front of all these people.

Aneeta Prem and Vineeta Thornhill working in the kitchen at home in Hellesdon. Photo: Bill SmithAneeta Prem and Vineeta Thornhill working in the kitchen at home in Hellesdon. Photo: Bill Smith

She said: “As a result of that I got beaten to a pulp. I was so badly beaten I had swollen legs and knees. I couldn’t walk. I thought that my dad might kill me as he would get away with it because of who we were...I was his property. But I knew I couldn’t go through with it. I just accepted I was going to die.”

Rashid continued to be put under continued pressure to marry and continued to be attacked – on one occasion with a pair of scissors – but each time she bravely refused to give into the demands being put on her as part of an existence during which “every part of my life was put under a microscope and controlled”.

Eventually she summoned the courage to flee despite knowing she would be pursued and hoped only that she might be free, if only for a few days.

She said: “My aim was if I could make it 20 days free then that would be enough. By that time I was 20 so it would be a day for every day of my life.”

New laws

A scheme which allows the police to give extra protection to victims of domestic abuse is set to roll out across the county.

From today, Norfolk Constabulary will be implementing the use of

Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Orders (DVPN/Os).

This will provide victims with immediate protection in the aftermath of a domestic violence incident and the time to consider any next steps.

The implementation comes just months after the introduction of Clare’s Law locally, or the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, which means that those with concerns about their partner’s history were able to request background information from Norfolk Constabulary.

The scheme was introduced in March after a year-long pilot scheme in Greater Manchester, Gwent, Wiltshire and Nottingham and followed the 2009 murder of Clare Wood, from Salford, Greater Manchester, who was killed by a former boyfriend with a violent background.

So far Norfolk Constabulary has received 19 requests for information under Clare’s Law resulting in one disclosure.

The new powers will enable police to take action outside of the usual criminal justice route, safeguarding vulnerable victims when there is insufficient evidence to charge.

FORCED MARRIAGE

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.

The Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act (2014) has created two new offences of forced marriage. These new offences come into effect from today.

The Act also makes it a criminal offence to breach a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) to further increase protection for victims and ensure that perpetrators are properly punished.

The civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order through the family courts will continue to exist alongside the new criminal offence, so victims can choose how they wish to be assisted.

There will be a maximum penalty of seven years for committing a forced marriage offence and a maximum penalty of five years for breach of a forced marriage protection order.

But despite the fear of what might happen to her Rashid, who describes herself as a survivor rather than a victim, has managed to make a new life for herself, one in which she can make the decisions, and wants to inspire others to do the same.

She said: “You’re not alone. If you’re in this position then seek help. The police are here, people like myself – survivors – are here and we can help. There is an alternative.”

She added: “What you’re experiencing is absolute and total control – they’re trying to have control of you emotionally, physically, mentally, that’s what it is and its wrong.”

Rashid, who is now in her 40s, still carries round with her a card which was once given to her by police 
officers who came to learn about her story and the treacherous position she was in.

CHARITY CAN HELP

Norwich sisters Aneeta Prem and her sister Vineeta run the Freedom Charity which was set up to protect the lives of children and young people by raising awareness of forced marriage in the UK.

They set up the country’s first 24/7 forced marriage telephone and text helpline which is staffed by trained professionals to aid both victims of forced marriage and friends and professionals seeking advice.

Aneeta said: “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 eradicate 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.”

The telephone number is: 0845 607 0133 and text service details are: text 4freedom to 88802.

The helplines are staffed by trained professionals to aid both victims of forced marriage and friends and professionals seeking advice.

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