Wednesday, 12 March 2008

"These things happen in families"


I have just read this item on Yahoo news. In response to Baroness Warsi saying forced marriages were an abhorrent act, home office minister Lord West of Spithead replied: "The difficulty is that these things happen in families.

We have taken a lot of advice and talked to many people. There is a feeling that the crime would go even further underground because people generally do not want to put their families through this.” He said that "because it was made a crime", the cases of domestic violence dropped from 814,000 in 1997 to 407,000 in 2006/7.

Does Lord West also think that domestic violence should be ignored because “these things happen in families”? Maybe he thinks the same consideration applies to the 102 women every year who are murdered by their partners. Is he truly saying that a crime isn’t a crime because it happens in a family context? The human rights of the victims of forced marriages are being abused by the very people who ought to be relied upon to protect those human rights – their families. That’s a double abuse. An abuse of human rights and an abuse of trust. Criminalising forced marriage is an inadequate answer of course.

Let’s draw a parallel with rape. Rape is a criminal offence but look at the appallingly low conviction rates and the degrading treatment of women who are brave enough to come forward to report it. What we need is a system that deals not only with the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity, but a system that deals with piecing the lives of victims back together and giving them emotional and practical support to become self-standing. Empowering young women and training Social Services to respond to their requests for help must go hand in hand in the government’s policy with the criminalisation of the families that put their children through this. There is no correlation as Lord West claims between decline in reported domestic violence crime and its creation as a criminal offence. ABH is a criminal offence, but the CPS routinely don’t take forward cases more than 6 months old of partners abusing their spouses. ABH against a partner is not necessarily classified by the police as a domestic violence crime, nor is rape.
Lord West should respond to this and explain his remarks.

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Friday, 7 March 2008

No Recourse - No Safety

By Heather Harvey, Amnesty International UK

Most people would like to think that a woman suffering violence, if she can find the courage to leave home, will do so and go to a refuge. However, this is not always the case, there are some women who may be quite legally here in the UK on valid but temporary or conditional visas who may live with violent husbands, in-laws or employers and not be able to escape to a refuge - even women who have been so badly abused as to have been doused with petrol and threatened to be set alight or forced to abort their baby or beaten till their bones are broken.

How can this be? It is a little known fact that a minor legal provision called the " no recourse to public funds rule" stops such women accessing a refuge. The refuge may have bed spaces available and be desperate to help but refuges work on the principle that those staying there either have private means to cover their costs or have income support and housing benefit to cover their cost. These benefits are "public funds" and so for instance a woman marrying a UK national and living here legally as his wife on a 2 year probationary visa as the marriage settles in, is dependent on her husband and has no recourse to "public funds". If the marriage turns violent the refuge can't take her as there are no funds to cover her and so she has to choose between staying with her abuser and risking her health and even her life, living on the streets destitute and vulnerable or going back to her home country - even though this may mean losing her children or indeed may be such a dishonour as to put her life at risk at home too.

Southall Black Sisters and Amnesty International UK are launching a new report " No recourse - No Safety" on the no recourse to public funds rule on Thursday 13th March. Please join us at the Human Rights action centre (17-25 New Inn Yard, EC2A 3EA nearest tubes Old Street and Liverpool Street) for a 7pm start. The event will be chaired by Samira Ahmed of Channel 4 News, speakers include Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Hannana Siddiqui of SBS and a survivor. Then join us for a drinks reception afterwards from 8.30 onwards.

Please circulate and rsvp at

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