A powerful new campaign is spreading the message that forced marriage and ‘honour-based' violence are abuse - not cultural norms.
The Tees-wide Violence Against Women group is raising awareness that such behaviours are in fact illegal cultural harms.
Over the coming week (July 8 - 14) they're working alongside partner agencies including Cleveland Police and the Police & Crime Commissioner, specialist domestic abuse services and health authorities to spread the word.
The campaign centres around the ‘Day of Memory' on Sunday, July 14 in remembrance of victims of honour-based violence.
It is held on the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed who was murdered by her parents in 2003 at the age of 17 after suffering years of abuse.
The Middlesbrough-based Halo Project will host an event focusing on transforming the approach of the regional public sector to tackling illegal cultural harms.
The event will showcase good practice when working with victims and hear first-hand survivors' accounts of their experience.
Attendees will include a range of statutory and voluntary providers from across the region, discussing how to overcome the challenges involved in safeguarding victims and promoting partnership working to minimise the risks of abuse within the BAME communities.
During this awareness-raising week smaller events will also be taking place, with survivors and organisations offering support to survivors and increasing understanding of illegal cultural harms.
Yasmin Khan, founder of The Halo Project, said there was much work still to be done in terms of prevention, protection and support: "Women who we work with are like warriors in terms of their tolerance of inhumane treatment.
"We must work with communities, victims and survivors to help them before they reach crisis level.
"Survivors can help us to learn, act and change the way society deals with honour-based violence.
"Change is now, change is together, together we must eradicate this abhorrent abuse of human rights."
Councillor Mieka Smiles, Middlesbrough Council's Executive member for Culture and Communities, added: "Honour-based violence has nothing to do with honour - it is just a crime.
"The same is true of forced marriage, so is vital that we increase awareness and learn from survivors and specialist services to improve prevention and response, across all cultures and communities."
Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger, said: "Crimes like forced marriage and honour-based violence can be complex and challenging for agencies to tackle, as it requires them to challenge long-standing cultural practices that are, in fact, abuse.
"The key to breaking the cycle of illegal cultural harms is educating communities to understand that these practices are criminal offences under UK law and to encourage community leaders to join the police and other agencies in condemning them.
"It's clear that this must be a multi-agency process, as victims and perpetrators may come into access with a range of different services.
"The perpetrators of these crimes are often close relatives of the victim and the impact of this betrayal of trust can have a significant impact on those affected and their community.
"I'm proud to fund the Halo Project to provide specialist support for victims of illegal cultural harms in Cleveland, to allow them to repair the damage caused and move forward with their lives."
Ron Hogg, Police, Crime and Victims Commissioner for County Durham and Darlington, said: "The continued prevalence of forced marriage and honour-based violence is unacceptable, and it is poignant that this conference takes place on the anniversary of Shafilea's tragic death.
"I completely support the aims of the event and I hope it goes well."
For more information, visit https://www.haloproject.org.uk/
Posted on Tuesday 9th July 2019