LGBTQ+ people ‘especially vulnerable’ to forced marriage, study finds

Woman and wedding ring

A new study has revealed LGBTQ+ people and other minority groups are “especially vulnerable” to becoming victims to the horror of forced marriage. 

The study, carried out by academics at the University of Bristol and University of Lincoln, used data from nearly 600 police case files from forces nationwide. 

The work has unearthed the scale of the problem in England and Wales and offered urgent recommendations to better support victims who have suffered through the ordeal. 

Forced marriage is where one, or both, parties in a marriage are unable to consent to it and are forced into the situation through pressure and abuse. It is classified as a form of domestic violence and can lead to other criminal offences, such as assault, kidnapping and rape of the victims. 

Researchers conducted more than 50 interviews with practitioners and victims, and analysed 40 Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPO), which is a legally-binding civil injunction that sets out conditions to change the behaviour of those trying to force someone into marriage, prevent the arrangement and protect the victim.  

During the last decade, around 250 FMPO’s have been approved each year – equal to five injunctions every single week. 

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The research found people with disabilities and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and/or queer are more likely to be forced into a marriage without their consent.  

The most common age for women and men to be subjected to forced marriages was between 16 and 21-years-old, but the researchers noted boys and girls as young as 11 were also victims. 

It was added that while it may commonly be believed forced marriages occur in South Asian or Middle Eastern communities, the research also observed them in Irish, Nigerian and Somali communities, as well as other ones. 

Woman choked unconscious for same-sex relationship

In one case cited by the researchers, a 20-year-old Saudi woman who was raised in the UK told her family she was in a relationship, and living with, another woman. 

The 20-year-old was tricked into moving back in with her parents at the family home, where she overheard their plans to send her to Saudi Arabia and marry her off. 

Following this, her father choked her unconscious repeatedly whilst performing exorcisms aimed at ridding her of ‘demons’ and she was forced to drink and bathe in ‘holy water’. 

She was able to escape, thanks to the help of her girlfriend, and apply for a FMPO. Eventually, she was able to be housed in a secret location and began rebuilding her life with her girlfriend.

As part of the study, the professors set out a number of key recommendations which should be urgently taken on-board to protect victims. 

These including frontline safeguarding services gaining an understanding subtle forms of coercion – such as emotional pressure – which can be used to force a victim into a marriage, implementing ‘better and more coordinated’ safeguarding between different agencies which continue after an FMPO has been obtained and using systems to flag and follow up when FMPOs expire, as pressure and abuse can begin again. 

Without proper protect FMPOs can expose victims to more danger

Aisha K. Gill, professor of criminology at the University of Bristol and co-lead author for the research, said: “This research shows us for the first time how Forced Marriage Protection Orders are a double-edged sword. 

“Although they can prevent forced marriage and protect victims, these orders can also increase the risk of honour-based violence, including abduction, physical assaults, and rape.”

‌Project lead Sundari Anitha, who is a professor of gender, violence, and work at the University of Lincoln, explained: “These orders are different from other injunctions for domestic violence, where the victim has left the abusive relationship and the injunction prevents the perpetrator from contacting the victim. 

“Most people who seek them continue to live in their family home or remain in touch with the perpetrators, their parents.” 

Thus, victims are attempting to balance protecting themselves from a forced marriage and avoid total estrangement from their family. 

“When services continue to work together after an order is granted, they can create a protective shield for continued safety. 

“If orders are treated as an end in themselves, it can expose victims to further serious harm,” the academic noted. 

‌Professor Gill added: “Factors such as a lack of knowledge about the complicated coercive pressures on the victims/survivors, fissures between the agencies, missteps in multi-agency working and the gatekeeping of services due to financial constraints often impeded the provision of effective support.

“Where agencies worked together and practitioners understood these lived realities, the risks associated with Forced Marriage Protection Orders were minimised.”

If you are being pressured, or have already been pressured into, a forced marriage or are experiencing honour based violence call the free Karma Nirvana helpline on 0800 5999 247, open Monday to Friday 9am-5pm. 

If you are in an emergency situation, call 999.

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