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300 pleading for help over forced marriage in the West Midlands

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West Midlands Police have had more than 300 pleas for help from people fearful of being made to tie the knot with a stranger over the past 12 months, it emerged today.

Forced marriage charity Karma Nirvana – which gives specialist training inputs to police officers – also said it had taken hundreds of calls for help from the region in the first six months of this year.

Investigations into six proposed weddings involving people from the West Midlands have led to arrests since forced marriage was legally banned in June last year.

None led to a successful prosecution but there has only been one of those in the UK – a 34-year-old man from South Wales jailed for a total of 16 years for rape, bigamy and forced marriage.

Yet West Midlands Police have had more than 300 pleas for help from people fearing they are about to be made to marry someone against their will.

They are alarming figures, suggesting one desperate call almost every day of the year.

We can, however, take heart from knowing that this is not something being swept under the carpet, hidden and not discussed for fear of offending cultural sensitivities.

It is, in fact, a victory for the British sense of justice and fairness that people afraid of being made to suffer do not have to do so in silence or alone. There is a world of difference between an arranged marriage and a forced one. At the very heart of this is the right to choose with whom one spends their life.

Marriage is not something anyone should enter into with anything less than an absolute and all-consuming wish to be with the other person.

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More than 60 Forced Marriage Protection Orders have also been issued by West Midlands Police over the past three years giving officers the power to confiscate passports from those feared to be in danger of being spirited out of the country and to make random checks to ensure the person is still at home.

Det Sgt Trudy Runham, West Midlands Police forced marriage expert, said: "We have safeguarded hundreds of people by moving them out of the area or putting safety plans in place for them but this success goes unrecognised as the spotlight is always on prosecution numbers.

"The problem is that a forced marriage is perceived as an act of love and not hate. Those who suffer do not want to criminalise their family they just want their behaviour to change.

"Prosecutions are seen as a gauge for success in most police investigations but with sensitive crimes like this they should not be seen as the be all and end all.

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"In most cases, victims rarely support a prosecution which makes it really difficult for us to pursue a conviction and it is even harder to help make them safe if they disengage with us. We must do all we can to respond effectively to a victim's needs in order to keep them safe."

DS Runham said: "Some communities regard forced marriage as perfectly acceptable. They see it as a trusted tradition, a way to bring girls into line, a way to 'correct' a gay son, or to secure a long-term carer for a child with learning disabilities.

"This is not about targeting a particular group. Forced marriage knows no boundaries in terms of geography, culture, religion, class or wealth."

Anybody looking for help and support over a forced marriage is asked to contact West Midlands Police by phoning 101 or, in an emergency, 999.

Forced marriage support group Karma Nirvana can be reached on 0800 599 9247 or online at www.karmanirvana.org.uk

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