Author: nikkigirvan

Hundreds Support March to End HBA and Harmful Practices

On Saturday 25th November 2023, hundreds joined Savera UK and Zonta UK in their mission to end HBA and harmful practices, as the charities launched their “No Excuse for Abuse” campaign with a march in Liverpool City Centre.

The campaign will run throughout the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence and abuse (25 Nov – 10 Dec) and will include fundraising activities, a panel event discussing Culture, HBA and the Law, and awareness sessions to introduce the public to the issues of HBA and harmful practices.

The event began with drumming from Katumba followed by speeches from Afrah Qassim from Savera UK and Dianne Jeanes from Zonta UK, highlighting the reasons behind the campaign and partnership, which is now in its fourth year. 

Before the march began, led by Afrah, Dianne, Savera UK Survivor Ambassador, Khatra Paterson and Merseyside’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Emily Spurrell, Savera UK Young Ambassador Malcolm, and team member Macy, read the stories of five ‘honour’ killing victims from the UK, in line with the theme of the first day of the charity’s 16 days of activism toolkit – remembrance.

“We March for Them”

Arash Ghorbani-Zarin was a 19-year-old student at Oxford Brookes University. During his studies he fell for 20-year-old Manna Begum, they began dating and a year later she fell pregnant. Arash showed friends a scan of the unborn child and took a job in Toys ‘R’ Us in order to support Manna and the baby. However, her father has an arranged marriage planned for her. Their relationship and her pregnancy angered him. He and his two sons ambushed Arash in his car, stabbing him 46 times. The unborn child was aborted after his murder. 

After two years in an abusive forced marriage Banaz Mahmod entered a relationship with Rahmat Suleimani. They were in love but their relationship was against her family’s wishes. Banaz’s uncle devised a plan to kill them both which she overheard and reported to the police, but police didn’t respond quickly enough. Two days after Rahmat suffered an attempted kidnap, Banaz was subjected to two hours of rape and torture before being strangled to death. Ten years after her murder Rahmat tragically took his own life.

Laura Wilson, aged 16, was in a relationship with Ashtiaq Ashgar but he made her keep it a secret because he knew his family would be unhappy he was dating a white girl. When Laura found out he was seeing other girls, she had a fling with Ashgar’s friend and fell pregnant. After the birth of the baby Laura and Ashgar rekindled their relationship, but he insisted it remained a secret. After Laura told the families of both Ashgar and the father of her baby about their relationships, Ashgar lured her to a canal where he stabbed her to death.

A 16-year-old girl that attended school in Fulham, Heshu Yones began a relationship with a fellow pupil without her family’s knowledge. She lived a double life, putting make-up on after leaving the house and having friends lie about her whereabouts so she could spend time with her boyfriend. But eventually Heshu’s father received an anonymous letter that their “community” was aware she had a boyfriend. After months of physical abuse, her father killed her by stabbing her multiple times and cutting her throat, in the bathroom where she had barricaded herself.

Samia Shahid was always described as a bubbly and funny girl. Her family arranged for her to marry her cousin abroad. The marriage went ahead, but after she returned to England, she fell in love with Syed Kazim. She divorced her husband and married Syed, but her family did not approve of these actions. Despite being involved in a dispute with her family over her choices, when she was told her father was critically ill, she travelled abroad alone to see him, staying in touch with Syed throughout her trip. The day before her departure date, the constant stream of messages to her husband suddenly stopped. He was informed by her family that she had died of ‘natural causes’ however, an autopsy found she had been subjected to rape and strangulation.

The One Chance Rule

A group of more than 200 marched through Liverpool City Centre, led by Movema’s Liver Bird and Chinese Phoenix, on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, carrying banners and placards. At the marches halfway point, survivor stories were shared by Savera UK survivor ambassador Khatra Paterson, who told her story of being subjected to FGM at the age of 10, and team members Eve and Alex read stories from Savera UK’s own clients. 

After marching to Mann Island to join Merseyside PCC’s event and vigil, Savera UK team member Merfat led the group in the One Chance Rule pledge, before Savera UK Youth Advisory Board Member, Ayo, read the poem, Let Women be Free by Juliana Mohamed Noor.

To find out more about other Savera UK events taking place during the 16 Days of Activism, visit: https://www.saverauk.co.uk/current-campaigns/no-excuse-for-abuse/

Image: Andrew AB Photography

St George's Hall lit up orange for the last Orange the World campaign

Landmarks in Liverpool City Region and Cheshire illuminate orange to support global call to end gender-based violence

Buildings and landmarks across the Liverpool City Region and Cheshire will be illuminated bright orange on Saturday 25th November, as part of an international campaign aimed at ending gender-based violence, with the iconic St John’s Beacon joining the campaign for the first time.

The colour orange, used in the global “Orange the World” campaign, is intended to be a symbol of hope for a brighter future, free of violence or abuse, a message supported by Savera UK’s “No Excuse for Abuse” campaign.

Other city region landmarks that will illuminate orange include Liverpool Town Hall, St George’s Hall, World Museum Liverpool, Merseyside Police Headquarters, the Greystone Footbridge (Knowsley), the Mersey Gateway Bridge (Halton), Wallasey Town Hall (Wirral) and the Steve Prescott Bridge (St Helens).

A number of Cheshire landmarks will also light orange, in a campaign supported by PCC John Dwyer, Savera UK, Chester Soroptimists, Cheshire West and Chester Council and other organisations committed to addressing gender-based violence and abuse in the area. Cheshire buildings illuminating include Chester Town Hall, Eastgate Clock and Newgate in Chester, Wyvern House in Winsford, and Ellesmere Port Library.

Through its partnership with Zonta UK, the campaign will also see Defra buildings across the UK illuminate in support of the initiative.

Dianne Jeans, from Zonta UK, said: “Zonta UK is delighted to be working again with Savera UK to amplify our voices during this campaign, and commend Defra for participating in the 16 days of activism through lighting their buildings, becoming a White Ribbon organisation and promoting workplace discussion of gender-based violence and abuse.”

The illumination will take place on the same day that charities Savera UK and Zonta UK will march through Liverpool city centre from Williamson Square to call for an end to ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA), harmful practices and all forms of gender-based abuse, after Savera UK has seen an increase of almost 6% in new referrals into its service and a continuing growth in demand.

The event will start at 1:45pm with a drumming performance from Katumba and some short speeches before the march will begin, heading through town with Movema’s Sankofa and Liver Birds performing to celebrate the beauty of culture.

There will be a further stop along the route when Savera UK survivor ambassador, Khatra Paterson, will share her story, and readings from Savera UK’s own clients will also be shared.

​​Savera UK is a leading national organisation that helps survivors and those at risk of HBA and harmful practices, which include forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and conversion therapy. Zonta UK is part of Zonta International, a global organisation that stands for women’s rights and advocates for equality, education and an end to child marriage and gender-based violence.

Each year, the 25th of November marks the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of the United Nation’s “Orange the World” campaign and annual 16 days of activism against gender-based violence campaign.

Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner, Emily Spurrell said: “This is such an important campaign, and I am glad to see it continue and grow year on year. It’s essential we do everything possible to increase awareness to those that may be unaware of what ‘honour-based’ abuse is or even more importantly, reach out to victims and potential victims to give them the courage to speak out and seek support.
 
“We know, there may only be one chance, to reach out and save a person from a lifetime of abuse. Marching through the city, I hope we can increase understanding through shared stories and visual impact and bring some light to those who have suffered and who may still be suffering.   
 
“I am proud to work closely with Savera UK through my Victim Care Merseyside service to provide support for anyone who has been affected, ensuring they receive the advice, care and help they need. If you or someone you know is a victim of ‘honour-based’ abuse, you can receive support from Savera UK.”  

Chief Superintendent Ngaire Waine, Head of Investigations Protecting Vulnerable People, Merseyside Police said: “We work closely with Savera UK to raise awareness of so-called ‘honour’-based abuse within the wider public, as well as reaching out to those who are more familiar with this.

“We want to empower victims to seek support whether that is through us and our dedicated team of specially trained officers, a charity or a friend or family member that you trust. There is still a level of under-reporting in relation to this crime and we must curb this trend. ‘Honour’-based violence is not a taboo subject – by raising awareness, we can encourage others to spot the signs, protect the vulnerable and help us bring offenders to justice.

“If you are a victim of this horrible crime, or know someone at risk, please speak up and we’ll help – report either directly to us @MerPolCC, by calling 101 or contact @CrimestoppersUK anonymously. You can also contact Savera UK at www.saverauk.co.uk.”

The #16Days campaign ends on Sunday 10th December, Human Rights Day, when a number of the participating landmarks are expected to light up orange once again in a show of solidarity and support. Warrington Town Hall will also illuminate Orange on 10th December.

Image by Jennifer Bruce

Savera UK & Cheshire PCC to raise awareness of HBA and harmful practices during 16 days of activism

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, John Dwyer, and Savera UK are joining forces to raise awareness of ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) and harmful practices in Cheshire, following an 82 percent increase in HBA-related offences in the county in the past year, with their “No Excuse for Abuse” campaign.

The campaign will run in line with the annual UN-led event “Orange the World” and the 16-days of activism against gender-based violence, which take place from 25th November – the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls – until 10th December, International Human Rights Day.

The campaign features the launch of a toolkit designed to educate and inform people on gender-based violence and abuse and the issues of HBA and harmful practices such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and conversion therapy, which can be downloaded here; and a free, online public awareness session on Wednesday 29th November, for Cheshire residents to learn about the issues, how to recognise them and how to get help or signpost others to it.

A number of Cheshire landmarks will also illuminate orange to mark the start and end of the “Orange the World” period, in a campaign supported by PCC John Dwyer, Savera UK, Chester Soroptimists, Cheshire West and Chester Council and other organisations committed to addressing gender-based violence and abuse.

Buildings illuminating on both 25th November and 10th December include the Mersey Gateway Bridge in Halton, Chester Town Hall, Eastgate Clock and Newgate in Chester, Wyvern House in Winsford, and Ellesmere Port Library. Warrington Town Hall will illuminate Orange on 10th December.

Afrah Qassim, CEO and founder of Savera UK, said: “While the numbers of HBA-related offences in Cheshire are still low, the percentage increase over the past year is significant and an indication that greater awareness is needed.

“When we first began our work in Merseyside the numbers were also low, due to HBA and harmful practices being ‘hidden’ forms of abuse, lack of confidence in reporting such issues, and a lack of understanding of the issues amongst professionals in statutory and voluntary services, which means they were not always recognised or responded to appropriately.

“We know that HBA and other harmful practices occur in Cheshire and since starting our partnership with Cheshire PCC in March 2023, we have seen an increase in referrals from the area. We have also seen a strong appetite from professionals who want to better understand these issues and learn how to respond to them effectively, with help from specialists at Savera UK.

“We hope that this campaign, during the 16 days of activism, will allow members of the public to also learn about HBA and harmful practices, so that they too can recognise them, call them out and signpost people to help.”

Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, John Dwyer, said: “HBA and harmful practices are still hidden crimes, so it’s vital that we work to find those who are at risk and help them. That’s why I partnered with Savera UK and it’s a testament to their work that we are seeing more people have the confidence to come forward.

“We’ve been working together throughout the year to raise awareness among the public and professionals, and the 16 days of activism serves as a chance to renew our commitment to tackling HBA and harmful practices in Cheshire.”

Last month, Home Office data revealed that there were 2,905 HBA-related offences recorded by the police in England and Wales*, an increase of 1% compared with the year ending March 2022 (2,871 offences). Of the 2,905 HBA offences, 84 were FGM offences and 172 were forced marriage offences.

The data also shows that there were 2,018 HBA-related incidents recorded by the police, an increase of 10% compared with the previous year (up 151 from 1,830). These cover incidents reported to the police that, following investigation, do not amount to an offence according to the National Crime Recording Standard. In the same reporting period, Savera UK has seen an increase of almost 6% in new referrals into its service.

Throughout the 16 days of activism (25th November – 10th December), Savera UK is also encouraging people to remember the 5,000 people lost each year to HBA and harmful practices, by taking on the “5K to end HBA challenge” and doing an activity of their choosing – from running or walking 5K, to completing a 5,000 piece jigsaw, to raise money and awareness for the charity and the issues it works to end.

Download the toolkit here: https://www.saverauk.co.uk/current-campaigns/orange-the-world-campaign-cheshire-2023/

Register for the free online awareness session here: https://register.enthuse.com/ps/event/HBAandHarmfulPracticesAwarenessSession291123

Learn more about the 5K to End HBA Challenge here: https://www.saverauk.co.uk/take-the-5k-to-end-hba-challenge/

* (excluding Devon and Cornwall)

“No Excuse for Abuse”: Savera UK Liverpool march to call for end to HBA and harmful practices

A Merseyside-based charity will march through Liverpool city centre from Williamson Square on Saturday 25th November to call an end to ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) and harmful practices, after it has seen an increase of almost 6% in new referrals into its service and a continuing growth in demand.

Savera UK is a leading national organisation that helps survivors and those at risk of HBA and harmful practices, which include forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) conversion therapy and many more.

Last month, Home Office data revealed that there were 2,905 HBA-related offences recorded by the police in England and Wales*, an increase of 1% compared with the year ending March 2022 (2,871 offences). Of the 2,905 HBA offences, 84 were FGM offences and 172 were forced marriage offences.

The data also shows that there were 2,018 HBA-related incidents recorded by the police, an increase of 10% compared with the previous year (up 151 from 1,830). These cover incidents reported to the police that, following investigation, do not amount to an offence according to the National Crime Recording Standard.

In the same reporting period, Savera UK has seen an increase of almost 6% in new referrals into its service.

The march will take place on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women & Girls and will officially launch Savera UK’s fourth annual campaign with Zonta UK (part of Zonta International) – Culture is Beautiful: No Excuse for Abuse’ – which seeks to raise public awareness of the ‘silent’ and often misunderstood issues of HBA and harmful practices, to separate them from cultures and religions that are wrongly used to excuse or justify them, and to provide people with information and the tools to help end this abuse.

Supporters will gather at Williamson Square at 1:45pm. There will be a drumming performance from Katumba and some short speeches before the march will begin, heading through town with Movema’s Sankofa and Liver Birds performing to celebrate the beauty of culture. There will be a further stop along the route when Savera UK survivor ambassador, Khatra Paterson, will share her story, and readings from Savera UK’s own clients will also be shared.

The march will end at Mann Island, where Savera UK will share the ‘One Chance Rule’ a simple and effective tool for anyone to help those who may be at risk of HBA or harmful practices. People will then be able to join Merseyside PCC’s violence against women and girls’ event, with stalls, guest speakers and a vigil taking place in the atrium at Mann Island.

Afrah Qassim, CEO and Founder of Savera UK, said: “Every year, 5,000 people die as a result of HBA and harmful practices. While these issues are more prevalent in some communities, the issues can affect people of all ages, genders, sexualities, ethnicities and backgrounds, and the issue is present in the Liverpool City Region.

“This is a message that we want to share with the city region. HBA can affect anyone, and it is a problem that we all need to be aware of, so that we can end it together. We also want to break the myth that HBA and harmful practices are part of any culture or religion – they are not. They are human rights abuses, plain and simple.

“As well as raising awareness, our march will be a celebration of culture, which is beautiful and foundational to us all. We will not allow culture or religion to be connected to these practices or used as an excuse for abuse.”

The march is the first of a number of activities and events organised by Savera UK that will take place during the 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence, to highlight the issue of HBA and harmful practices. There will be free online awareness sessions on Tuesday 28th November and Saturday 9th December, which will explain what HBA and harmful practices are, how to spot them and how to get help or signpost others to help.

On Friday 8th December Savera UK will also host a discussion event at LJMU Student Life Building: Culture ‘Honour’-Based Abuse & the Law. Human rights barrister Dexter Dias KC, Savera UK survivor ambassador and campaigner, Payzee Mahmod, Kim Johnson MP and event chair, Dr Hannah Baumeister, will discuss culture, HBA and the legal system, what the justice system has achieved and what needs to change.

Throughout the 16 days of activism (25th November – 10th December), Savera UK is also encouraging people to remember the 5,000 people lost each year to HBA and harmful practices, by taking on the “5K to end HBA challenge” and doing an activity of their choosing – from running or walking 5K, to completing a 5,000 piece jigsaw, to raise money and awareness for the charity and the issues it works to end.

You can find details of all events on the Savera UK website here: https://www.saverauk.co.uk/current-campaigns/no-excuse-for-abuse/

* (excluding Devon and Cornwall)

Image: Savera UK’s 2022 March event (photo by Gary Lambert)

Savera UK secures three-year grant from Lloyds Bank Foundation

Lloyds Bank Foundation has awarded Savera UK with an unrestricted three-year grant of £75,000 to help deliver activities and initiatives that will further the organisation’s charitable purpose of ending HBA and harmful practices.

For the past few years, Savera UK has developed a long-term partnership with Lloyds Bank Foundation, with the organisation not only providing funds to allow us to further deliver our charitable purpose, but also providing us access to its development support.

This has assisted the charity’s strategic development, for example allowing it to work with experienced consultants to review and evaluate its Direct Intervention service, and to develop our organisation’s outcome monitoring and fundraising strategy.

Earlier funding was also used to deliver the ‘Setting the Story Straight’ campaign, which developed media guidelines for reporting on HBA and harmful practices and provide guidance on working safely and effectively with survivors to ensure their voices are heard.

Setting the Story Straight was funded as part of the Lloyds Bank Foundation Small Change Fund and examined how ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) and harmful culturally specific practices – such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage – were represented in the media.

The new funding will allow us to continue our vital work to help those at risk and under threat of HBA and harmful practices. It will also continue to provide us with further opportunities to enhance and develop our organisation strategically.

Afrah Qassim, Savera UK CEO and founder, said: “We are incredibly grateful to Lloyds Bank Foundation for this generous and vital grant. Unrestricted funds provide flexibility that allows us to allocate funding where it is most needed within the organisation’s core costs and projects.

“We have had a successful and strong relationship with the team at Lloyds Bank Foundation for a number of years now and appreciated their willingness to champion our work. We look forward to continuing to work with them to move closer to our goal of ending HBA and harmful practices for good.”

National data shows increase in ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) offences

Home Office data released today (19th October) on ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) offences in England and Wales for 2022 – 2023 has revealed another increase in HBA-related offences.

The publication of the annual data marks a third consecutive year where there has been a rise in HBA-related offences and incidents.

In the year ending March 2023, there were 2,905 HBA-related offences recorded by the police in England and Wales (excluding Devon and Cornwall), an increase of 1% compared with the year ending March 2022 (2,871 offences). Of the 2,905 HBA offences, 84 were FGM offences and 172 were forced marriage offences.

The data also shows that there were 2,018 HBA-related incidents recorded by the police, an increase of 10% compared with the previous year (up 151 from 1,830). These cover incidents reported to the police that, following investigation, do not amount to an offence according to the National Crime Recording Standard.

In the same reporting period, Savera UK has seen an increase of almost 6% in new referrals into its service, with demand continuing to grow.

Savera UK CEO and Founder, Afrah Qassim, said: “Last year to 31st March 2023 we had 148 new referrals. This year to date we have already received 108, which is a clear increase on our position this time last year.

“Although smaller than increases seen in previous years, the rise in HBA-related offences according to the national data, is still extremely concerning. Firstly and most importantly, any increase in offences that constitute an abuse of human rights is unacceptable.

“Secondly, we know that the figures still do not show the whole picture due to these crimes being hidden, not recognised or not properly recorded. Working at a grassroots level, on the frontline and directly with communities, we are experiencing a significant and growing increase in demand for our services.”

“The 10% increase in HBA-related incidents that do not amount to an offence is also extremely concerning. HBA is a multi-faceted and cumulative issue and incidents that do not amount to a criminal offence are often an early indicator. In cases of HBA there is often only one chance to prevent someone from harm or abuse and these incidents may amount to that one chance, if they are not handled appropriately those chances could be missed and lives lost.”

The latest national data also revealed that the highest proportion (19%) of HBA-related offences were for controlling and coercive behaviour. This data supports Savera UK and the University of Liverpool’s research into the characteristics of HBA, which identified emotional/psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour as the most common characteristic in cases of HBA and harmful practice.

Afrah continued: “The true prevalence of HBA and harmful practices in the UK are unknown due to the limited data recorded, which makes it very difficult to understand the scale of the problem. It is vital that we continue to work with communities, professionals and partners to raise awareness of these practices, better understand their causes through research and develop more effective, robust and appropriate reporting methods and responses, so we provide survivors and those at risk with the help that they need and deserve.

“The government also needs to make a commitment, in terms of focus and funding, to ending HBA and harmful practices. There is still no central database that specialist organisations leading on HBA and harmful practices can contribute to, and more work also needs to be done to develop specialist HBA risk assessment tools and improve prevention strategies. Savera UK will continue to call for the government to step up and address these areas so we can work to fulfil our mission.”

Savera UK profiled on BBC Crimewatch Live

National TV programme, Crimewatch Live, has featured Savera UK in its most recent series.

Presented live by Rav Wilding and Michelle Ackerley the programme issues appeals for unsolved cases and also features short films on organisations and initiatives dealing with specific issues across the UK.

The episode, broadcast live on Monday 16th September, featured a five-minute film narrated by Savera UK CEO and Founder, Afrah Qassim, explaining why she established the charity and the work that it does.

The film also featured a reconstruction of the story of Savera UK client Leah*, who is a survivor of forced marriage and ‘honour’-based abuse. Leah was interviewed for the film, sharing her story and explaining how Savera UK helped her.

Afrah Qassim said: “Many people across the UK are not aware of the issue of ‘honour’-based abuse and other harmful practices, so we are very pleased that a national programme like Crimewatch Live was willing to highlight these crimes to such a broad audience.

“I would especially like to thank our client for bravely speaking about their experience, as I believe that her story may provide hope for a better future for others who are in a similar situation. 

“HBA and harmful practices can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, sexuality or ethnicity, and Savera UK will always be here to help anyone who is a survivor, at risk or under threat of these forms of abuse.”

Crimewatch Live is broadcast on BBC One at 10am every weekday from 2nd– 20th October. The programme is also available on i-Player for 7 days. A clip of the Crimewatch Live film is available for media, on request.

If you or someone you know is at risk please call our national helpline  0800 107 0726 (weekdays 10am-4pm), use our online referral form, or if you are in immediate danger call 999. If you are professional and would like to make a referral, please visit: https://www.saverauk.co.uk/referral-pathways/

Illegal Hymenoplasty in Turkey

An article in the Daily Mail last month reported on ‘cosmetic’ surgical procedures that are illegal in the UK, or considered too dangerous, being offered in Turkey to foreign clients.

One procedure covered in the report was hymenoplasty or ‘virginity repair surgery’. Clinics offering the procedure, often targeted women who may be ‘about to marry for the first time’.

Virginity testing and hymenoplasty are illegal procedures in the UK and forms of harmful practice. They are carried out with the intention of ‘checking’ or ‘preserving’ a woman or girl’s virginity.

Virginity is a term used to describe the state of never having had sexual intercourse. Some families, communities and individuals wrongly hold the belief that virginity is linked to a woman or girl’s worth and can equate to the ‘purity’ of a woman or girl. 

It is wrongfully believed a girl or woman may bring ‘shame’ or ‘dishonour’ onto a family or community if she is not perceived to be a virgin when she marries.

We have chosen not to share the original article, as it reinforces a number of negative stereotypes, suggesting that such practices only affect certain communities, when they can affect anyone, regardless of culture, religion, background or ethnicity.

However, it is important to challenge the existence of these surgeries being offered abroad.

Hymenoplasty has been banned in the UK because it is a harmful practice and a form of ‘honour’-based abuse. It is known as an ‘extra-territorial’ offence, meaning that an offence may be committed if a UK national or habitual UK resident is taken out of the country for the procedure to be carried out. The crime carries a potential five-year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine.

Savera UK CEO and founder, Afrah Qassim, said: “Hymenoplasty is a harmful practice and an abuse of human rights. The fact that these surgeries are offered abroad presents the risk that individuals can be taken there, against their will, and be forced to undergo these procedures.

“Hymenoplasty is illegal in the UK and anyone, including ‘medical tourism agencies’ and surgeons should be held accountable for facilitating these abuses of human rights.”

To find out more about Hymenoplasty, virginity testing and the laws around them, read our factsheet.

Breaking new ground in Cheshire

It is a week since Savera UK, Cheshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, John Dwyer and various partners and supporters gathered at Warrington Town Hall to remember Shafilea Ahmed and all those lost or harmed as a result of ‘honour’ killings or ‘honour’-based abuse.

The morning’s conference focused on presentations from Afrah Qassim, Founder and CEO of Savera UK, John Dwyer, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, Jaswant Narwal CPS, Chief Crown Prosecutor Thames and Chiltern and lead on forced marriage, female genital mutilation and ‘honour’-based abuse, Superintendent Jon Betts, from Cheshire Constabulary AND Savera UK Survivor Ambassadors Saliha Rashid and Khatra Paterson.


Stronger Prevention Approaches

In her speech, Afrah shared a message from Geraint Jones, who had been the Senior Investigating Officer on Shafilea Ahmed’s case. 

Geraint said: “Friday 14th July 2023 would have been Shafilea’s 37th birthday. Tragically and horribly she was killed. She was murdered by her parents who acted together to kill her. They killed her because she wasn’t conforming to their barbaric ways. 

“Shafilea was a girl they should have been proud of. Instead they killed her and did so in front of her sisters and brother. Sadly, some twenty years later there are still people doing the same to their children and families. 

“These harmful traditional practices have no place whatsoever in the modern world. Charities like Savera UK are doing tireless work to support victims, without them people needing help would have nowhere to turn. We also need to challenge this criminality and have stronger prevention approaches. Only then will we see the big improvements so desperately needed. 

“In the meantime it is a time for reflection for all of us. Shafilea looked for help and didn’t get it. I sincerely hope that if the same happened today, it would be very different. As for her parents, they remain in prison and will do so for many years to come. Bringing them to justice was very important but even more important is to remember Shafilea and pay tribute to her.”

“We must not become culturally blind”

The reflection was a powerful introduction to an important morning of looking at the systems in place to address the issue of HBA and harmful practices today, the challenges faced, how voluntary and statutory services are working together, and what more needs to be done to ensure that no more are lost like Shafilea was.

Speaking after the event, Savera UK CEO and Founder, Afrah Qassim, said: “The conference was a really important and powerful way to break new ground in Cheshire. 

“Despite what happened 20 years ago in Warrington to Shafilea Ahmed, there is still only quite limited knowledge and awareness around ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices. But as we saw last week, there is a significant appetite from professionals to learn more and this is a positive foundation upon which to build our presence in Cheshire.

“We have only just started our work in the area, but we have already started to see referrals from Cheshire, people at risk who need our help, which highlights just how important it is for us to be out there in the community, and working closely with professionals.

“Our partners and supporters, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire, Cheshire, John Dwyer, Supt Jon Betts from Cheshire Constabulary and Jaswant Narwal from the CPS all spoke so passionately about their support for our mission and their own journey and experiences in helping those at risk of HBA and harmful practices. It is partnerships like these that will help us generate greater awareness and understanding.

“By working together and engaging with communities where these issues are more prevalent, we can address HBA and harmful practices in the community, in the legal system and in operational policing, as well as in wider services and society as a whole.

“There are challenges to be addressed. There needs to be a clearer and more consistent definition of what HBA is and better guidance for police investigators, so they can easily recognise and know how to respond to a crime involving ‘honour’ or harmful practices. 

“There also needs to be less fear about engaging with and challenging communities where these issues are more prevalent. Cultural understanding is a must, but we must never become culturally blind. There is no excuse for abuse.

“If we are to make a difference, Professionals need to go out there and address the root of the causes of these issues. This requires us to build community trust and establish  community advocates to work with us to end these issues.”

For more information about HBA and harmful practices, visit the Savera UK Learning Hub: https://www.saverauklearninghub.co.uk/

To learn more about the recent Day of Memory 2023 event, click here.

Image Credits: Andrew AB Photography