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#thisisme campaign

Ms Khan, founder of forced marriage and honour based violence charity, the Halo Project, said: “The world can feel different, depending on your gender – gender can affect how safe we feel, where we go, what job we feel able to apply for and other people’s expectations of us.

“The challenges around gender stereotypes and inequality limit all of us and puts pressure on us to conform to outdated, traditional values which are out of sync with todays Wales.”

Former chief crown prosecutor for North West England, Mr Afzal, added: “This is the first stage in a campaign to raise awareness of the underlying reasons for violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence, in order to challenge those ideas and behaviours and help build a society which does not tolerate these abhorrent acts.”

For more information or to join the conversation about stereotypes, search for or post under the #thisisme hashtag on social media platforms.

Domestic violence: ‘I was told to sleep in the outhouse’

As Welsh Women’s Aid marks 40 years of campaigning to end violence against women, Sarah from Monmouth reveals how living with an abusive partner made her question her own sanity.

It sounds such a cliche, but when I first met my ex-partner, he was the perfect gentleman.

We were friends for two years, having met through our young children. Both widowed, both lonely. Everyone, including family, thought it a perfect idea that we get together and, in October 2009, we did.

By the January we were engaged, and four months later, we went on our first holiday abroad with the children.

But while we were there, he saw me talking to an elderly man, and afterwards, back in the hotel room, he hit me for the first time, accusing me of spending too much time with him.

I was stunned, of course.

I said: “You will never do that again to me”, and the next morning, caught a taxi to the airport with my daughter to catch a plane home.

But there was a cruel twist of fate.

Due to a technical failure at check-in, all flights had been cancelled that day.

So instead of fleeing, I returned to the resort.

When he realised, he wooed me, apologising so profusely that It was impossible not to forgive him.

Freed to kill again – and again: Theodore Johnson and the truth about domestic violence

Theodore Johnson first killed a woman in 1981. He tipped his wife Yvonne over the balcony of their ninth-floor flat in Blakenhall Gardens, Wolverhampton, having already hit her with a vase. Well, they had been arguing – a factor that enabled him to plead guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of provocation. The second woman Johnson killed was Yvonne Bennett, in 1992. He strangled her with a belt while their baby slept. Her “provocation” was that she refused the box of chocolates he had bought to win her back; he was able to plead diminished responsibility and, after a two-year stay in a secure psychiatric unit, was released and again free to form new relationships. Then, in December 2016, Angela Best became the third victim of Johnson, 64, and on Friday he will be sentenced for her murder. Best’s spur to his violence had simply been to end their relationship and start a new one with someone else.

ohnson’s case seems extraordinary. How could it happen? A list of victims, a history of violent and controlling behaviour in relationships … yet twice he was freed to kill again. Somehow, Johnson slipped through the system. Or was the problem that the system failed to take proper account of Johnson, of his capacity to kill, and as a result failed to take care of the women he went on to meet?

‘When David Cameron spoke on FGM our time had come. We can banish it by 2030

Nimco Ali helped launch the Standard’s campaign against female genital mutilation, bravely revealing her own experience of the brutal practice. Four years later, she  tells Anna Davis she is astounded at the progress being made to eradicate it

Attitudes towards the brutal practice have changed dramatically since she first spoke out and there have been global success stories. But nowhere is the change more evident than in her own family.

Revealing the moment she saw how deeply the anti-FGM campaign had permeated, she said: “I was with my mum and I saw a picture of Barack Obama and David Cameron at a summit together.

“I made a little joke and said the thing they have in common is they have both talked about my mutilated vagina.

“My mum just rolled her eyes — which is an improvement on being told that I should be ashamed.” This softening attitude is just one example of how she believes the tide is changing.

When Ms Ali, 34, first went public about her own FGM in 2013 she had death threats and suffered verbal abuse. Now she says that people who used to troll her for talking about FGM want to support her work.

Pupils taught to help classmates at risk of ‘honour’ violence

Pupils are being taught how to help classmates at risk of honour-based violence under a pioneering programme being rolled out in two Scottish schools.

Edinburgh secondary schools Leith Academy and Drummond Community High School have held sessions highlighting crimes linked to the supposed protection of ­traditional cultural or religious beliefs, including forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).

The classes have been led by Bright Choices, an award-winning support service for victims of honour-based violence, and talks are under way to extend the sessions across the city.

Angela Voulgari, who leads Bright Choices for leading community justice organisation Sacro, said that the sessions with S2 and S3 pupils focus on the children’s human rights.

She said the issues involved are discussed clearly but with sensitivity, with children being told how to seek help if they fear their rights are being breached by cultural or religious traditions.

Ms Voulgari said: “In many communities, FGM happens when girls are babies, in others when they are six or seven.

“We are very aware that we could be coming into a school and talking to a group of children where some of the girls may be survivors of honour-based violence.

“A lot of the practices we are talking about happen at a young age and, if they don’t, there is, and I use the word carefully, a ‘grooming’ that can take place during childhood and adolescence.”

BBC’s new drama Three Girls is based on the harrowing stories from the Rochdale scandal

The devastating effect of child-sexual exploitation is laid bare in this harrowing but unmissable mini-series, based on real events.

Between 2008 and 2012, almost 50 young girls suffered appalling abuse at the hands of sex-grooming gangs in and around Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

Almost as shocking was the fact that the victims were ignored by the authorities who were supposed to protect them.

The drama tells the story of three such girls who were preyed on by paedophiles. Holly, brilliantly played by Molly Windsor, is new to Rochdale and eager to fit in.

Children still not reporting sexual exploitation, NSPCC warns

Child sexual exploitation is still ‘woefully under-reported’ in the UK, the NSPCC has warned.

The charity said many young victims don’t understand that what is happening to them is grooming and exploitation, because offenders use manipulative tactics.

It is now calling on concerned adults to raise the alarm if they suspect a young person might be in danger.

Nearly 2,000 of the country’s most vulnerable youngsters have been helped by the Protect and Respect service it set up in 2011.

Read more:

Surge in ‘Honour Crimes’ and Forced Marriages in London

So-called “honour crimes” have risen by 40 per cent in five years in London, with the number of forced marriages doubling in the same period.

According to the figures, obtained by the Evening Standard, some of the children involved in the abuse were younger than ten-years-old.

Since 2012, honour crimes reported to the Metropolitan Police rose to 1,081 and those relating to forced marriages shot up to 367.

Women and girls were the victims in the vast majority of reported incidents, with over half coming from “Asian” backgrounds, the paper reports.

Knives and guns were involved in more than 70 incidents, and dozens of rapes and other sexual crimes were reported.

Detective Chief Inspector Sam Faulkner, of the Met’s Community Safety Unit, said the crimes stem from communities using “cultural and/or religious justifications for male violence against women and girls and other people”.

They were often based on traditions whereby “an individual, family and community’s honour is weighted on women and girls”, he said, including refusing to go along with a marriage.

“We see an increase in these types of offences as a positive step, an indication that victims have more confidence to report offences to police and seek the support they need”, he added.

Less than half UK teachers say they have received training to spot signs of forced marriage

Less than half of teachers said they had been given training to recognise the signs of forced marriage, according to a new survey.

One-third feared they could be seen as racist or otherwise prejudiced if they reported concerns about honour-based abuse including female genital mutilation, said the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) which conducted the poll of its members.

The findings come after the NSPCC said a rise in the number of cases dealt with by the Government’s forced marriage unit (FMU) was “deeply worrying”.

Just 48 per cent of ATL members said they had been trained on how to spot the signs of forced marriage, while 71 per cent said the same of female genital mutilation. Twenty-nine per cent worried about how they would be perceived if they raised concerns over child abuse linked to religion and belief.


I had known for a few months that I was going to be speaking at the ‘its not ok’ event and sharing my experience of child sex abuse and honour based violence. I had written my speech over the Christmas and New Year holidays and was confident and looking forward to the event. I had read the speech out loud in front of a few close friends and family and my voice didn’t shake nor did I get emotional. What I was not prepared for was listening to the presentations from the other speakers and the emotions that it would bring up for me.

I wanted to raise awareness of how difficult it can be for someone from a Pakistani background to report child sex abuse; too many people think that the sexual abuse of children does not happen in the Pakistani community. Too many people are wrong and far too many children are sexually abused and raped on a daily basis, here in the UK. They have no specialist services to confide in.

If there were a helpline set up, a South Asian Child Line, then the phones would not stop ringing. Listening to the speakers at the event made me realise how difficult it is for those who have been sexually abused and raped to come forward and get help, how they are passed from one agency to another, having to re tell their experience all over again. How much more difficult would that be for the Pakistani child? Where would they send them? What help is available out there?

Many Pakistani children are not taught about appropriate and inappropriate touching, sex is still very much a taboo subject. Not much has changed from when I was a child and if anyone kissed on the TV, I was told to close my eyes. Education is key in helping these children at least know what is happening is wrong and they are not to blame.

My experience 

Thank you for inviting me and allowing me to share my story and my experience of honour based violence and child sex abuse. I hope it gives you a better understanding of how to help someone in a situation similar to mine. Even though my story took place many years ago, some of the same mistakes are still being made today and women and men continue to suffer.

I was three years old when I was taken to Pakistan to live with my paternal grandparents. My parents were in a polygamous marriage and I have never really known why they chose to send me to Pakistan. I guess it is just something some Pakistani parents do. For some families it has become part of their traditions and culture, sending children to live in Pakistan, some do it for 6 weeks, some for three months and in my case years. My mother visited twice in the years we were there but I have little memories of those visits. Nobody questioned why we were sent away, it was part of my father’s traditions, and I’m sure my parents would have stopped anyone from asking questions. This is how easy it has become to ‘send’ your daughter or son back home to Pakistan.

Even though I was sexually abused in Pakistan, I still remember that part of my child-hood, as one of a happy time, my grandparents and my aunt loved me unconditionally.

I didn’t know that what he was doing was wrong. I had nobody to tell me. I was a child born in the 70s, and in Pakistan, sex was a taboo subject and even if the abuse had taken place in Glasgow, sex was a taboo subject in Glasgow too. We are only in the last ten years or so beginning to teach children how to stay safe, making them aware of appropriate and inappropriate touching even though we have known for years that children are sexually abused.

Sex is still a taboo subject for many and talk of children being raped and abused is not a topic most people feel easy discussing. Who wants to hear about a child being sexually abused or raped? But if we don’t hear these horrific stories then who will listen and who will help?

The numbers of sexually abused children and adults, who were abused as children, is shockingly high, and that won’t include the figures for Pakistani children and adults. It is rarely reported, police are rarely told, statistics are not collected, the figures are not known. The abuse continues. And if you do find the courage to tell then sometimes the blame can be placed on you. The child. You are blamed for smiling too much, for laughing, for not having your hair covered, for encouraging him. You are the guilty one and the abuser is innocent.

My abuser was able to abuse me throughout the five years I lived in Pakistan. I can remember when the time came for me to leave Pakistan and return to Glasgow. He took me to the roof with him, where he could be alone with me, promising to buy me things when he visited Glasgow, dolls and prams and other fancy toys, if I did things to him. I did all the things he asked.

The biggest problem with child sex abuse in the Pakistani community, even if you tell there are few families that will report the rape and abuse to the police. There are even fewer children who will tell their parents and the abuse continues.

Even if Pakistani children wanted to tell, whom would they tell? Pakistani families are so close knit and sometimes it can feel like everyone really does know everyone and if you tell, everyone will know this ‘dirty’ secret that will bring shame on the family. Shame on the family name, for many Pakistani families, is more important than the rape of their children.

How can anyone possibly think it is a good idea to allow polygamous marriages for cultural reasons? One woman sharing one man can be tough enough to handle for most of us. Two women, and two women from completely backgrounds competing for the attention from the same man. Anger taken out on children because he is paying one wife too much attention, anger taken out on each other because he didn’t share your bed last night. Speak to those who lived through the experience. People always want to hear what is was like for the wives, or what benefits the man gets out of a polygamous marriage. Ask the children. As always it is the children who suffer.

When I was forced into my marriage a part of me secretly hoped life would be better. Anything had to be better than the polygamous home I lived in. In this home the Pakistani side was treated like the favourite son and the white side was always made to feel inferior.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about my marriage. It was hell from the wedding night until I finally left him. He was much older than me and let me know early on that he was only with me for the red passport and had no interest in me. This lack of interest didn’t stop him from having sex with me whenever he wanted. Even if I said no he still carried on and the only way to stop him the next night was to lie and say I was on my periods. Most men are embarrassed when it comes to talk about periods and men from Pakistan are no different. I would return to my father’s home regularly and stay for days on end, until he phoned or arrived at the door to take me back home.

I hated him. I look back at the time in my life, which seems a lifetime away, and still can remember how miserable I was that taking my own life seemed the easy way out. There was no Halo Project, no help lines, no trained police officers or other safeguarding agencies that I could have rang for some friendly advice. I had tried to get help when I was 16 years old. I had run away one night and gone to the police station, I was turned away. I tried calling Child Line and telling them of my fears. My fears of being sent to Pakistan and being married to an older man, a stranger and asked for help. I was willing to go into care than return to my parent’s home. They didn’t understand my fears. I ended up going back home that night.

That experience made me believe there was nobody in my life I could talk to and share my feelings with. When it seems like there is nobody to talk to then suicide has an appeal to it. When it seems like there is no end to the misery then being alive is hell. Death would have given me an ending from it all.

My life was devoid of happiness and I was suffering from depression. I had bruises on my face, bruises on my arms, my arms bruised when he held me down while raping me, my face when he slapped me for my defiance. I said I walked into doors, cupboards, sometimes I said nothing. I rarely washed or brushed my hair. I stupidly thought if I made myself as ugly as possible he would stop having sex with me. He didn’t care.

I left him three years later, a few months after I turned 21.   If I had stayed I would not be standing here, I would have taken my own life. Even though it has been 25 years since I left my forced marriage, even though my father has been out of my life for longer than he was part of it, it still to this day affects me. Three years of being raped and then to be disowned for having the courage to say no. For leaving my marriage I was disowned, from the entire community. No amount of counselling and pampering can fix the hurt you just get better at dealing with it, owning it.

Is it any wonder that females of Muslim heritage have one of the highest rates of suicide? A life of misery from birth to marriage for so many women suffering, suffering at the hands of their parents, their husbands or both. And those who should be helping hindered by political correctness and the fear of being called racist.

I am not the only one who was forced into a marriage; I was not the only one being raped on a regular basis. There are thousands of women suffering, worse than I ever did and who knows how many more. There is much more help available than there was when I was forced into a marriage and yet we still hear of the women that were not saved, the women that took their own lives and I wonder what more can be done?

This is why the Halo Project is leading the way in dealing with the isolation that arises from making choices that go against what the family want. If I were being forced into a marriage today the Halo Project would have been a godsend for me. I visited the Halo safe house, met with the families staying there and I did imagine how my life might have turned out if that had been available to me all those years ago. Another family from the community, someone else who had chosen to stand up for her rights, someone to help me keep a hold of my identity, somewhere to belong. A new family.

Giving women a safe space to meet for coffee mornings, organising a running club, empowering them with knowledge through training seminars, courses and Basic English classes. There is a support network there that is vital for the women leaving. We leave everything familiar behind when we are forced to leave our communities, it is easy to lose your identity, it is easy to spiral into drugs and alcohol, used to numb the pain of being alone, its easy to fall for people who do not have your best interests at heart. It’s easy to replace one hell with another kind of hell.

Fear of offending someone’s culture needs to be stamped out. There is little point in attending training seminars, listening to stories from women like me who have lived and experienced the horrors some families under the protection of their culture inflict on their children if at the end of the day you are going to allow the misery to continue, for fear of being called a racist.

If you allow girls to suffer for cultural reasons then you are just as guilty as the families.

In 1986 when I voiced my fears no one took them seriously and to this day I suffer from the marriage I was forced into.

Fast-forward to 2017 and many girls have been saved from the life I was forced into but we know there is many more still suffering at the hands of their abusers because of political correctness.




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