Under new rules, more criminals will be forced to pay towards supporting victims of crime. Sheena Hastings reports.
WHEN she was 17 years old, Ashia’s parents announced that they’d be taking their seven children from their home in Yorkshire on an extended holiday to meet the family in Bangladesh.
Ashia, the oldest daughter, was then studying for A-levels. She was very excited about the trip and the idea of travelling in an aircraft for the first time. However, a shock awaited her: not long after arrival in Bangladesh she was told by her parents that a wedding had been arranged between her and a first cousin who was a year younger.
She was shown her wedding gown and the invitations that were about to be sent out for the ceremony, which would take place within a week.
“I come from a well-rounded family that in many ways I thought of as liberal,” says Ashia, who is now 30. “But there were restrictions on me that didn’t apply to my brothers, and I had had to fight to continue my education after GCSEs. I wanted to go to university, study politics and do some good in the world.
“When I was told that I was to marry this cousin I had never met I felt shock and disbelief. I argued, cried, screamed and threw tantrums, but it was no use. Preparations for the wedding continued and I was expected more or less to stay in my room in the meantime. It turned out that I had been promised to this cousin practically from the moment I was born and had no say in the matter.”
Luckily for Ashia, a male relative back in the UK who heard that the family were forcing her to go through with the marriage, flew to Bangladesh to rescue her. At the 11th hour, he arrived and argued her case with her parents – with her brothers’ support.
“He threatened to inform the authorities if I was not allowed to leave with him,” say Ashia. Her parents relented, although they said they had been acting out of love for their daughter and to protect her future. The wedding was then cancelled and the family returned to the UK.
After that, relations between Ashia and her parents were very difficult. She fought to be allowed to go to university, and her parents relented, saying that in return she had to accept that another marriage would be arranged for her afterwards. But at university Ashia fell in love with a young white man and on graduation she stayed away from home, got a job and set up home with him.
For a long time she led a double life, not telling her family about her partner. The strain began to make her ill and she told her mother the truth on the phone.
“She didn’t take it well and the family disowned me. I felt as though that part of my life had died. Six months later she began to call me, trying to persuade me to give him up and go home, using emotional blackmail. I went for counselling and finally came to the decision that I had to end these conversations with her. I also decided I wanted to work in the voluntary sector, helping other young people who had been victims of abuse and traumas such as drink and drugs or forced marriage.
“Last year I married my partner and we are very happy. We have great friends and his family are loving and supportive.” Ashia still speaks regularly to her mother.
“My door is always open to them. It’s difficult and sad, though, that they can’t overcome what they believe.” With support and counselling Ashia has moved on.
“I love my career with charities and support the work of Karma Nirvana, the organisation that helps victims of forced marriage and honour-based crime. I campaign to put an end to forced marriage, and believe that the groups that exist to support and give advice to victims don’t have enough resources.”
Luckily for Ashia, her parents’ attempt at forced marriage did not succeed, but many helped by the Karma Nirvana have had to go through with such weddings and have later suffered abuse and even murder when they have tried to escape.
New rules being announced today will force more criminals to pay towards supporting victims of these and other crimes, says Minister for Victims Helen Grant.
In a major overhaul of the way services for victims and witnesses of crime are funded, the Victim Surcharge will be increased and extended.
Currently offenders only contribute about a sixth of the funding that supports victims’ services, and taxpayers provide the rest. Extending the surcharge is the latest step in the Government’s drive to see offenders provide up to £50m more each year on top of the £66m central Government already provides.
Justice Minister Helen Grant said: “Only £1 in every £6 that the Government spends supporting victims of crime comes from offenders. Hardworking and innocent taxpayers pay for the rest. This balance is utterly wrong, and it is something that I am determined to change. Criminals create victims: as well as being punished for their crimes, they should help to repair the damage they have done.
“For the first time, more offenders will literally be made to pay for their crimes. And the more serious the sentence, the more they will be forced to pay. Criminals need to step up and recognise the impact their crimes have on others – and they should pay to help victims to rebuild their lives.”
The money raised will go to support local organisations that have a proven track record in supporting victims at their most vulnerable. Among those that could benefit are children’s groups and charities supporting victims of rape, domestic violence, hate crime, burglary, anti-social behaviour and other violent crime – including murder and manslaughter.
In the last year about £800,000 has been taken from prisoners’ wages and given to the charity Victim Support alone.
Jasvinder Sanghera, founder of Leeds-based Karma Nirvana, said: “This (extra) funding means we can now say with certainty to victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence that our national helpline will be here for the next three years.
“We can save more lives and can respond to an issue that our Government recognises is happening in the UK. We know the 550 calls we take each month, from women and men, are the tip of the iceberg and we want to encourage more people to seek help.”
Another organisation that will receive more financial help under the new rules is Winston’s Wish, a national charity working with some of the 24,000 children who are bereaved of a parent each year and those coping with the death of a sibling. The charity helped the family of 19-year-old Mark, who was murdered in an unprovoked attack in 2009. After contacting the charity through their national helpline, Winston’s Wish counselled his parents and siblings for more than 18 months through individual and family meetings.
After attending a residential group run by Winston’s Wish for families bereaved by murder, Mark’s mother said: “From all the negatives in our lives, this is a positive. It was so good to know that professionals were keeping me safe; helping me to express myself.”
Liz Koole, family services manager at Winston’s Wish said: “It is a double blow when a homicide takes place; not only does the family have to cope with a sudden, unexpected death, they also have to deal with the way their relative has died.
“Children can often be left overwhelmed and bewildered by what has happened. Some families who have been bereaved through violence describe it as, ‘grief with the volume turned up’.
“Winston’s Wish is helping children and families bereaved through homicide across the UK. Experience shows that children who receive timely and appropriate support, information and advice are better able to face the future with confidence and hope.”
A full list of organisations receiving funding through the Victims’ Surcharge is available on the Ministry of Justice website: www.justice.gov.uk
The Victim Surcharge
The Victim Surcharge is currently a £15 addition to all fines, but from today adults convicted of an offence committed on or after October 1, 2012 will have to pay 10 per cent of any fine (maximum £120, minimum £20), conditional discharge (£15), community (£60) or custodial sentence (£80, £100 or £120).
The surcharge amounts are different for under-18s. The new surcharge will not apply to any Fixed Penalty Notices, including those for motoring offences.
Up to £1m a year is also being raised from prisoners who earn the minimum wage
Organisations currently receiving surcharge money include Winston’s Wish, Karma Nirvana and Safety Net Advice and Support Centre.