Publication - Research publication

Understanding forced marriage in Scotland

Published: 30 Jan 2017

Research carried out to better understand forced marriage in Scotland.

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Understanding forced marriage in Scotland
4: Service responses to forced marriage in Scotland

83 page PDF

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4: Service responses to forced marriage in Scotland

This chapter draws from interviews held with a range of professionals, policy analysis in the six case study areas, interviews with Protection Leads and with survivors of forced marriage. Five key issues are discussed:

  • understanding and knowledge of forced marriage
  • responding to forced marriage
  • policy responses to forced marriage
  • the range of (non-legal) interventions offered
  • barriers to responding to forced marriage.

4.1 Understanding and knowledge of forced marriage

Professionals generally had a sound understanding of the difference between arranged and forced marriage, raising issues of consent, duress, choice, expectations, and family reputation:

Forced marriage is arranged and conducted without the consent of either one or both parties ...If there's no consent, whether that's an inability to consent through ability or disability, or whether it's a young person who isn't of the age for marriage, so it's all encompassing within that.
Case study area 5, third sector organisation 5B

Professionals with more experience of dealing with forced marriage demonstrated a more nuanced understanding, emphasising the long-term socialisation and inevitability of marriage, the impact of such 'grooming' on consent, and the process rather than event-based nature of forced marriage:

…we would define forced marriage more as a process which is rooted in gender based violence so I would say that forced marriage is a process of grooming where someone is being prepared for a marriage and that over a period of time their ability to consent, or rather withdraw consent, is compromised.

So for me FM is more than just the wedding it's a whole process of what comes before and what comes after that and duress within that is not necessarily as visible for both the victim/survivor as well as the professionals who are supporting or looking at such acts of violence.
Case study area 4, third sector organisation 4B

These more nuanced understandings are crucial to deepening understanding of forced marriage and suggest that intervention strategies need to engage with forced marriage as a process at both entry and exit points of forced marriage. Understandably, the current policy and practice focus appears to be on entry points i.e. to prevent a forced marriage from taking place, but the ability to exit a marriage without duress is also central to exercising one's human rights.

4.1.1 Communities in which forced marriage is practised in Scotland

Although the respondents made it clear that forced marriage is not specific to any one community, they reported it predominantly affects the South Asian community:

Predominantly in the Southeast Asian community because it's been part of the culture for such a long time, and I think that culture from back home has sort of carried on here.
Case study area 4, legal professional 4A

Forced marriage was also described as a universal issue that affects all communities simply where marriage exists:

Forced marriage affects any community where marriage exists it's about control in that particular family...
Case study area 5, third sector organisation 5B

Since the available data illustrate that South Asian communities are those predominantly affected, professionals' understanding of forced marriage will be shaped and influenced by this factor, so it is not surprising that forced marriage was frequently seen as a 'South Asian issue'. This however, carries an attendant risk of overlooking the potential of the occurrence and threat of forced marriage in other communities:

…in terms of forced marriage, I think people tend to automatically think of Asians and Muslims in particular, but you know, I know that actually it's more prevalent in African countries and other areas as well, so...I think that the lay person if you know, the uniformed beat officer would probably be thinking of a woman in a sari for example as being a potential victim and might not think of a Gypsy/Traveller or you know, somebody like that.
Case study area 6, Police

Other professionals with experience of working on forced marriage cases reported case work within the Roma community, Christian community, Jewish community and people with learning disabilities. This illustrates the importance of ensuring that understandings of which communities forced marriage is practiced in is not restricted to Muslim South Asian communities.

4.2 Responding to forced marriage

On the whole, professionals interviewed had very limited experience of dealing with forced marriage cases. For instance, 4 of the 9 third sector organisations spoken to had dealt with a forced marriage incident, and only 2 of the 9 third sector organisations described their organisations as dealing with forced marriage. However, the third sector organisations who had dealt with incidents of forced marriage had substantial in-depth expertise of forced marriage. Only one of the three legal professionals interviewed had dealt with a forced marriage case, one of the three social work staff interviewed and one of the six police officers had dealt with a forced marriage case. Whilst most professionals saw forced marriage for under-16s as a child protection issue, this was not universal, and a cultural framing of forced marriage was reported as impeding intervention:

The biggest challenge is for people to recognise the risk of forced marriage, especially when they don't see it as child abuse and they see it as a cultural issue.
Case study area 4, third sector organisation 4B

The cultural framing of forced marriage is discussed as a barrier in section 4.3.

Professionals raised a number of reasons for their lack of focus on forced marriage including the rarity of a forced marriage case, no organisational mandate to deal with forced marriage, lack of local or organisational forced marriage policy, and lack of funding. In general, professionals reported confidence in dealing with a forced marriage incident, but many professionals also highlighted the need for further training for themselves or other professionals. Survivor experiences of contacting agencies do not reflect this confidence except in the third sector.

4.2.1 Policy responses

Prior to conducting telephone interviews with adult or child protection leads and one violence against women lead in case-study areas, key contacts were asked to provide existing local policy or practice guides. These were summarised in advance of the interview which was then used to clarify current and planned approaches and the structures within which these had developed. In two of the case study areas, no local policy or practice documentation had been produced, despite the statutory obligation placed on local authorities in the 2011 Act. In the remaining four areas, local documents, some still in draft form, drew heavily on the Scottish Government multi-agency guidelines for forced marriage. In one case study area where no local documentation was made available, no designated policy lead was identified for interview. The following sections draw on available data from both written policy and interviews with participants. Three key sets of findings are discussed: perceived ownership of forced marriage policy; the maturity of existing policy; and a focus on learning as a means of improving organisational responsiveness.

Case study areas (as reflected in the views of the designated policy lead) were variable in the extent to which the lead officer felt prepared to 'own' local approaches. Shared ownership of local processes felt apparent in case study 2 and 4; in area 6 the lead officer interviewed clearly felt individual ownership but appeared less sure that this ownership was distributed across key stakeholders (see below on multi agency working). In case study areas 3 and 5, there was less evidence that Forced Marriage was being taken forward as a recognised and key aspect of the interviewee's job.

FM is not part of our remit ... we have it as an offshoot of our work, I'm not sure why.
Case study area 3, Policy Lead

In area 5, when asked about the absence of local policy documentation, the lead officer said that before the interview she had 'double-checked' and that they worked 'off the Scottish document'. In areas 3 and 5, the leads reported that when they knew they were to be interviewed they had checked to see if there had been any cases of Forced Marriage reported or FMPOs requested; they reported that there had not been any such cases.

Levels of ownership had some degree of overlap with a stated need to raise staff awareness of forced marriage and how to respond to it. Areas 2, 4 and 6 all highlighted the need for 'cultural' change within organisations and professions, to effectively respond to forced marriage and other such harmful practices.

I've tried to find out what's happening with FM. I've spoken to [ ], our child protection co-ordinator, and she said as far as she knew there hadn't been any.
Case study area 3, Policy Lead

Specifically, they discussed how responding to forced marriage was very different from responding to other forms of abuse, and was often contrary to their usual professional practice. This related in particular to the requirement not to discuss cases with family members.

[The legislation] turns everything on its head... [it's] like going back 20 years to child protection.
Case study area 4, Policy Lead

However, there was a real sense of these study areas taking on board these new ways of working in relation to forced marriage.

Contrary to most social workers' training - go and talk to the family.
Case study area 2, Policy Lead

In contrast, in case study area 5, where ownership of the forced marriage agenda by the policy lead was less apparent, the necessary practice for responding to forced marriage response was viewed as congruent with the generic skills of frontline social workers at least. No forced marriage cases had been reported to the policy lead (although forced marriage incidents were recorded by other agencies in this case study area, including statutory services), indicating that recording and information sharing are likely to be barriers to effective intervention.

Where local documentation existed it was variable in terms of the detail, but all used the 'one chance' checklist, had shared definitions congruent with Scottish Government documentation, and provided local information relating to support organisations. The level of detail largely related to the maturity of the policies with areas 2 and 4 having the longest standing documentation. These areas were also those in which co-ordination across adult protection, child protection and violence against women services seemed at its strongest, not only in terms of existing structures, but also in terms of working relationships between lead officers.

Related to this is the extent to which case study areas described themselves as well placed to monitor and learn from cases. Again, areas 2 and 4 appeared best placed to maximise these opportunities, although other areas also identified that learning from individual cases are used to refresh adult protection policies, and emphasised that a learning mentality needs to go beyond formal processes.

[We need a] non-corporate response to review - our antennae are up.
Case study area 4, Policy Lead

Something slides past you and you become an expert on it.
Case study area 3, Policy Lead

Where local procedures were at the earliest draft stage, the importance of learning was also emphasised.

We're more getting out the message of what are the signs of it and then reporting it and we do have some mechanisms for that but after that, getting down to the nitty gritty .... It will be fluid and learning as we go along.
Case study area 3, Policy Lead

In the interviews with front line professionals in both statutory and third sectors, it was generally reported that there is no formal organisational forced marriage policy that respondents were aware of. If they had to deal with an incident they would follow the Scottish Government guidelines and the legislation:

No formal policy because we follow the legislation and guidelines. We basically base our practice on that [ SG guidelines] the difference is that because we are an HBV service we very much pay close attention to individual cases so we try to avoid the 'one size fits all' model.
Case study area 4, third sector organisation

The police, however, have Standard Operating Procedures for honour based violence that cover forced marriage.

4.2.2 Support offered to staff

Protection leads discussed two main types of support for staff that are offered through local areas. The first is via the various policy and practice documents, where these exist. For example, case study area 2 provides staff with examples of more generic risk assessment tools that might be utilised in determining FM specific risks whilst case study area 3 has developed tailored guidance for their Call First workforce recognising the generic nature of their contact with the general public.

The second is staff training - both mandatory and voluntary. Most areas, though not all, had provided their own training or made training available (usually in conjunction with a specialist third sector organisation). Such training was generally conducted within a wider suite of 'harmful practices' awareness training. Positioning awareness of, and responses to, forced marriage within a broader 'protection' context was argued to be important - not just as a means of covering more legislative ground within one training session but also because, as a matter of principle, staff should be encouraged to take a broad perspective on risk assessment. For example, one participant said:

It's not about FM being top priority - it's about staff recognising what they're seeing when they see it ... it's up there with all the other harms they might be seeing - like financial harm.

However, some described uptake of such training, where voluntary, as patchy.

The survey showed that organisations provide a wide range of support (see Table 5), most commonly one-to-one support, refuge accommodation and referrals on to other specialist agencies. Other more practically-focused support such as legal and financial aid also featured.

Table 5: Support responses to forced marriage

One-to-one support 19
Referral to specialist support 17
Refuge accommodation 13
Support groups 6
Mediation 2
Financial 3
Legal 2
Other intervention 3
Community support 4
Training 4
Other 8

For those 19 organisations providing support to victims of forced marriage, 13 indicated that 'all cases were offered support', with only two indicating they needed to place victims on waiting lists or refer them on. Just one respondent felt there was no process in place for dealing with cases, and the remaining three felt that the question was not applicable to them. In terms of the outcome of that support, nine of the organisations providing support (just under half) felt that support was always successful in addressing the needs of victims. Just under a quarter (four) felt that support was successful in either some, or in one or two cases. The six remaining organisations reported they were not sure whether or not support was successful in addressing victims' needs. As a means of preventing forced marriages from taking place, three organisations felt that support was always successful in achieving this, with five organisations feeling it was successful in either some, or in one or two cases. Just one organisation felt that support was not successful in preventing forced marriage, although five organisations were unsure.

Risk assessment and safety planning

Interviews with professionals identified that risk assessment and safety planning were key. The level of risk determines the type of intervention offered:

Again, it's very dependent on that person's circumstances at the time. Some people are definitely more at risk than others, some people are at immediate risk in which case the best intervention as far as we're concerned is to try and completely remove them from that risk ...and... with other people it's more of a concern rather than immediate risk, it's something that they think may happen ... and for those kind of...instances it's all about arming that person I think with information about who they can speak to, that they can come to us any time, other roads they can go down, agencies...
Case study area 5, Police

Practice which focussed on risk assessment using a person-centred approach and judgement free support was also emphasised in many of the interviews. Judgement free support was described as being aware of one's own cultural values and beliefs, and keeping an open mind about their impact on attitudes and stereotypes and being guided by the young person's wishes:

My role is to support the young person and give them a safe space to listen and to look at the options ... make sure they have been heard in a safe environment... their personal safety is the key priority.
Case study area 2, third sector organisation 2D

Be led by them [the young person] and support them to do it
Case study area 2, third sector organisation 2C

People are most keen to access the therapeutic and practical support...this works for us it a very person-centred way of working with people ...following that some people might be looking for mediation or they are looking for restorative practices for ... support, for advocacy or consultancy meeting with us
Case study area 4, third sector organisation 4C

The need for therapeutic support was also highlighted by survivors.

I think psychological help would be a big bonus because most of the time this happens to girls that are quite young so you make a big decision like running away you do need a bit of psychological help and it's not just a physical running away
Survivor 5


I know that mediation and restorative justice have a really bad press when it comes to HBV but we would never provide a service that we know is high risk unless we were perfectly sure that that risk was manageable.
Case study area 4, third sector organisation 4C

Whilst the Scottish multi-agency guidance is clear that there should be no contact with the family, a minority of professionals were of the opinion that dialogue and mediation with the family can be an effective intervention. Mediation was offered by two agencies. One respondent provided an example of when dialogue with the family, by utilising Islamic evidence of what constitutes a valid marriage contract, was helpful in getting the victims feelings across to her family, and also making the family question their actions from an Islamic perspective. Islamic clerics were also mentioned as an avenue by which families may be deterred from forcing young people into marriages, as:

… their voice might be heard, maybe over a professional person.

Conservative Muslims families will not want to talk to a white middle-class woman about the status of their daughter, it's never gonna happen … Islamic clerics will have a far greater chance talking to the parents and have them listen to them than
anyone else who will go into a conservative Muslim household

Case study area 5, third sector organisation 5A

However, most respondents adhered to the 'no contact' guidance.

… we do not…do not…try to intervene with the family because that potentially puts her at more risk…and now…we may feel we might like to go round and wag our finger and say 'you can't do this'…but…you know, it's just not possible to do, we do not try and mediate between families
Case study area 4, Police

4.2.3 Multi-agency working

The policy analysis showed that, where a case study area had written documentation of local policies and procedures, it was evident from this documentation that that multi-agency working was expected as part of the processes for addressing Forced Marriage. This was particularly true in relation to social services and the police. Specialist third sector organisations appeared, either as part of 'response' flowcharts, or as organisations from which advice and support might be sought, either by frontline workers or as part of safety planning.

However, the interviews with policy leads revealed more variation in the extent to which multi-agency working takes place in practice. In one area, multi-agency working extended beyond a single local authority area, and the development of local policy had been explicitly multi-agency from the outset; furthermore, the policy was described as being closely aligned to, and developed in parallel with, other policies on Honour Based Violence and Female Genital Mutilation. The Scottish Government guidance was used as the basis for local plans and built upon:

We had to make sure the language and definitions was singing from the same hymn sheet.
Case study area 2

In this case, the links between adult protection, child protection and violence against women leads appeared to be paramount and third sector groups were described as being full members of strategic groups. This level of routine multi-agency worked was described also in case study area 4. In areas 3 and 5, however, there was considerably less of a sense of specialist third sector engagement; in area 6, where the designated policy lead was from the Violence Against Women Partnership, relationships with other committee structures were felt to be suboptimal - the lead said, for example:

VAW makes a concerted effort … I don't necessarily feel that it works the other way.
Case study area 6, Policy Lead

In this case, the drafting of local policy had come from the Violence Against Women Partnership rather than from the broader public protection structure.

In relation to practice settings, in interviews with professionals, multi-agency work was mentioned by all as a crucial part of supporting a victim of forced marriage, and factored into the risk-assessment and safety planning process.

… we get support from outside agencies that know more than we do, if we need to.
Case study area 2, third sector organisation 2C

The point was also made that different agencies might take the lead depending on the circumstances:

Who's best placed to support? Is it social workers? Is it Shakti Women's Aid? Is it Saheliya? Who can support this female or this male in moving forward?
Case study area 4, Police

Multi-agency work was generally thought to work very well in relation to forced marriage, for example:

'The multi-agency work is very positive in Dundee and in Scotland … the training sessions I have been on, there have been a number of multi-agencies involved, so everybody and all professionals are aware of this'
Case study area 2, third sector organisation 2A

There were differences, as illustrated by:

Sometimes there is a lack of communication between agencies, but that is something which can be worked upon, but most of the time it is very, very good. You are able to communicate with other agencies.
Case study area 2, third sector organisation 2A

Within the survey, 18% of respondents indicated that they referred cases on to other organisations. These included Shakti Women's Aid and other Scottish Women's Aid services (for specialist support), police, immigration, solicitors and law centres, embassies, and the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service. Referrals were also made to other third sector organisations such as women's support groups and minority ethnic organisations; national units such as the Home Office Forced Marriage Unit ( FMU); and statutory sector agencies such as education, health, housing, and social care. Respondents indicated that processes such as the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference ( MARAC) also provided a conduit for increased multi-agency working.

4.3 Barriers to responding to forced marriage

Reported barriers to responding to forced marriage can be divided into two main categories, each of which is discussed in turn:

  • professional and organisational barriers
  • public awareness

4.3.1 Professional and organisational barriers

The designated policy leads reported four main barriers to responding to Forced Marriage. First, the vicious circle whereby a lack of familiarity with Forced Marriage, and a lack of training or engagement to address this, means frontline workers are sometimes unaware of the warning signs and symptoms. As one respondent put it:

Where people have seen it, they see the value in it … part of the problem is they're not seeing it so it feels out there rather than here.
Case study area 6, Policy Lead

Second, and related to the first, it was apparent from responses that the reported absence of organisational experience in dealing with forced marriage cases, and the implications for local learning opportunities, could act to stall the development of local process and structures.

Third, in some areas there was concern that some cases might fall between cracks of adult and child protection, where these two structures and their associated processes did not work closely together. Likewise, in interviews with most professionals it was clear that dealing with a forced marriage case was rare and therefore for most expertise had not developed:

Already the South Asian community is small, and within that is even smaller the proportion of people that are going to be affected by forced marriage, so I think you are even talking about a handful of people in Scotland. Because of that, because it's not very common, I think dealing with it, for people that have to deal with, it's going to be quiet a novel thing to deal with. Some of them might not know
how to address it.

Case study area 4, legal professional 4A

Finally, some respondents also cited a lack of appropriate services, both for psychological and legal support.

'I do think there is quite a serious lack in terms of service provision around how to support people who are in that situation …
Case study area 2, third sector organisation 2B

Race anxiety

Many professionals reported colleagues' discomfort about dealing with issues of race and culture, for fear of being labelled racist or culturally insensitive. This has been termed 'race anxiety' in previous work (Chantler et al, 2001).

Framing it as a cultural issue can be problematic and is not helpful - it can silence people who fear they may be seen as being culturally insensitive or racist - professionals have this anxiety.
Case study area 4, third sector organisation 4B

… when a practitioner is dealing with someone from a different community and culture, they're not going to want to be non- PC or say anything that's taboo, they're going to want to be sensitive or be respectful to cultural sensitivity. A lot of them are scared of offending people or being culturally insensitive.
Case study area 4, legal professional 4A

Several police officers also mentioned race anxiety:

I think…people are a little bit frightened of being called racist and when it comes to dealing with, you know, particular religions and cultures, people are very frightened to stick their hand up and say 'I think there's a cultural thing going on here' because they're afraid well "you're just saying that because we're Muslim' or 'you're just saying that because we're Indian.' But there's definitely I think an element of that exists and…and people are more wary than they should be in terms of highlighting concerns and it's a very closed community as well and can be a secretive community…
Case study area 6, Police

The quotes illustrate not only the discomfort, but also suggest that 'race anxiety' may impede accurate assessments.

Fear of racism is a racist attitude because effectively professionals… argue that I'm not going to intervene because it looks like I'm going against your culture, or ethnicity or religion so the reasoning is that I'm prepared to help a white child but not a child who is not white.
Case study area 4, third sector organisation 4C

Multi-agency working

As reported above, multi-agency working was generally reported as working well, but there were also a number of barriers identified to joint working. First, the issues identified above regarding race anxiety can impact negatively on co-working. Second, the survey respondents reported that knowledge and training was often located only within one individual, rather than being shared collectively, and this acted as a barrier. Survey respondents suggested that improving inter-agency communication and relationships would assist in smoother, more effective responses. Third, it was clear that different agencies had a different status within multi-agency fora, which in some cases meant the third sector reported their contribution to be less valued than it perhaps ought to be. It was also reported that different agencies accorded forced marriage a different priority, leading to a difficulty in genuine partnerships. However, two key third sector agencies reported that their strongest links were with the police whilst relations with social work were weaker. Weaker relations between the police and social work were also discernible in one of the case study areas as reported by this police officer:

we're also…we're trying very desperately to get a good relationship with social work about these things, but that‟s easier said than done because of their processes…and how they work, you know, we're speaking to someone different, you know, we've…their referral process is just quite ad hoc, so it depends on who gets a referral and what their experience and how they're used to dealing with it because you know, forced marriage doesn't actually fall under any of their umbrellas if you like…so it's…it's…I think it's quite difficult for them to…to figure out who‟s best to deal with something like that.

Part of this tension also relates to the different styles of working with victims of forced marriage. For example, some social workers reported that the police were more inclined than they were to pursue a FMPO and/or criminal proceedings.


Interviews with professionals strongly indicated their need for training, to allow them to better respond to forced marriage. A lack of awareness of legal interventions to protect victims of forced marriage was highlighted as a specific barrier to intervention. Protection leads discussed difficulties of filling training places for forced marriage, despite recognising the need for training. Many in the third sector reported the need for training for themselves:

We need more training and how each step is carried out within the protocol - training given to all staff members so all staff members are confident and competent, knowing what to do and what steps to take.
Case study area 2, third sector organisation 2A

Those with experiences of working with forced marriage, including the police, also highlighted the need for training not only within the police force, but also of other professionals. This was echoed by some Scottish Women's Aid local organisations, who stated that forced marriage training should be mandatory for all statutory agencies and this was also indicated by at least one policy lead.

When survey respondents were asked about barriers to responding to forced marriage and how organisational capacity in this area could be improved, many schools asked for more training, but also pointed out that heavy workloads make it difficult for staff to attend training. Some Women's Aid organisations highlighted the need for refresher training for themselves as well as others. Other respondents indicated the need for training, particularly in terms of identifying the signs of forced marriage, and suggested that this could possibly be embedded within other compulsory training, such as child protection.

Inconsistent recording of forced marriage cases

Of those 55 organisations who did respond to the survey question asking how their organisation classifies forced marriage, 'forced marriage' was the most common term used (N=25), although 'domestic violence/abuse' (N=15), 'honour-based crime/violence' (N=10), and 'child protection' (N=5) also featured. Other indicators such as various types of abuse ( e.g. emotional, sexual, and financial) were also listed, including female genital mutilation ( FGM). A number of 'N/A' responses were given, indicating that respondents didn't consider forced marriage a relevant issue for their organisation. This could also be the case for the remaining 54 organisations that did not provide any response.

Of the 83 organisations who responded to the item regarding the recording of forced marriage cases, the majority (N=39) use a database, with 12 organisations relying solely on paper files. Just over a third (N=32) of respondents indicated that they either had no method of recording cases, or did not know how cases were recorded by their organisation. Staff also indicated that improving record-keeping would enable them to have a greater understanding and management of cases.

4.3.2 Public awareness

Some survey respondents identified public awareness raising as a means of enabling more victims to come forward, as a lack of public awareness maintains forced marriage as a 'hidden problem'. Similarly, in many of the interviews, professionals reported that a key barrier to working with forced marriage was the difficulties victims experience in reaching out for help alongside a lack of public awareness:

What's lacking here is a middle step and that is educating a community, particularly elders, as to why such persuasion is not good, not only on a social aspect but also within their family.
Case study area 4, legal professional 4B

This sentiment was echoed by others, who saw 'community awareness' or public awareness as a preventive measure as well as potentially increasing recognition and reporting of forced marriage. In the interviews, fear of repercussions as a result of contacting agencies was recognised, and it was suggested that more public awareness not just about increasing awareness of forced marriage, but also as an opportunity to highlight what support is available and what the implications of accessing support are, would be helpful:

I think it's just…it's…very difficult I think for women to report it and I think sometimes it's difficult for women to even recognise that they're in an abusive situation…or that there is anything that can be done to help them. I think they're so frightened of the honour based violence that you know, if they were to leave…or try to leave or try to in some way disrupt what‟s happening, you know, not only are they threatened, but their family, their younger siblings might be threatened and people in other countries might be threatened and I think it's so incredibly difficult for them to know where to go…
Case study area 6, Police

This also accords with the accounts of some of the survivors, who were unaware of what help is available and whether their experiences warranted contacting the police or other agencies:

The reason I didn't think of contacting the police, because honestly I didn't think it was a matter the police would have dealt with, because it wasn't that my parents were shipping me off to [south-Asian country] to get married, they weren't holding a gun to my head. I know that sounds a bit extreme but, or the wedding wasn't taking place the next day. … I didn't think of it being a matter the police would get with because I wasn't, it was just, there was no evidence, no proof that this was actually happening.
Survivor 3

Lack of trust was also identified as a major issue by both the police and social work, as communities' perceptions of these agencies might act as a barrier to reaching out:

… there is a distrust…a mistrust [with] …particular ethnic communities in relation to engaging with the police and I've experienced that both first hand and consequently in my current role where they won't necessarily won't want to trust you.
Police Scotland B (multiple areas)

Similarly, social work also mentioned public perceptions, based on stereotypes of them as 'taking children off people', acted as a barrier to engagement.

4.4 Examples of good practice

There were many examples of good practice identifiable in local documentation and/or discussed in interviews by designated policy leads. These included the following components in local documentation:

  • clearly stated 'one chance' checklists (all cases)
  • guidance for frontline workers and, separately, for their line managers (for example, case study area 2)
  • clear articulation of signs, symptoms and commonly encountered 'excuses' for Forced Marriage (for example case study 3).

In terms of more discursive examples, good practice included:

  • meaningful connections between leads for child and adult protection and for violence against women, for example, joint production of documents and local policies (particularly in case study areas 2 and 4)
  • proactive engagement with third sector organisations
  • a proactive approach to learning from cases and to reviewing local process accordingly (for example, case study areas 2,4 and 6)
  • a stated intention to learn from other local authorities (case study 3).

At a practice level, some practitioners, especially in some of the Scottish Women's Aid organisations illustrated a sophisticated level of awareness and engagement with issues of forced marriage and recalled a number of cases where they had effectively supported victims of forced marriage. Statutory agencies such as police officers and social workers also discussed cases where effective support had been offered. All these cases illustrated an understanding of the complexity of individual cases of forced marriage, an accurate assessment of risk and the tension between supporting the victims in a victim-centred, person-centred way and using the legislation to support victims. Survivors reported that they had received excellent support from third sector organisations; their accounts of other agencies were more mixed (see Chapter 6 for details).


Professionals interviewed showed a sound understanding of forced marriage, but those with direct experience of supporting victims of forced marriage had a deeper and more insightful understanding which highlighted forced marriage as a process rather than an 'event'. Most professionals were aware that forced marriage took place in a range of communities, but it was seen as largely affecting South Asian communities in Scotland. The majority of professionals interviewed had little direct experience of supporting victims of forced marriage, but those that did had developed greater skills and understanding of forced marriage. This was reflected at a policy level where there were differing levels of ownership and maturity of forced marriage policy and where a focus on learning from forced marriage cases was identified as a means of improving responsiveness. In both the policy analysis element of the study and in interviews with professionals, participants drew heavily from the Scottish Government multi-agency guidance on forced marriage.

A wide range of practice interventions are currently offered to support victims of forced marriage, most commonly one-to-one support, central to which is risk assessment and safety planning. Person-centred approaches were often utilised, and the need for therapeutic and practical support was also highlighted. Two agencies interviewed offered mediation, despite the Scottish multi-agency guidance making it clear that mediation should not be attempted in forced marriage cases. In terms of the outcome of the various types of support offered, nearly half of survey respondents reported that the support offered was effective, though a further 32% were unsure of its effectiveness.

Reported barriers to responding to forced marriage included 'race anxiety'; a need for more robust local authority procedures for supporting victims of forced marriage in some areas (see also related section on onus of responsibility); and multi-agency working (despite multi-agency working generally being described very positively). The barriers in relation to multi agency work included competing priorities and processes with some agencies having more power than others and not always utilising the expertise available via specialist organisations. A need for further regular training and learning opportunities on forced marriage was also identified as a barrier to responding effectively to forced marriage, despite forced marriage training being widely available. Perhaps more significantly, the survey results, policy analysis in some areas and interviews with some professionals suggest that a number of agencies and areas do not consider forced marriage a relevant issue for their organisation. A need for increased public awareness was also cited as maintaining forced marriage as a 'hidden' problem.

There are examples of good practice at both a policy and practice level including meaningful connections between child and adult protection leads and violence against women leads in some areas; proactive learning, person-centred support and in-depth expertise on forced marriage. Survivors reported that they had received excellent support from third sector organisations; their accounts of other agencies were more mixed.


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