Learning more about supporting victims of forced marriage and so-called honour based violence

27/07/2017

Representatives from the True Honour charity, which aims to raise awareness of so-called honour based violence and forced marriage, have been talking to Crown Prosecution Service staff in the South East about these issues and how they can help support victims.

Sarbjit Athwal was forced into marriage at the age of 19 and moved into her husband’s very strict home. Her sister-in-law Surjit was more rebellious and, when the family found out she wanted a divorce, they took her to a family wedding in India, where she was drugged, strangled and thrown in a river. Despite being terrified that the same thing would happen to her, Sarbjit found the strength to tell her parents what had happened and became a key witness into the police investigation into Surjit’s murder.

Sarbjit became the first person within a family connected to an "honour" killing to waive her right to anonymity in court in a case prosecuted by Jaswant Narwal, now the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in the South East. Sarbjit's mother-in-law and brother-in-law were both convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

The True Honour charity, of which Sarbjit is now CEO, works to provide training and raise awareness with a range of organisations. She said: "It's so important for everyone to understand the culture and what prevents victims coming forward to report either forced marriages or so-called honour based violence. It is exceptionally hard to come forward and speak up, when you face being shamed by your community. Victims may be ready to make a statement and may then pull back and everyone needs to understand the fear they have."

Chief Crown Prosecutor Jaswant Narwal (left) with Sarbjit Athwal from True HonourJaswant Narwal from the CPS said: "Sarbjit's story is truly inspiring and very powerful and is something that I know touched a lot of people who heard her speak. She showed true gritted determination in bringing her sister-in-law's killer to justice and I know from my own experience on the case that it was not straight forward, given Surjit's body has never been recovered and she had been killed in India.

"Sarbjit's message is such an important one to anyone affected by honour based violence or forced marriage, as sadly there are still too many communities where these are not seen as crimes, even today in the twenty first century. We need to do everything we can to get the message out that they are and, within the CPS, we will do everything we can to support and protect victims and witnesses who come forward to report them."

Sarbjit was joined in the talk by Clive Driscoll, former Detective Chief Inspector in the Metropolitan Police Service, who led the investigation into Surjit's murder, becoming the first police officer to obtain a conviction in this type of case where no body has been found.

He said: "The CPS played a crucial role in helping to secure this conviction and now we have been able to come back and talk to CPS staff about the wider good they do in communities in cases like this, which are exceptionally complex."

More information on True Honour can be found on their website.

Sarbjit’s book “Shamed” tells the story of how she survived living in a family that almost killed her.