Front line officers are our eyes and ears on the ground. They can recognise signs of honour based abuse and forced marriage when they attend jobs and then refer them to our team – a small division in the domestic abuse safeguarding and investigation unit at Bedfordshire Police.
I receive an email from an officer telling me she had been to see a young girl who had found out she was pregnant.
Like many young girls finding out they are pregnant, she was scared. But she was scared for reasons most girls could never imagine.
She told the officer if her parents found out she would be made to go back to her country of origin where she would “disappear”.
She said it had happened to other girls she knew.
The officer had taken what details she could. The only way to contact the girl herself was to visit the home address – but this wasn’t an option, it would put her at further risk.
Our priority is to safeguard this girl.
We spoke to a friend of hers. They had been friends for a while and were from the same community. She shared the same concerns and said her family would be angry and upset if they found out their daughter was pregnant.
Linking in with partners is vital. We spoke to safeguarding midwives who knew of this girl but had not yet met her and were eager to do so. We soon received a call back to say she had turned up at the hospital.
This was our one chance.
We have to get as much information as possible, we may not get another opportunity to get the details again and by then it might be too late to protect them.
We take a photograph of her so officers have an aid should they need to find her. It has been known for families to send another family member to the door and say it is the victim.
We have to take her DNA and her fingerprints – should something terrible happen we have a way to identify her.
Creating her risk assessment is the harrowing reality of the threat towards this young girl – by her own family. She was extremely emotional.
The pregnancy was out of the abortion timescale. Something some young girls may consider, but for this girl she had lost a potential lifeline.
She said she felt she could hide the pregnancy from them and have the baby adopted without her family finding out.
But we could already notice she had a baby bump so it wouldn’t be long until her family would notice too. What would happen if she went into labour at home? Or if the birth wasn’t easy, and she had to stay in hospital?
She was so upset that she wasn’t thinking clearly.
We could go with her back home to support her but being honest with her family wasn’t an option for her. Her father had tried to throw her out because she had a boyfriend a few months before. She was scared of the reaction and the genuine risk her family presented. She also thought they would disown her forever and couldn’t bear that.
She agreed we could find her a refuge where she would get the help and support that she needed.
But she was unsure about leaving her family. Of course she was, she loved them and didn’t want to be apart from them.
I felt terrible telling her that she should leave them; I would hate to be made to leave my family and then not be able to contact them. We were asking her to change her whole life.
It wouldn’t have to be forever, especially if she was having the baby adopted, but she was still understandably worried and scared about the future.
We agreed to meet the next day to take her to the refuge, which was in a different county.
She was nervous but excited to have freedom, she had been so controlled at home – only allowed out for college.
We reduced the risk of her being tracked or pressured to come back. We broke up her sim card and advised her to come off Facebook and any apps that could show where she was.
The lady at the refuge was lovely, she explained how they would help her with money and antenatal appointments and showed her where she would be staying.
It’s always really hard to leave victims; you know what a sacrifice they have made to leave home. This girl was so young and she was going through so much. I just wanted to look after her and make sure she was ok. She needed to be safe and away from this real threat and the refuge could hopefully provide that protection.
I really enjoy this role. It is very rewarding when we hear the victims are moving on with a better life. It can be hard when the victim can’t stay away and returns home to an unsafe environment, but sometimes the pull from a family no matter the risk is sometimes too strong.
PC Tash Moxon-Booth has worked in the forced marriage and honour based abuse team at Bedfordshire Police for the last year.