Tahirih Justice Center welcomed more than 75 legal and social services professionals and law enforcement officers throughout the DC metro area to two trainings on forced marriage and honor violence on Monday, August 13. These trainings equipped participants with practical tips, tools, and strategies to identify and protect victims of these human rights abuses threatening the freedom, safety, and welfare of immigrant women and girls across the country.
As part of a series of webinars, outreach, and training events conducted through Tahirih’s Forced Marriage Initiative, these recent trainings continue to support efforts to mobilize a national response to forced marriage as an emerging problem across the country. Tahirih formally launched this initiative after conducting a groundbreaking national survey in the summer of 2011 which revealed as many as 3,000 cases of forced marriage in immigrant communities in the United States in the preceding two years alone, among families originating from at least 56 different countries.
At these most recent trainings, frontline professionals grappled with complex issues involved in forced marriage and honor-based violence situations, and shared insights and best practices in order to ensure that first responders are not at a loss for how to act when they encounter individuals at risk.
The morning session was graciously hosted by the Alexandria Police Department and was well attended by individuals throughout the law enforcement community including domestic violence and violent crimes detectives and victim-witness advocates from the Alexandria, Manassas, Fairfax County, Caroline County, and Montgomery Country Police Departments as well as staff from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Tahirih hosted the afternoon session and welcomed staff from child protection agencies, government and non-profit social workers, schools, medical and mental health services, legal aid agencies, and shelters as well as domestic violence and sexual assault programs. Tahirih had such a tremendous response to our outreach for this training that they moved to a larger conference space and kept a waitlist to accommodate as many participants as possible!
Tahirih was honored to have Jasvinder Sanghera—activist, author, and founder of the NGO Karma Nirvana, a leading voice on forced marriage and honor violence in the United Kingdom—join us as a guest presenter at these trainings. Sanghera is an inspiring survivor of forced marriage and expert on issues related to honor violence. She unfolded the dynamics of how honor systems operate within families and highlighted the risks and high stakes that are often involved in forced marriage and honor violence situations. Sanghera then outlined the United Kingdom’s approach to combating forced marriage, including its Forced Marriage Protection Act and the Prime Minister’s recent decision to make forced marriage a criminal offense in the UK.
Sanghera’s thorough presentation drew on her years of assisting survivors, operating a national helpline through Karma Nirvana (which handles approximately 5,000 calls from women and girls per year), and providing testimony to the courts on forced marriage and honor violence cases.
Participants also benefitted from Tahirih’s own expertise as Heather Heiman (Senior Public Policy Attorney and co-author of Tahirih’s 2011 Survey on Forced Marriage in Immigrant Communities in the United States) and Adrianne Ramos (Senior Family Law Attorney) shared lessons learned from the increasing number of forced marriage cases on which Tahirih is providing legal assistance, advice, and counsel.
Given the overwhelming interest in these trainings, Tahirih looks forward to offering additional trainings in the near future for frontlines professionals encountering forced marriage cases.
Great thanks go out to Michael Hardy of HLP Integration’s Washington, DC office, for their pro bono help with copying materials for the participants at these trainings and at other Tahirih outreach events in August.