Big rise in women who fear forced marriages
Police have seen a huge increase in the number of young women who fear they will be forced into marriage seeking help.
Officers said the rise was down to the success of an awareness campaign about the issue and the help which is available to victims.
They have dealt with 101 cases of women from Leicestershire's Asian communities over the past year-and-a-half who were concerned they would compelled by their families to wed.
Detectives said the victims, many of whom were teenagers, had been subjected to violence and abuse when they objected to their relatives' plans for their future.
Officers are raising the issue because the summer is a period when young women are vulnerable to being taken abroad against their will because schools are unable to monitor them.
Detective Inspector Pete Williams, head of the force's domestic abuse, stalking and honour crime and forced marriage unit, said: "Forced marriage and honour crime are not new problems but it has been under-reported in the past.
"We started recording incidents in 2004 and by November 2008, we had had 34 reports. Since then, we've had 101.
"These have been people who have become aware that their families may have wanted to take them abroad to marry and needed help.
"The fact we are getting more reports is positive because it helps us help the victims. The culture is changing."
Det Insp Williams said victims would often seek help from within their family, or community but "it can be hard for them to know who they can trust".
He said: "It takes a lot for a victim to seek help from someone outside their family."
The police are working with faith groups and inside communities to raise awareness of honour crime and forced marriages and the help available.
They have also gone to the courts to help a 16-year-old, from Loughborough, who was tricked into travelling to Bangladesh to attend a family wedding, only to discover it was she who was to marry.
When the teenager returned home, in November, she went to the police who secured a civil court order, getting her safe lodgings away from her family and banning them from contacting her for two years.
Meena Kumari, of Safe, a police-backed support group in Leicester, said the victims were usually girls but sometimes boys.
She said they could be as young as nine but were often 15, 16, or 17.
She said: "We can help them by arranging accommodation away from their families and ensuring they know that they have options and their future doesn't have to be defined, against their will."
Chayara Chowdhury, a liaison officer for the Bangladesh Social Association, in Loughborough, said cases like the one in the town that prompted the police order were very rare.
She said: "Here, we are fortunate because views in the community have moved on a lot.
"A point often not understood is that arranged marriages are different to forced marriage.
"I was brought up here, had an arranged marriage in Bangladesh and my husband and I have been happily married for 20 years.
"Arranged marriages are where families come to an agreement with everybody's consent.
"Forced marriages can involve threats and we have moved on a long way from that."
In June, survivors of forced marriages are to visit Leicester, as part of a nationwide tour arranged by the charity Karma Nirvana.
For help with a forced marriage issue, call police on 0116 222 2222 or Safe on 0800 022 3353.