A LEADING domestic abuse, stalking and harassment lawyer has criticised the government for ‘holding forced marriage victims to ransom’.

Rachel Horman, head of North West-based Watson Ramsbottom Solicitors, was responding to newspaper reports which revealed British victims of forced marriages overseas are being asked to pay costs associated with their rescue by the Foreign Office. These included flights, food and shelter and they were made to take out a loan to cover them.

Ms Horman, who has sat on two All Party Parliamentary Groups for Stalking & Harassment and Domestic Violence, said: “All too often this issue is still treated as a family dispute rather than the heinous crime that it is. Forced Marriage often involves kidnap, false imprisonment, assault, threats to kill and rape. It also carries a high risk of victims being murdered if they try to resist or escape.

“There is a very good reason that when (mainly) young women report that they are concerned about this, even in the UK, the police as a matter of course take DNA from them so that their remains can be identified easier after a homicide.

“The fact that the government then compound this awful abuse by holding the victim to ransom by refusing to help them unless they pay or take out a loan is shameful.

“These victims are often very vulnerable and as they are being abused by family members often have no one they can go to for help. They often have to leave their community and are unable to have any relationship with family members or friends from that community due to the risk. How are they supposed to repay a loan? By asking the same family members who have abused them?

“It’s not as though they have gone on holiday and in some way recklessly lost their passport and are turning to the foreign office for help. These are victims of the worst crimes imaginable and to respond by demanding money as a condition for providing help makes the government almost as bad as the perpetrators of the abuse as it may leave many feeling as though they cannot access the help they need. Access to justice and protection from violence, torture and rape should never be dependent on finances and the government needs to rectify this issue immediately.”

This month Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “I am going to look into that issue and I’ve asked for advice from my officials and we must always behave with compassion and humanity and look at these situations on an individual basis.”

“But I think the important thing to say here is that we are very good at getting these girls and women home after this terrible ordeal of a force marriage and we do that in our country and we are known for the fact that we have this huge diplomatic network around the world that is very very good at helping Brits in distress in situations like this.”