Media Statement: Joint Submission with Muslim Women Australia on Forced Marriage

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (“the Council”) and Muslim Women Australia (“MWA”) have filed a joint submission into the New South Wales Review of Legal Protections against Forced Marriage.

Comments from Lydia Shelly, President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties
The legal responses to forced marriages largely ignores the victim-survivor’s lived experience of forced marriage. If we are to develop a holistic response to forced marriage, then this must be remedied, and the victim-survivor’s experiences must be considered in a meaningful and tangible way.

Forced marriage is often thought of as an “event” and not the process of coercive and controlling behaviours that can be perpetrated by family, friends, community and others who are in positions of trust and authority.

Whilst a legislative response is required as part of a holistic response to forced marriage, more must be done to prevent forced marriages from occurring. It is in this “preventative” space that holds the most promise in addressing the complex factors that increase the risk of a forced marriage occurring.

The reality is that the majority of victim-survivors do not readily identify themselves as being at risk of, or a party to a forced marriage. Any intervention that exists must include community led initiatives and must reflect the cultural and religious norms within these communities.

Government should be focusing efforts on strengthening collaboration and trust between communities, community organisations, agencies and service providers.

We acknowledge the immense harm that those in our governments have caused with respect to social cohesion when they have demonised communities, such as the refugee and Muslim communities. This does little to cultivate trust between communities most at risk of experiencing forced marriages. Legal protections are only effective if there is community cooperation and further training for frontline service providers and agencies.

We are concerned that legislative reform, such as expanding the standing of those who may be able to apply for an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order on behalf of a victim-survivor, will not address the complex factors that result in forced marriages occurring.

Any assistance that is provided to victim-survivors must not be dependent on involvement with law enforcement or the criminal justice system. Currently, the majority of assistance that could be provided to victim-survivors are often too late and are dependent on law enforcement being involved.