A POWERFUL new campaign has been launched to spread awareness around forced marriage and abuse against women.

This week, Middlesbrough-based charity The Halo Project will be working with Cleveland Police and the Police & Crime Commissioner as well as specialist domestic abuse services and health authorities to spread the message that forced marriage and ‘honour-based’ violence are illegal harms not cultural norms.

The Halo Project will be holding events to spread awareness including a ‘Day of Memory’ on Sunday, July 14 in remembrance of victims of honour-based violence.

It is held on the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed who was murdered by her parents in 2003 at the age of 17 after suffering from abuse.

Yasmin Khan, founder of The Halo Project, said there was much work still to be done in terms of prevention, protection and support.

She said: “Women who we work with are like warriors in terms of their tolerance of inhumane treatment.

“We must work with communities, victims and survivors to help them before they reach crisis level.

“Survivors can help us to learn, act and change the way society deals with honour-based violence.

“Change is now, change is together, together we must eradicate this abhorrent abuse of human rights.”

Councillor Mieka Smiles, Middlesbrough Council’s Executive member for Culture and Communities, added: “Honour-based violence has nothing to do with honour - it is just a crime.

“The same is true of forced marriage, so is vital that we increase awareness and learn from survivors and specialist services to improve prevention and response, across all cultures and communities.”

Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner Barry Coppinger, said: “Crimes like forced marriage and honour-based violence can be complex and challenging for agencies to tackle, as it requires them to challenge long-standing cultural practices that are, in fact, abuse.

“The key to breaking the cycle of illegal cultural harms is educating communities to understand that these practices are criminal offences under UK law and to encourage community leaders to join the police and other agencies in condemning them.”

As part of the awareness week, a conference will be held today in Middlesbrough, entitled It’s Not Culture, It’s Abuse and will feature talks from Cleveland Police, the Halo Project and Durham Police and Crime Commissioner Ron Hogg.

Speaking before the conference, Mr Hogg said: “There is still a long way to go to ensure this abuse is stamped out. We need to encourage more people to report this kind of incident. The Police, working with partner organisations, want to be able to provide an effective response on every occasion, and help to keep victims safe.

“If anyone is aware of a victim, or potential victim, they should feel able to report them to the Police. Alternatively, HALO is a charity that can provide comprehensive support to victims. All contact can be anonymous, at the victim’s request."