How can I support someone in, or at risk of, a forced marriage?
Everyone in Australia is free to choose whether they marry. There are some practical steps you can take to support someone at risk of, or experiencing, forced marriage.
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If you, or someone you know, are in immediate danger call 000 now.
If you are concerned that a friend or family member may be forced to marry contact the Australian Federal Police on 131 237 or complete the online form on the AFP website. Their role is broad; they can help to increase safety and specifically seek orders to stop someone being taken out of Australia. Contact with the AFP can be anonymous.
What is forced marriage?
A forced marriage happens when a person gets married without freely and fully consenting, because they have been coerced, threatened or deceived.
Coercion can include the use of physical or sexual violence or the threat of physical or sexual violence, and refusing to let somebody leave a particular place or location, like the family home. Other types of coercion involve psychological and emotional pressure, such as making a person feel responsibility for, or ashamed of, the consequences of not marrying, such as bringing shame on their family. Forced marriage is a crime in Australia.
The forced marriage offences apply to cultural, religious or legal marriages. They apply to marriages that occur in Australia, marriages where a person was brought to Australia to get married, and marriages where a person is taken overseas to get married.
Forced marriage is not limited to any particular cultural group, religion or ethnicity. Anybody can be a victim of forced marriage, regardless of their age, gender or sexual orientation.
Forced marriage is never acceptable. This is why Australia has passed laws to make it illegal for anyone to force another person to marry. Australia’s laws against forced marriage criminalise causing somebody to enter a forced marriage as well as being a party to, but not a victim of, a forced marriage.
How can I tell if someone is in, or is at risk of, a forced marriage?
The forced marriage offences apply to cultural, religious or legal marriages that occur in Australia (including where a person was brought to Australia to get married) as well as where a person is taken from Australia to get married overseas. The following signs could mean that a person is in a forced marriage, or at risk of being made to enter into a forced marriage:
- a sudden announcement that the person is engaged
- the person’s older brothers or sisters stopped going to school or were married early
- the person’s family have a lot of control over the person’s life which doesn’t seem normal or necessary (for example the person is never allowed out or always has to have somebody from the family with them)
- the person displays signs of depression, self-harming, social isolation and/or substance abuse
- the person seems scared or nervous about an upcoming family holiday overseas
- the person spends a long time away from school, university or work
- the person often doesn’t come to, or suddenly withdraws from, school university or work
- the person does not have control over their income
- the person is unable to make significant decisions about their future, including without consultation or agreement from their parents
- there is evidence of family disputes or conflict, domestic or family violence, or running away from home
Forced marriage is different from an arranged marriage or a sham marriage. An arranged marriage involves the introduction of potential spouses through the involvement of a third party or family member. It requires the consent of both parties who can agree or refuse to marry. A sham marriage is a fake marriage willingly entered into by both parties for fraudulent purposes.
How can I get help?
- Take their fears seriously.
- There are many barriers, difficult choices and often well-founded fears and concerns involved in leaving – including an escalation in violence, homelessness and poverty. They may not be ready or it may not be safe to leave.
- Help sort through options to increase safety. See the list of resources below.
- Help in practical ways with transport, appointments, child minding, or a place to stay.
- If there are children involved, give them a sense of your care and support and seek appropriate help for them through a child or family service. You may have mandatory reporting obligations.
There are several organisations in Australia that respond specifically to forced marriage, and you can contact them for support. The following organisations have a particular role to play:
- the Australian Federal Police are specially trained to investigate suspected cases of forced marriage. They can provide access to appropriate support services and respond quickly to seek orders to prevent a person being taken overseas to be forcibly married even when that person does not want to assist with an investigation or prosecution
- Anti-Slavery Australia can provide comprehensive legal advice, and
- 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732) can provide counselling and assistance with safety planning, as can domestic and family violence services
Making a safety plan
A safety plan is a guide to help increase safety for your friend or family member. If you would like support with the process of making this plan contact your local domestic and family violence service or 1800RESPECT. A plan can then help to think through options for increasing safety considering the particular needs and situation of your friend or family member.
There is also specific information on developing a safety plan for people in, or at risk of, a forced marriage. The Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department has developed the Forced Marriage Community Pack which includes a safety planning booklet.
The Forced Marriage Community Pack
The Attorney-General’s Department has produced a comprehensive Forced Marriage Community Pack that includes a range of materials for use by people in, or at risk of, forced marriage and the general community. Visit the Attorney-General’s website and scroll down to the resources under the heading 'Forced marriage community pack'. The frequently asked questions sheet, safety plan and template and small fold-away booklet from the forced marriage community pack are available in the following community languages: Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Somali, Tamil and Urdu.
The Australian Federal Police 131 AFP (131 237)
Anti-Slavery Australia 02 9514 9662
Translating and interpreting Service (TIS) 131 450
These resources were developed for 1800RESPECT in collaboration with