The demographics of forced marriage of people with learning disabilities: findings from a national database

Date13 March 2020
Publication Date13 March 2020
AuthorRachael Clawson,Anne Patterson,Rachel Fyson,Michelle McCarthy
SubjectHealth & social care,Vulnerable groups,Adult protection,Safeguarding,Sociology,Sociology of the family,Abuse
The demographics of forced marriage of
people with learning disabilities: ndings
from a national database
Rachael Clawson, Anne Patterson, Rachel Fyson and Michelle McCarthy
Purpose The purpose of this study is to compare the UK demographics of forced marriage of people with
learning disabilities and people without learning disabilitiesto inform effective safeguarding practice.
Design/methodology/approach An analysis of all cases of forced marriage reported to the UK
Government’sForced Marriage Unit (FMU) between2009 and 2015.
Findings People with learning disabilities are at fivetimes greater risk of forced marriage than people without
learning disabilities. Men and women wi th learning disabilities are equally likely to be forced to marry , whereas
amongst the general population, women are more likely than men to be forced to marry. Patterns of ethnicity,
geographic location within the UKand reporters are the same for people with and without learning disabilities.
Research limitations/implications The analysisis based on cases reported to the FMU,and for some
cases, data held was incomplete. More importantly, many cases go unreported and so the FMU data
does not necessarilyreflect all cases of forced marriage in the UK.
Practical implications Forced marriage of people with learning disabilities is a safeguardingissue.
Practitionersacross health, education, criminal justiceand social care need to better understand therisk
of forced marriage for peoplewith learning disabilities. Links to practice resources developedas part of
the wider projectare provided.
Originality/value This is the first time that researchershave been given access to FMU data and the
first time that a statisticalanalysis of cases of forced marriage involvingsomeone with a learning disability
have beenanalysed.
Keywords Intellectual disability, Learning disability, Disability
Paper type Research paper
Forced marriage is a safeguarding issue which may affect people of any age, sex,
sexuality, religion, ethnicity, country of origin or (dis)ability. However, as with other
safeguarding issues, some people may be at heightened risk. It is important to understand
variations in risk of forced marriage at both an individual and population level, so that
safeguarding resources and staff training can be appropriately targeted. The true extent of
forced marriage in the UK and elsewhere is not and perhaps cannot be known with any
degree of certainty. A number of studies of forced marriage have been undertaken in the
UK [see Chantler (2012) for an overview of six studies] but, in the UK and elsewhere, little is
known about forced marriage of people with learning disabilities. However, it is known that
people with learning disabilities are at risk of forced marriage; that very real differences
exist between victims with and without learning disabilities and the ways they are (or are
not) protected from harm; and that practitioners across a range of professional groups find
it challenging to both recognise and respond adequately to forced marriage of this group
(Clawson, 2016;McCarthyet al.,2020).
Rachael Clawson is based
at the School of Social
Work, University of
Nottingham, Nottingham,
UK. Anne Patterson is
based at the School of
Sociology and Social
Policy, University of
Nottingham, Nottingham,
UK. Rachel Fyson is based
at the School of Sociology
and Social Policy,
University of Nottingham,
Nottingham, UK.
Michelle McCarthy is based
at the Tizard Centre,
University of Kent,
Canterbury, UK.
Received 6 September 2019
Revised 8 January 2020
24 January 2020
Accepted 10 February 2020
The authors are grateful to the
Forced Marriage Unit for their
time and effort in providing ano-
nymised data to facilitate this
study. The authors also grate-
fully acknowledge the funders,
NIHR School for Social Care
Research, for their financial
Disclaimer: This report is based
on independent research
funded by the NIHR School for
Social Care Research; the
views expressed are those of
the authors and not necessarily
those of the NIHR School for
Social Care Research or the
Department of Health, NIHR or
DOI 10.1108/JAP-09-2019-0029 VOL. 22 NO. 2 2020, pp. 59-74, ©Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1466-8203 jTHE JOURNAL OF ADULT PROTECTION jPAGE 59
In 2005, the UK-wide Forced MarriageUnit (FMU), jointly overseen by the Home Office and
the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, was established to prevent the forced marriage of UK
citizens, both in the UK and worldwide. It does this through outreach and educational
activities, through providing advice to those who have been forced to marry or may be at
risk of forced marriage and through intervening in individual cases. Individualcasework can
include working with other local, national and international government agencies to prevent
forced marriages from taking place and/or to safeguard victims where forced marriages
have already occurred. In the UK, casework can involvethe FMU offering advice; helping to
find the victim a safe place to stay; helping to stopa UK visa if the victim has been forced to
sponsor someone; and helping to applyto the court for a Forced Marriage Protection Order.
The FMU also collates annual statistics on the cases of forced marriage that are reported
via its helpline (Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office,2018a, 2018b). This
paper uses FMU data to explore forced marriage of people with learning disabilities to
improve safeguarding responses.
Forced marriage and the law
The UK Government defines forced marriageas occurring when “one or both people do not
(or in cases of people with learning disabilities or reduced capacity, cannot) consent to the
marriage” (Home Office, 2018). Forced marriage is different to arranged marriage where
the family takes the lead in choosing a potential spouse but both parties have the right to
refuse a potential match. As the definition suggests, people who lack the capacity to
consent to marry may be particularly vulnerable to forced marriage; this includes people
with learning disabilities. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014,s.121)
makes it clear that:
In relation to a victim who lacks capacity to consent to marriage,the offence [of forcing someone
to marry] is capable of being committed by any conduct carried out for the purpose of causing
the victim to enter into a marriage (whether or not the conduct amounts to violence, threats or any
other form of coercion).
This means that “force”, duress or coercionare not needed for a marriage to be considered
a forced marriage: all that is needed is for one (or both) parties to be unable to lawfully
consent to the marriage because of mental incapacity. Moreover, because the decision to
marry is not a decision that can ever be made on behalf of anotherperson (Mental Capacity
Act, 2005, s.27: excluded decisions), this means that some people with learning disabilities
may be unable to marry. Forcing someone to marry is an offence regardless of whether the
marriage takes place in the UK or elsewhere and regardless of whether the ceremony is
civil, religious or designated as marriage by custom. The offence of forcing someone to
marry is punishable by up to seven years in prisonand an unlimited fine.
Previous research funded by the FMU (Clawson, 2011;Clawson and Fyson, 2017), based
on a survey of practitioners whohad worked with victims of forced marriage, suggested that
the demographics of forced marriageof people with learning disabilities were different from
those of people without learning disabilities. As a consequence, from 2009 onwards, the
FMU introduced “disability” as a new item of data on which it would collect information
whenever an actual or attemptedforced marriage was reported (Table I).
As can be seen, FMU data shows thatfrom 2010 to 2014, the percentage of reported cases
of forced marriage involving a person with learning disabilities rose fairlysteadily, and since
then have remained broadly static. This is likely to be attributable to improved recording
practices within the FMU and the publication in 2010 of the UK’s first practice guidelines on
forced marriage and learning disability(HM Government, 2010).
As part of a wider study of forced marriage involving people with learning disabilities in the
UK, this paper reports an analysis of cases of forced marriage reported to the FMU as
involving at least one person with a learning disability. The particularfocus of the analysis is

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