Shain Lester, from Walsall in the English Midlands, was awaiting her GCSE exam results in 1990 when she was tricked into going on a family holiday to India.
"I was told it was a summer holiday, a time to have some fun and relax after my GCSEs. But it turned out I was being lured abroad to marry a man I'd never met before, who didn't speak English, and with whom I had nothing in common. I was 16, just a child, I didn't want to marry anyone let alone a stranger. But I felt I had no option, I was in a foreign country with no-one to turn to; it was expected of me and if I refused it would somehow bring shame on the family," said Shain, who spent four months in India and then came back to England with her new husband, who had secured a spousal visa.
Suffered Regular Beatings and Rapes
Shain suffered regular beatings, rapes and sexual assaults before taking shelter at a women's refuge.
This is Shafilea Ahmed. Tomorrow would have been her 32nd birthday. She was murdered by her parents for refusing a forced marriage. An estimated 20,000 women are killed worldwide for “Honour”. For information about forced marriage or to get help visit:— DevonCornwall Police (@DC_Police) 13 July 2018
"I lived with this man for seven months, the worst seven months of my life and I knew I had to leave as I couldn't take it any longer. I left the family home for a women's refuge. It was the first step in rebuilding my life," she said.
Shain, who is now 43, was speaking at a conference held on the eve of what would have been the 32nd birthday of Shafilea Ahmed, a 17-year-old student from Warrington in the north of England, who was killed by her parents and dumped in a stream in the Lake District after she became too "westernized" and rejected a forced marriage. Saturday, July 14, is now a national Day of Memory for all victims of honor killings.
When Shain made her allegations back in 1990 the police were ill-prepared for such a culturally sensitive case and no charges were ever brought.
But nowadays police forces across the UK are well aware of the dangers of forced marriages and so-called honor crimes and are prepared to take action.
DS Trudy Gittins opens our Day of Memory conference by asking us all to remember Shafilea Ahmed — a 17 year old girl who was killed by her parents in 2003 for not wanting a forced marriage #stopforcedmarriage #weremember pic.twitter.com/BsX7Bgndpq— WMP Sentinel Team (@wmpsentinel) 13 July 2018
"I now work in a police environment and see that officers are well-trained to protect potential victims of forced marriage and honor-based abuse. Support is out there and I would urge anyone worried about being forced into marriage to seek help," said Shain, who works with West Midlands Police helping to idenfity the immigration status of crime victims.
'No-One Should Suffer Like I Did'
"There are no doubt many other women and men, boys and girls enduring the same as I did. No-one should be expected to suffer like this and put up with abuse for fear of somehow damaging 'family honour'," said Shain, who is now happily remarried.
"There needs to be a change in the South Asian community. Women need to be empowered to speak out about sensitive issues, abuse that goes on behind closed doors, and understand there is help out there," said Shain.
In 2012 Shafilea Ahmed's parents Iftikhar, 51, and Farzana, 48, were jailed for life and told they must serve at least 25 years behind bars.
The couple — who were both born in Pakistan — were only convicted after Shafilea's younger sister Alesha gave evidence against her parents in court.