Three arrested after alleged forced marriage of Shepparton woman

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Three people have been charged in connection to the alleged forced marriage of a 20-year-old Victorian woman, who later became the victim of an alleged homicide in Western Australia.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) arrested a 44-year-old woman and 22-year-old man who are related to the victim, along with a 30-year-old woman in Shepparton on Tuesday, 6 October 2020.

The AFP Human Trafficking Team and Victoria Police executed search warrants across two residential properties in the north east Victorian regional city after arresting the trio in the morning.

In August 2019, AFP Human Trafficking Team detectives met with the victim who alleged members of her family were threatening and coercing her into participating in a forced marriage, organised by a woman in her community.

She was offered police intervention and protection, emergency safety planning and alternative accommodation via the Red Cross Support for Trafficked People Program (STPP).

The woman was offered assistance to leave her situation on several occasions.

It is alleged the 20-year-old woman was coerced into marriage with a Western Australian man in a ceremony held in Shepparton in November, 2019.

The AFP allege the woman did not freely consent to this marriage. The woman then travelled to Western Australia to live with her husband.

In January 2020, the Western Australian Police Force Homicide Squad confirmed the death of the victim, with a 25-year-old man charged in connection to her alleged murder.

The two women and man arrested on Tuesday have been charged with causing a person to enter a forced marriage under section 270.7B (1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

This is the second time this charge has been used in the state of Victoria.

The 30-year-old woman and 20-year-old man faced the Shepparton Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday (6 October, 2020) and were bailed to reappear at a later date.

The 44-year-old woman also appeared at the Shepparton Magistrates' Court on Wednesday (7 October, 2020) and was also bailed to reappear again at a later date.

AFP Southern Command Acting Commander Investigations Jayne Crossling said while it can be incredibly difficult for vulnerable victims to come forward, there is help and protection available.

“This is a particularly tragic example of a vulnerable victim in an alleged forced marriage situation, and underscores why the AFP dedicates significant resources to this issue nationally,” she said.

“We understand that removing a person from an anticipated forced marriage situation, or interceding with family members without the consent of the victim can risk creating a more harmful domestic situation for a vulnerable person,” she said.

“The AFP’s position is to accommodate the person’s wishes with their overall welfare in mind. However, we want victims to know that the AFP, and its partners, can assist victims, offer protection and intervene, where appropriate, through a range of mechanisms including border alerts and court orders.”

Acting Commander Crossling said the AFP recognised and appreciated the assistance that members of the public, particularly from within the local Afghan community, have provided in relation to this investigation.

“Human Trafficking including forced marriage does not discriminate. This issue goes beyond borders or religious affiliation. Victims of human trafficking can be male or female, adults or children and come from all walks of life, community, nationality and culture,” she said.

If you or someone you know is being forced to marry and you need immediate assistance you can call 131 AFP (237) or use our online form to report information regarding human trafficking.

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