By Nadeem Badshah
URGENT action is needed to support victims whose relatives pretend to have an illness in order to control them, according to charities and experts.
With schools reopening for the first time since March, they have called for teachers to be on alert for “emotional abuse” being used to force people to marry, remain with family members or for financial gain.
The issue was recently covered in BBC soap EastEnders, which returned to our screens this week (September 7) after the coronavirus lockdown.
Suki Panesar, played by actress Balvinder Sopal, lied that she had breast cancer to reunite with her estranged daughter and keep her three sons living with her. The false claims were later exposed by her tenant Jean Slater, a cancer survivor.
Sundari Anitha, professor of gender, violence and work at the University of Lincoln, told Eastern Eye: “I have come across this often in the context of forced marriage. It is used to exert emotional pressure ‘I want to see you married before I die’ or ‘you saying no is making me worse and stressed with my high blood pressure and heart trouble’.
“Pretend illnesses are also used to get people out of the country, they are told their grandmother or grandfather is ill.
“Also, the threat of taking their own life, claiming shame will be brought upon their family if they refuse a marriage.
“When people have left the family home to go to a refuge, an illness is used as a ruse to bring them back. It is used as a form of coercion to make people act how they don’t want to act.”
Professor Anitha, who is researching forced marriage protection orders and the impact of lockdown, added: “All forms of domestic violence have increased, schools are often a protective factor – access to teachers and peers. Lockdown has taken out all these forms of support with no breaks from the abuser. Now schools are reopening, they have to raise more awareness and be alert if someone hasn’t come back and pick up on these things.”
Recent cases of people convicted over health cons include Jasmin Mistry, who was jailed in 2018 for lying to family and friends about suffering from terminal brain cancer to dupe them out of £250,000. She told her then husband Vijay Katechia she had the disease and showed him a bogus WhatsApp message that he thought was from her doctor.
Last month, Kevin Bevis was jailed for 18 months in Kent after a bogus cancer diagnosis to stop his girlfriend leaving him. He had asked his partner to travel with him to a London hospital and took “medication” daily, which turned out to be vitamins.
The Halo Project in Middlesbrough, North Yorkshire, supports abuse victims. One survivor told the charity “a bruise heals, but the pain of years of emotional abuse will stay with me forever.
“I have lost my confidence; I don’t know who I am anymore; no one can believe the emotional scars I have.”
Yasmin Khan, director of the Halo Project, told Eastern Eye: “Control is a key feature of abuse within the BAME communities. The emotional and coercive nature of abuse which specific groups encounter have real impact and trauma on the [victims].
“The Halo Project supports women and children where emotional abuse has far reaching consequences, the trauma is real and impacts on their wellbeing.
“We must ensure where abuse is presented we understand the complexities.
“The harsh reality being this type of abuse is not widely understood, we are developing trauma informed approaches and programmes to ensure we understand, act appropriately and provide the necessary support victims of emotional abuse need.”
The Domestic Abuse Bill, currently going through Parliament, will introduce a statutory definition that includes physical violence but also emotional, coercive and economic abuse.
Jas Kalsi, a lawyer in London, has spoken out about cases of emotional abuse within families, on social media.
She said: “A lot of mostly south Asian men need to divorce from their mothers or sisters before thinking of divorcing their wives.
“I see so many men so dominated by their mothers that I call it emotional abuse. Very sad.”
Kalsi added: “Parental interference in the lives of their children is undoubtedly a huge problem. There is a fine line between interference and actual emotional manipulation by a parent to cause unnecessary damage to their child’s marriage to the extent the spouse and kids suffer.”
It comes after Avon and Somerset Police urged communities to look out for signs of domestic abuse. The force said: “Psychological and emotional abuse is known as coercive control.
“This type of abuse can be difficult to spot but can make victims question their worth, limit their contact with friends and family, and make victims feel they can’t cope alone.”