As the Chief Crown Prosecutor of north-west England, Nazir Afzal has helped to prosecute some of the most high profile sexual abuse cases in recent years, including the Rochdale grooming scandal where a group of nine men were jailed for grooming teenagers to exploit in prostitution rings. Having been exposed to some of the most horrifying circumstances women are forced into, Afzal – who has stepped down as prosecutor and will be starting his new position as one of the Welsh Government’s new advisors for violence against women – has made a promise to work toward making Wales one of the safest places to be a woman in Europe.
“Having prosecuted perpetrators from more than 60 countries and [dealt with] victims from more than 50 countries, I know there isn’t any community where women and girls are safe,” Afzal told BBC News. “It’s a power thing and power sadly infects every community and therefore our responsibility has to begin with listening to victims and survivors.”
Afzal believes the solution to the problem of gender violence begins by empowering victims to step forward. BBC reported that, between the years 2013 and 2015, there was a 20 percent increase in reported violence against women. “We need to encourage more people to come forward and then, when they come forward, we need to provide them with support,” Afzal said.
The other key component to combating sexual assault involves addressing perpetrators and potential perpetrators directly. “I think the answer to everything is education,” Afzal stated. “If you look at every serious case review I’ve ever seen in my life in the last 20 years, it starts off with ‘recommendation one: information should have been shared.’”
Despite having to witness the tragic reality of what many women must face in their lives, Afzal remains hopeful for the future. “You have to be optimistic in this business because there are victims groups around the country, but particularly in Wales, who are doing phenomenal work for nothing. They’re doing it with literally no money in their back pocket, they’re working as volunteers protecting women and victims and potential victims, and they need us to be optimistic for them because they aren’t doing it because they’re told to do it or because it’s a job. They do it because it’s absolutely essential as a society.”
Afzal’s new role will have him working alongside Yasmin Kahn, founder the Halo Project, a charity that helps “victims of honour-based violence, forced marriages, and FGM.” The pair will serve to advise the country on how to best implement legislation regarding issues that pertain to violence against women; they will also work with victims and survivors directly to ensure they are receiving the appropriate services and treatment.
“We should be valuing people who work in the public services and my role, and the role of Yasmin Kahn, is to make sure the agencies learn from each other, share information and work better together,” Afzal said. Afzal and Kahn understand that establishing Wales as the safest place for women is a huge task to take on, but both believe it will be doable with the help of the inspiring people who are already working towards the goal.
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