VICTIMS of forced marriage and honour based abuse are feared to be suffering in silence across the Bradford district.

The crimes are thought to be under-reported in West Yorkshire, raising concerns with campaigners for victims.

A conference in Bradford today, to raise awareness of the issues, was told that communities needed to be the eyes and ears to protect and support those at risk.

Jasvinder Sanghera, chief executive of the West Yorkshire-based charity Karma Nirvana, which supports survivors of forced marriage and honour based abuse, said it was an area of significant under reporting and many people were at risk during the summer holidays.

Ms Sanghera, who fled a forced marriage when she was 16, said West Yorkshire was an area of concern. The charity had dealt with 167 cases in the county in 2014 but that decreased to 85 last year.

She said: “We want to see an increase in reporting, not a decrease. It concerns me. It is telling me that victims do not know the helpline exists.”

Ms Sanghera told the audience, which included a number of community representatives, as well as social workers, health visitors, police and lawyers, that a typical case was that of 17-year-old Bradford girl Shafilea Ahmed, who was murdered by her parents.

She said Shafilea was a bright, ambitious young girl who wanted to be a barrister and had everything to live for. She wanted to do the basic things that some people took for granted and that led to her murder.

Ms Sanghera said victims of forced marriage and honour abuse faced multiple family perpetrators, many of them women like mothers, sisters and aunties. She said British-born young Asian women had a higher suicide rate - her own sister had set herself on fire rather than face abuse - and claimed many victims were let down by a lack of understanding from professionals.

She said they had to inspire young people to understand support was available.

West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, told the conference there was much more to do in raising awareness.

“We have all got a job to do to say to young people in our communities in Bradford, and elsewhere, that there is help out there. You do not need to be forced into a marriage or abused within the family setting. We have to support vulnerable people in this.”

The national honour helpline, which will be staffed seven days a week after extra funding, is 0800 5999247.