Domestic Abuse Bill

Written evidence submitted by Vanessa d'Esterre (DAB55)

New emerging Domestic Abuse crimes for consideration in the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019/2020

Domestic and Transnational Sham Marriage and Sham Civil Partnerships

1. Sham Marriage is not a Romance Scam, International Romance Fraud, Forced Marriage, Fake Wedding or a Marriage of Convenience.

2. Terminology and accurate definition is vital for the Domestic Abuse Bill and for the response to victims of Sham Marriage, Sham Civil Partnership and Fake Weddings. I refer to Sham Marriage rather than Fake Marriage; the reason for this is three fold:

The submission is victim focused. The victims who participated and the women who could not, strongly feel that they identify and prefer the use of the term Sham Marriage rather than a fake Marriage. Additionally, Sham (Marriage) in its legal sense has long since been used in the UK.

The difference between a Sham Marriage, Sham Civil Partnership and a Fake Wedding is that Fake Weddings are perpetrated by Organised Crime Gangs, Wedding Planners and Fixers, who coerce victims of Sex Trafficking, migrant women, sex workers and vulnerable women to participate in a Fake Wedding. Individuals are being paid £2,000-£10,000 for their services in this Fake Wedding crime. However, it needs to be remembered that there are unintended vulnerable victims of this crime who also need protection.

The difference between a Sham Marriage and a Forced Marriage is that women who are targeted for Sham Marriage, willingly enter in to the marriage.

The defining difference: A Wedding is an activity, a legal contract made between two people, whereas a Marriage or a Civil Marriage is the legally or formally recognised union of two people as partners in a personal loving and lasting relationship.

The definition: A sham marriage or civil partnership is one where the relationship is not genuine but one party hopes to gain immigration, economic or financial advantage. Simultaneously to commit fraud, money laundering and extortion. There is no subsisting relationship, dependency, or intent to live as husband and wife or civil partners, or remain with their children.

*See the Home Office investigation 2015, below.

3. Similarly, BME migrant, Refugee and vulnerable women on Spouse Visas also experience intimate partner violence and abuse and who are also excluded from DVA bill reforms and protections. See also the published submission from Southall Black Sisters on Transnational Marriage Abandonment aka ‘stranded spouses’ another new and emerging form of domestic abuse

4. Central to a Sham Marriage, Sham Civil Partnership and some Fake Weddings is Intimate Personal Violence and Abuse, to include spiritual abuse since faith is used as a weapon. Sham Marriage needs to be reframed as a specific type of Transnational Domestic Abuse within the UK Government Definition. Sham Marriage is under the radar and it is the UK's untold Visa Scandal since the crime itself is committed by taking advantage of loopholes in EU and UK Immigration Law to circumvent customary immigration procedures. Sham Marriage together with Sham Civil Partnership and Fake Weddings is a vital omission in the Draft Domestic Abuse bill. It is a Public Protection, Public Health and a National Security issue with financial and economic consequences for victims, their children and the UK.

5. Offenders are motivated by British citizenship, financial and economic gain, to include purchase of land, property, and/or businesses and to enhance their career and standing in society. Gaslighting and coercion of victims and their children is constant throughout and is so insidious and subtle that the victim’s friends and extended family are also led to believe that the Marriage is real. It is for this reason victims feel terrorised, traumatised, silenced and unable to process what is happening to them. Notwithstanding that at some point they will recognise abuse in their marriage; they will feel powerless to report for fear of not being understood, dis-believed, fear of being called a racist or it deemed an act of stereotypical revenge. With this type of Domestic Abuse, the women were unaware that they had entered into a Sham Marriage and were not at any point during the four year process, interviewed by the Home Office or the UK Immigration Department.

6. These cases are the tip of the iceberg and highlight the commonalities of predatory behaviours where victims, deemed economically viable, are targeted, gaslighted and coercively controlled post marriage. The victims and their family suffer financial and economic abuse, domestic and sexual abuse, reproductive abuse, spiritual and religious abuse and stalking. These cases also illuminate a direct link to long term limiting health issues for victims and their children, impacting on mental and physical ill health as a consequence. This is further exacerbated by economic hardship and deprivation of lifestyle and poverty following separation. Survivors term this Sham Marriage - and indeed this would also apply to Sham Civil Partnerships - as it is readily identifiable. Victims and survivors also feel a vital need in recovery to have their Sham Marriage annulled.

7. In Sham Marriage distinct age, gender and socio-economic groups are targeted; victims are approached and gaslighted into marriage, which primarily features as a high risk marker when behaviours include abuse of victims’ children and pets, threats to kill, stalking, criminal transmission, reproductive abuse, GBH, Sexual Violence and sabotaging criminal cases by intimidating and assaulting witnesses. The victims experienced intimate partner violence and abuse (IPVA), sexual abuse, financial and economic abuse, to include loss of salary, career, life savings and inheritance. Survivors suffered economic hardship, deprivation of lifestyle and loss of family cohesion. However in both case studies Sham Marriage is not just a crime of IPVA, it also has interlinking crimes - these crimes include, but are not limited to: Fraud by false representation; Extortion, Money Laundering, Rape, Sexual Abuse, Criminal Transmission, Reproductive Abuse, Stalking and inter-connecting crimes. Offender’s behaviours can therefore be a predictor of organised crime, Immigration Fraud and/or terrorism.

8. In Domestic Sham Marriage, one foreign national was an illegal immigrant and had initially not gone through the correct channels. He held a Visa issued in Italy and a UK National Insurance Number Card, both in a pseudo name. The offender gained citizenship in 2008 and was not held accountable for any crimes, despite the victim repeatedly reporting to several statutory agencies.

9. In Transnational Sham Marriage the offender had gone through the correct channels, having had several passports issued in his own name, but each with different ages. This offender absconded from the UK after his passport was confiscated by UK Police following arrest and being charged with Rape. He skipped bail and used a friend’s passport to return to Ghana. He is still wanted by UK Police and is awaiting an Extradition Order four years on. 4 June 2020 - Update: the offender will now not be extradited for GBH - Criminal Transmission and rape.

10. It’s vital to include, define and name Sham Marriage, Sham Civil Partnership and Fake Weddings in the Domestic Abuse Bill and for serial offenders to be placed on the Violent and Sexual Offender Register (ViSOR). This will enable perpetrators to be monitored, tracked, and managed, preventing escalating and interlinking crimes; suicide or Femicide. It is also of vital importance that the UK Government tables time to ratify the Istanbul Convention, which affords extra-territorial jurisdictions and unparalleled measures to protect victims across all its EU State members and vitally including GREVIO. Because of the Global scope of offenders of these crimes it is also imperative to assert UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, UN CEDAW Convention.

11. It is pivotal that the Domestic Abuse Sector, UK Visa and Immigration Service, Health, Social Housing and Statutory agencies recognise Sham Marriages and Fake Weddings within the context of IPVA and understand its interlinking crimes, specific abuses, threats and high risk factors to which victims are subjected. This is necessary in order that the offender satisfies their need for UK settled status and economic gain. Therefore to address Sham Marriage and Fake Weddings calls for specialist integrated, triaged and a coordinated response from the Home Office, the Domestic Abuse Sector, NHS Health and UK Visa and Immigration.

12. Regarding Terminology Issues:

The Home Office terminology and definition of Sham Marriage is not accurate. It’s vital not to blur terminologies or language which exacerbates risk and reduces both Forced Marriage and Sham Marriage to being treated as an immigration offence. I urge caution in allowing coterminous and interchangeable use of terms. I specifically refer to Governments 2015 investigation below. The investigation highlights that these are predominantly Fake Weddings and I strongly feel that there are Sham Marriages that have not been identified.

13. These documents are using incorrect terminology and definitions which I strongly believe to be unhelpful in the understanding, regulating and criminalising of Sham Marriage, Sham Civil Partnership and Fake Weddings.


1. Sham Marriage Published Document, 19 August 2015, UK Immigration & Visas.

2. Home Office Marriage Investigations 3.0 published 13 February 2019 - Sham marriage, civil partnership and marriage of convenience. ent/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/778496/marriage-investigations-v3.0ext.pdf

3). University of Bristol, Charsley & Benson (2012). Marriages of Convenience or Inconvenient Marriages: Regulating spousal migration to Britain. Journal of Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Law:

June 2020


Prepared 11th June 2020