Students team up with police for project on honour based violence

English Department to work with Cambridgeshire Police on project against violence

Image: Mike Johnson

Image: Mike Johnson

A group of students within the English Department are set to work on a new project with Cambridgeshire Police to help tackle the growing problem of honour based violence within the UK.

The project, dubbed ‘Operation Synergy’ aims to use the plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to create a mock case which will eventually go to trial, and be extensively documented and filmed to produce a training aid that will help to educate new police officers about honour based violence, and how to deal with the issue.

The students involved will largely be responsible for creating and independently managing the social media profiles of the characters that feature in Romeo and Juliet, using the text as a springboard to develop individual modern-day personalities and posting regular updates to play the story out in real time, with the Montague family on Twitter and the Capulets on Facebook.

One perception that the project is trying to address is the association of honour based violence as a crime (or crimes) committed to protect or defend the honour of the family or community, with largely ethnic or religious minorities.

Sergeant Phil Priestley, University of York alumni and one of the project’s leaders, emphasises that this is not always the case: “The mainstream media have been guilty of reducing honour based violence to a point where it is seen as a modern phenomenon with an almost exclusive focus on Islamic communities. HBV is also often wrongly conflated with the concerns that exist towards Jihad and extremist or radicalised behaviours within a minority of Muslim communities. In reality HBV is not a new phenomenon at all – it has existed in almost every nation’s history since records began.”

It is hoped that the project will try to dispel some of these misconceptions. “What we are trying to do”, Sgt Priestley adds, “is separate the facts from the fiction, and create a genuine discussion based upon reliable information and practical experience.”
The project is also an example of ways in which departments can develop good relationships with their alumni.

Third year English student and Operation Synergy member Emily Willis, spoke to Nouse about her time so far on the project: “It is a privilege to be involved in this project. The team gets to contribute to combatting a historical as well as culturally widespread system of violence based on honour, while undertaking the exciting task of adapting Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I can’t wait to see the results.”

Sergeant Priestley was also confident that students at York would be able to help with the project: “I live in Suffolk and work in Cambridgeshire. I immediately wanted to go back to York to find the group that would become the backbone of this project, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to find a more practical, intelligent and enthusiastic collection  of people.
“I have to say that I’ve been impressed by the group as a whole, the quality of ideas and contribution has been outstanding. It actually makes me feel really proud that I graduated from York.”

The project has also proved that distance does not always have to be a hindrance. The team hold monthly catch-up meetings online and communicate more regularly through Facebook.

The team are actively recruiting for new members to join the team to work on developing new characters. Contact Phil Priestley at[email protected]police.uk for more information.

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