Honour-based violence (HBV) is a form of domestic abuse which is perpetrated in the name of so-called ‘honour’. According to the Crown Prosecution Service, “violence can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and/or community by breaking their honour code”. This can be through emotional abuse, physical abuse, being disowned, and even murder. An honour killing is the murder of family members because the perpetrator believes they have dishonoured a community’s family or principles. Such beliefs can exist in any culture and males can also be victims.
According to the Association of Chief Police Officers, there are 12 honour killings in Britain each year and there are 700 to 800 helpline calls a month received by Karma Nirvana, a specialist charity supporting victims of honour-based abuse.
The statistics on honour-based violence aren’t reliable because many cases go unreported and national statistics are often incomplete due to a lack of standardised information across all UK police forces.
How does honour-based violence happen?
Many things trigger honour-based violence; in some cultures, defying parental authority, saying no or talking back to your parents can lead to violence. Access to the online world is a privilege for some communities but, for example, behaviour such as taking selfies or talking to people online can lead to a family member becoming more controlling or enforcing isolation. This might be in the form of not allowing someone to go to school, college or work, and keeping the person away from friends and/or colleagues. These are all ways to control a person’s behaviour, and, in some cases, such environments can lead to serious violence by a family member.
Catch22’s support for victims of honour-based violence
Catch22’s Victim First provides support for victims of honour-based violence such as emotional support to cope and recover, referrals to other agencies which can address specific forms of harm, as well as interpreters for those who speak another language. Victim First Head of Service, Manjeeta Sunnar, has developed processes for best practice when dealing with someone at risk of this violence:
“As well as upholding the highest standard of privacy, we are particularly cautious that when using an interpreter, for example, that we do not use someone who is a family member or who could possibly be an influence in the community where harm is occurring.”
Vulnerable to exploitation
Victims of honour-based violence are vulnerable to more abuse, particularly as violence caused by their family means it is difficult to find safe refuge. Hertfordshire’s Beacon Victim Care service supported a local woman who was a victim of exploitation while avoiding a cycle of abuse from her brother and husband.
The woman and her mother became residents of a local organisation who claimed to provide accommodation, food, English lessons, counselling and other services to female asylum seekers and their children in exchange for some cleaning work while staying there. The hours the women were expected to do were far beyond what they expected, but they were told that if they refused to complete the work, they would be evicted. The women were not allowed to leave the centre, even for a walk, and they believed that if they left, they would be sent back to Pakistan.
Following support, both women agreed to go into the National Referral Mechanism, a framework for victims of modern slavery. Despite the ongoing challenges of dealing with the mental trauma these women had faced, they experienced significant relief after their experiences were recognised and they were given a route towards restarting their lives. She spoke about honour-based violence within the family back in Pakistan and her feeling of failure as a person, sister and daughter. Her Beacon case manager assured her that she has not failed, that what she did was brave and that this was the first step to getting the life she wants for herself and her mother.
What needs to be done?
There are many challenges in tackling honour-based violence, one being the belief of honour and shame which underpins the violence. To overcome this, everyone must understand that neither culture nor religion are excuses or religions for the crimes to take place.
More awareness is needed – for raising awareness of victim support services within communities and places of worship so that victims understand that they can recognise what is happening to them, and then seek help, and so that peers recognise the signs of abuse occurring too. And improved professional education is needed – across police, schools, health and social services, there must be a better understanding of how honour-based abuse starts, signs of escalation, and best practice for intervening in the best way services can.