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How scrapping the term “honor”-based abuse may leave victims unprotected

  • Published on
    January 8, 2021
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  • Category:
    Forced Marriage
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The U.K. government is due to review the use of the term “honor”-based abuse, used to cover crimes such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and other physical and emotional abuse as a result of a perceived attack on a family or community’s honor.

Understanding the context of “honor”

Whilst there is nothing honorable about these kinds of crimes, the term has been useful to ensure these specific kinds of offenses, which are closely tied to family pressure and are often deeply hidden, are recognized and understood.

The hidden nature of these crimes makes it difficult for victims to seek help. Scrapping the term “honor”-based abuse risks further misunderstandings of the specific dynamics of these crimes when instead, police, social workers, and other relevant professionals need to be educated more on the nature of “honor”-abused abuse.

Liz Thompson from domestic abuse charity, SafeLives, said: “The experiences of victims of honour-based abuse need to be fully understood within the context in which they take place, and without a specific focus, could be lost entirely.”

The Independent reports:

Data supplied by police forces to the Home Office shows there were 2,024 offences tagged as honour-based abuse in 2019/20, a dramatic 64 per cent fall from the 5,595 five years earlier. 

But Karma Nirvana, a national charity supporting victims of such crimes, has suggested those figures are “hugely worrying” as they understate the scale of the problem and indicate police do not take it seriously enough.

She added: “We would oppose any plans to drop use of the word honour to describe honour-based abuse. The issue is already hidden, misidentified and under-detected. If we stop calling it honour-based abuse, it is going to further hide the issue. We are hiding it more by not calling it out.

“Victims do not always recognise honour-based abuse themselves. They have grown up to legitimise their scenarios. Families have huge control over their victims and communities legitimise messages from families.”

The Victim’s Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, added that she feared the removal of the term “honor”-based abuse “would set work in this field back, bury even more deeply the hidden nature of honor-based abuse and damage victim confidence that the government understands their unique experiences.”

Numbers of “honor”- based crimes rising

Freedom United partner, Karma Nirvana, recorded a 57 percent rise in calls to their support helpline over the lockdown, which began in March 2020. Between March 16 and April 24, the number of calls to the helpline doubled compared to the previous six weeks.

The U.K. government’s public consultation “Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy 2021-2024: call for evidence” is open until February 19 – you can view it and submit evidence here.

Payzee Mahmod leads the Freedom United campaign urging the U.K. to criminalize child marriage and better protect children from forced marriage – a type of “honor”-based abuse. Join the campaign today.


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