1. Definition of ‘Honour’ Based Abuse
So called Honour-Based Abuse is defined as:
an incident or crime involving violence, threats of violence, intimidation coercion or abuse (including psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional abuse) which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of an individual, family and/ or community for alleged or perceived breaches of the family and/or community’s code of behaviour (Crown Prosecution Service).
It can be a collection of practices, which are used to control behaviour within families or other social groups to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and / or so-called ‘honour’. Such abuse can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and / or community by breaking their code of ‘honour’, known as ‘izzat’.
Victims are usually girls or women, but not exclusively so. Men may also be victims. For the purposes of this chapter, however, it refers to adult women.
So called honour based abuse is a violation of human rights; it may also be a form of domestic abuse and / or sexual abuse or sexual violence. There is no honour or justification for abusing the human rights of others, nor can there be. There is no specific offence of ‘honour’ based crime. It is an umbrella term to encompass various offences covered by existing legislation.
2. Common Triggers
Behaviour by a woman (victims are usually young women, but not exclusively) which may be deemed by her family / community as breaching their code of ‘honour’ include:
- wearing make-up or dress deemed inappropriate;
- spending time without supervision from a family member;
- being intimate with someone in public;
- having a boyfriend, including loss of virginity;
- having a relationship/s with males outside of the approved group;
- being in a same sex relationship;
- reporting domestic abuse;
- rejecting a forced marriage;
- leaving a spouse, seeking a divorce or refusing to divorce when ordered to do so by family members;
- applying for custody of children following separation or divorce;
- pregnancy outside of marriage.
Men may be targeted either by the family of a woman who they are believed to have ‘dishonoured’, in which case both parties may be at risk, or by their own family if they are believed to be homosexual.
So called honour based abuse is not a crime which is solely perpetrated by men; sometimes female relatives will support, incite or assist. It is also not unusual for younger relatives to be selected to undertake the abuse as a way to protect senior members of the family. Sometimes contract killers can be employed.
Shame may persist for a long time after the incident that was deemed to be dishonourable occurred. This may result in a new partner of a victim, their children, associates or siblings also being at risk.
3. ‘Honour’ Based Killings
‘Honour’based abuse usually involves threats, intimidation and violence in an effort to get the victim to conform to the desired behaviour. These can escalate where deemed to be unsuccessful. On occasion, it may result in murder, which may involve premeditation, family conspiracy and a belief that the victim deserved to die.
In addition to information in Section 2, Common Triggers, incidents that may precede a killing include:
- denied access to the telephone, internet, passport, friends;
- house arrest and / or other excessive restrictions;
- pressure to go abroad;
- domestic abuse;
- threats to kill or denial of access to children.
In some circumstances a victim’s immigration status may be used to dissuade them from seeking assistance from authorities, particularly if it is dependent on their spouse.
Victims may suffer in isolation, resulting in depression and attempt suicide.
4. Responding to Concerns about ‘Honour’ Based Abuse
When dealing with potential victims of so called honour based abuse, it is essential that professionals understand the seriousness of the situation and that immediate, but discreet, action is required.
If a woman discloses that she, or someone else, is at risk of ‘honour’ based abuse, the professional should:
- speak with her in a setting that is confidential and where they cannot be overheard;
- ensure that family members are not present;
- take the disclosure seriously, and reassure her as such;
- explain the limits of confidentiality and that a referral to the police and local authority will have to be made;
- obtain sufficient information from her to make a referral to the Safeguarding Adults Team (see Local Contacts) and the Police;
- agree method/s of maintaining contact.
It is the responsibility of the police to initiate and undertake a criminal investigation as appropriate. This should be made clear during multi-agency discussions, as well as the roles and responsibilities of other involved professionals.
It is essential that women who return to their families are offered support. This should include escape plans and the option to deposit their DNA, finger prints and photograph with the police.
Professionals should ensure that they make a full record of all discussions, with whom these take place and any actions taken including referrals to other agencies. They should also inform their line manager who should sign off the discussions / actions (see also Case Recording).
Victims are sometimes persuaded to return to their country of origin under false pretences, where the intention may be to either stop them from contacting the authorities or to kill them. If a woman is taken abroad, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may assist in repatriating the woman back to the UK.
Professionals must not approach the family or community leaders, share any information with them or attempt any form of mediation.