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Honour-based abuse will remain hidden unless victim support improves, Women and Equalities Committee warns

19 July 2023

So-called honour-based abuse risks remaining a hidden crime without improved victim support and law enforcement focus, the Women and Equalities Committee has warned. In a report published today, the Committee found victims would continue to be reluctant to report crimes without greater assurance that they would be protected from further abuse.

The Committee calls for better training for first responders to identify signs of honour-based abuse and significant improvements to data recording to inform prevention strategies. The Committee also recommends that a firewall-type mechanism be established between the police and the Home Office to ensure that victims with insecure immigration status are not put off reporting abuse due to fears of immigration enforcement taking action against them.

The Committee found significant variation in the understanding of honour-based abuse across statutory agencies. The Committee calls on the Government to introduce a statutory definition of honour-based abuse, similar to the definition of ‘domestic abuse’ in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.

So-called honour-based abuse can take a broad variety of forms but is motivated by the perpetrator’s perceived defence of the honour of their community, family or culture. It can occur within any community and is not a mainstream practice of any specific religion or culture.

In the year ending 31 March 2022, 2,887 offences related to honour-based abuse were recorded in England and Wales. As this form of crime is often hidden and victims can be reluctant to report their case to authorities, actual prevalence is likely to be much higher.

Chair comment

Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Rt Hon Caroline Nokes MP said:

“Communities and families play a crucial role in all our lives and are vital sources of support. But when they are the perpetrators of abuse, as is the case in so-called honour-based abuse, it is extraordinarily difficult for victims to come forward and seek help.

"Victims of honour-based abuse take huge risks in reporting the crimes against them, often they will only have one chance to do so. It is critical that the public services in place to protect them are able to recognise that abuse at the first opportunity.

“Better training for front-line agencies in identifying honour-based abuse, whether police, schools, health or social services, is imperative. However, the circumstances of honour-based abuse are often unique to different communities. That is why it is vital that a more standardised approach to data collection is implemented in order to better understand the complexities of honour-based abuse cases and ensure that appropriate support can be made available.

“At every step, the best interests of the victim must be at the centre of the response. It requires immense bravery for them to come forward and we must do all we can to help them.”

Key findings and recommendations:

Understanding the scale of honour-based abuse

The Government should work with stakeholders to establish a statutory definition of honour-based abuse to support better coordination across agencies and ensure better outcomes.

The development of effective strategies to combat honour-based abuse is being hampered by poor recording and data collection. Currently published data provides an incomplete picture of how prevalent this form of crime is. There is also insufficient data around the ethnicity of victims to improve understanding of where ‘honour-based’ abuse occurs and in what forms.

The report calls for improved guidance for police officers on how to record incidents of honour-based abuse to ensure data is accurate and consistent. Specific information on victims and perpetrators of honour-based abuse, including protected characteristics, should also be recorded by police forces as part of their mandatory data reporting. The ‘children in need’ census, used by schools and health services, should also include honour-based abuse data.

Supporting victims

Reporting incidents of honour-based abuse can be daunting for victims, and they may feel it could lead to further abuse. The criminal justice system and other support services need to ensure that victims feel empowered to come to them and certain that they will be protected, the Committee said.

The Government should ensure that the national training package for frontline officers on recognising honour-based abuse is fully implemented. It should also take steps to ensure safeguarding roles in social services and education settings are trained to identify honour-based abuse.

Relationship, sex and health education could also play an important role in helping children and young people understand honour-based abuse. As part of its ongoing review into how RSHE is taught in schools, the Government should examine how it can improve the teaching of honour-based abuse issues across educational settings.

Immigration status

Action needs to be taken to prevent abusers using the insecure immigration status of victims to threaten them into silence. The Committee is not satisfied that the proposed Immigration Enforcement Migrant Victims Protocol goes far enough in in protecting victims. It calls on the Government to create a firewall-type mechanism that prevents the sharing of immigration data between the police and Home Office for victims of honour-based abuse. Where police are aware of victims with irregular immigration status they should be support services who can provide advice on regularising their status.

Funding support services

By-and-for services, dedicated organisations designed and run by the communities they seek to serve, play a crucial role in supporting victims but are underfunded. Smaller providers that may be better placed to provide targeted support also struggle to access funding due to complex commissioning processes that larger, generic are better placed to navigate. The Committee calls on the Government to increase funding to buy-and-for providers and commit to providing this in the long-term. It should also consider providing grant funding to smaller organisations.

Further information

Image credit: UK Parliament / Tyler Allicock