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Government rejects MPs’ calls to legally define honour-based abuse

15 September 2023

The Government has rejected calls by MPs to introduce a statutory definition of so-called honour-based abuse, despite warnings that it risks remaining a hidden crime without improved understanding of its complexities among frontline agencies and better victim support.

The Women and Equalities Committee’s report, published in June, found significant support for a shared legal definition of honour-based abuse, which it said would improve social and professional understanding and ultimately help to bring abusers to justice.

While so-called honour-based abuse can take a variety of forms, it is widely understood as an abuser’s perceived defence of the honour of their community, family or culture. Figures published earlier this year show offences increased in England and Wales for a second consecutive year. Evidence from the Committee’s inquiry suggests that victims’ reluctance to come forward means the true figure is likely to be higher.

The Committee heard that victims with insecure immigration status were often deterred from reporting crimes committed against them for fear of being subject to immigration enforcement action. In its response, the Government rejected the Committee’s calls to remove this threat to encourage victims to come forward. 

The Committee’s report echoed concerns expressed by women’s organisations on the Government’s decision to reserve Article 59 of the Istanbul Convention, highlighting that it aggravates existing barriers for victims who are migrants with have no access to public funds.

The Committee additionally called for such migrants to have access to the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession scheme and Domestic Violence Indefinite Leave to Remain. The Government failed to address those points in its response but noted that it will communicate its decision on the future of the reservation in due course.

Chair comment

Committee Chair, Caroline Nokes MP, said:

“We are disappointed the Government has rejected our call to introduce a statutory definition of honour-based abuse, similar to the domestic abuse definition in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Ministers have said such a definition is unnecessary despite findings from our inquiry showing significant variation in understanding across statutory agencies.

“The development of effective strategies to combat honour-based abuse is currently hampered by inadequate data collection. A statutory definition would help police officers and other frontline agencies recognise and record incidents of honour-based abuse accurately and consistently. This matters, a lack of data makes it difficult to identify where honour-based abuse occurs, in what forms, and importantly who is most at risk.

“The Government is taking welcome steps in its efforts to tackle honour-based abuse and there is no doubt the issue is being taken seriously, but it is clear that opportunities to protect victims are being missed and victims are deterred from reporting the crimes committed against them.

“Without stronger assurances, people who speak-up about their abuse could risk immigration enforcement action. It is already extraordinarily difficult for victims to seek help, without the Government maintaining conditions for abusers to threaten victims into silence. It requires immense bravery for victims to come forward, in many cases they only have one chance to do so, we must do all we can to help them.”

Further information

Image credit: UK Parliament/Elspeth Keep