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Breaking the Silence: Understanding and Combating Honour-Based Abuse

Understanding Honour-Based Abuse

Honour-Based Abuse, a complex issue, refers to a range of harmful practices committed to protect the perceived “honour” of a family or community. While there is no statutory definition in England and Wales, a widely accepted one states it as “a crime or incident which has, or may have been, committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and/or community.” Honour-Based Violence (HBV) encompasses practices primarily aimed at controlling women’s behavior to safeguard cultural, religious beliefs, and social norms in the name of “honour.”

In many cultures around the world, honour is a cherished value. However, when the concept of ‘honour’ is misused to control and punish family members, it becomes a catalyst for what is known as honour-based abuse (HBA). This abuse is carried out in a misguided attempt to protect cultural beliefs or family ‘honour,’ often with devastating consequences.

What is Honour-Based Abuse?

Honour-based abuse is a form of domestic violence that is perpetrated by individuals, often family members, who believe that a relative has brought shame or dishonour upon the family. This can be due to many reasons, including refusing a forced marriage, having relationships outside of the community’s norms, or even adopting Western-style dressing or lifestyle choices.

Honour-Based Violence occurs due to various reasons, including:

  • Conflicts over inheritance.
  • Loss of virginity outside marriage.
  • Extramarital affairs.
  • Rebellion against traditional norms.
  • Insulting a family member.
  • Refusal of forced marriage.
  • Homosexuality.
  • Opposition to participating in honour-based violence against another person.
  • Victims of Honour-Based Abuse

Understanding the Forms of Honour-Based Violence

Honour-Based Violence can manifest in various forms, including physical abuse, psychological pressure, abandonment, forced suicide, and even murder. Common triggers for such violence involve refusal of marriage proposals, forbidden relationships, requests for divorce, pregnancy, and disagreements with family or community norms.

Motives Behind Honour-Based Violence

Women and girls are most commonly victimised by Honour-Based Violence, often experiencing abuse, disownment, or even forced abortions. However, it’s essential to recognize that men and boys can also fall victim to such violence, especially when associated with relationships that their family perceives as dishonorable, such as LGBT relationships or dating outside approved cultural, religious, or ethnic boundaries.

The Red Flags

Recognizing HBA can be challenging, as it often happens behind closed doors. However, there are warning signs:

  • Sudden withdrawal from school or work: A rapid and unexplained change in a person’s routine may indicate that something is wrong.
  • Isolation: If someone is cut off from their social networks, this could be a sign they are being controlled.
  • Physical injuries: Unexplained bruises or injuries may be signs of physical abuse.
  • Emotional changes: Victims might show signs of depression, fear, or anxiety.

Consequences of Honour-Based Abuse

The impact of HBA is profound. Victims may suffer from a range of issues, including mental health problems, physical injuries, and in extreme cases, it can lead to abductions or even ‘honour’ killings.

Facts and Figures

  • Victims of Honour-Based Abuse endure abuse for longer periods.
  • They are seven times more likely to experience abuse from multiple perpetrators and face a higher risk of serious harm or homicide.
  • Research indicates at least one ‘honour’ killing occurs in the UK every month.
  • Over 2,000 victims of Honour-Based Abuse are supported annually.

The Concept of 'Honour'

In some communities, ‘honour’ is highly valued and may be prioritized over an individual’s safety and well-being. To compromise a family’s ‘honour’ is considered bringing dishonor and shame, justifying emotional abuse, physical abuse, disownment, and even murder. Honour-Based Abuse is more prevalent within South Asian, Middle Eastern, North and East African communities, including Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Orthodox Jewish, and occasionally traveller communities. It is crucial to emphasize that cultural tradition does not make Honour-Based Abuse acceptable – forced marriage and all forms of domestic abuse are illegal.

Cases of Honor Based Violence

Honor-based violence (HBV) refers to crimes committed to protect or defend the supposed honor or reputation of a family and community. It is a serious human rights abuse and is not specific to any one culture, religion, or geographical region. Here are some notorious cases that received widespread media attention, sparking debates and leading to calls for action to prevent such tragedies:

  • The Murder of Banaz Mahmod (UK) Banaz Mahmod, a Kurdish woman from South London, was murdered in 2006 by members of her own family because she left an abusive forced marriage and began a relationship with another man, which her family considered as bringing shame upon them. The case was particularly shocking due to the fact that Banaz had sought help from the police on five occasions prior to her death.
  • The Murder of Qandeel Baloch (Pakistan) Qandeel Baloch, a Pakistani social media star, was strangled to death by her brother in 2016. Her brother claimed it was an “honor killing,” stating that her behavior on social media was bringing disgrace to the family’s honor. Her death sparked international outrage and drew attention to the issue of honor killings in Pakistan.

  • The Shafia Family Murders (Canada) In 2009, three teenage Shafia sisters and their father’s first wife were found dead inside a car submerged in a canal in Kingston, Ontario. The subsequent investigation and trial revealed that they were murdered by their own family members in an attempt to restore the family’s honor, allegedly because the daughters had adopted Western lifestyles and had boyfriends

  • The Murder of Fadime Şahindal (Sweden) Fadime Şahindal was a Kurdish immigrant killed by her father in Sweden in 2002. She had reported threats and violence from her family to the police and had even addressed the Swedish parliament about the issue of honor violence before she was killed. Her case brought attention to the issue within Europe and prompted changes in Swedish domestic violence laws.

  • The Murder of Hatun Sürücü (Germany)

    Hatun Sürücü, a Turkish-Kurdish woman living in Germany, was killed by her youngest brother in 2005 after she divorced the cousin she was forced to marry, refused to wear a headscarf, and lived independently. The case highlighted the problem of honor-based violence in Germany and led to a public debate about integration and women’s rights.

    These cases have led to increased awareness about honor-based violence around the world. There has been a growing movement to address the cultural, legal, and social issues that permit such violence to take place. In many countries, there are now more robust laws and support systems to protect potential victims and to educate communities about gender equality and human rights. 

Protection

Protecting women from honor-based violence (HBV) involves a multi-faceted approach that includes legal, social, and educational strategies. Here’s a comprehensive outline of measures that can contribute to the protection of women from such practices:

Legal Protection

  • Strong Legislation: Enacting strict laws that define and criminalize honor-based violence and ensure severe penalties for perpetrators.
  • Protection Orders: Implementing and enforcing protection orders that can keep potential perpetrators away from those at risk.
  • Anonymous Reporting: Encouraging anonymous tip lines to report threats without fear of reprisal.
  • Specialized Units: Creating specialized police units trained to recognize and deal with HBV.
  • Victim Support: Offering secure shelters and protection for potential victims or those who have survived attacks.
  • Witness Protection: Establishing witness protection programs to encourage testimony against perpetrators.

Education and Awareness

  • Community Education: Engaging with communities to raise awareness about the criminal nature of HBV and its consequences.
  • School Programs: Introducing educational programs in schools that promote gender equality and human rights.
  • Healthcare Training: Training healthcare professionals to recognize signs of HBV and to provide appropriate support and referrals.
  • Media Campaigns: Using media to promote public awareness campaigns about the rights of women and the illegality of HBV.
  • Regular Reviews: Conducting regular reviews of the effectiveness of policies and legislation in protecting individuals from HBV.

International Cooperation

  • International Laws: Supporting international laws and conventions that aim to protect women from violence.
  • Cross-Border Efforts: Collaborating across borders to prevent abductions or forced repatriations of victims.
  • Global Campaigns: Participating in global campaigns that work towards ending honor-based violence and supporting women’s rights.

Research and Data Collection

Data Collection: Gathering and analyzing data on HBV to understand its prevalence, causes, and effective interventions.

Protecting women from honor-based violence requires both immediate measures to safeguard individuals at risk and longer-term strategies to change the cultural norms that underpin such violence. It is crucial to involve all segments of society in these efforts to create sustainable change.

Legal Framework and Protection

To safeguard women from the perils of honor-based violence, it is imperative to implement a multifaceted strategy that touches on legislation, social support, education, and international collaboration:

The United Kingdom has established legal provisions and guidelines to address honour-based abuse, including:

  • Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs)

  • Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007

  • Criminal offenses for various acts related to honour-based abuse

  • The Serious Crime Act 2015

  • The Domestic Abuse Act 2021

  • The Modern Slavery Act 2015

  • Protection of Vulnerable Witnesses

Legal Frameworks

Enact and Enforce Specific Laws: Clearly define and make honor-based violence a punishable offense with stringent penalties.

Issue Protective Orders: Use legal measures to keep potential offenders away from those they threaten.

Encourage Confidential Tips: Promote a system where threats can be reported anonymously to encourage community vigilance.

Dedicated Task Forces: Form police units with specialized training in recognizing and handling cases of honor-based violence.

Provide Safe Havens: Establish and maintain shelters that offer security for those in danger or survivors of violence.

Secure Testimony: Develop programs to protect those who come forward as witnesses.

These legal protections are designed to safeguard individuals from honour-based abuse and hold perpetrators accountable, irrespective of their cultural background. Victims are encouraged to seek assistance from local authorities and support services if they experience honour-based abuse.

Educational Initiatives

Community Workshops: Organize workshops to discuss the legal repercussions of HBV and the importance of respecting women’s rights.

School Curricula: Integrate lessons on gender equality and human rights into the education system.

Train Healthcare Workers: Educate healthcare staff on identifying signs of HBV and proper referral procedures.

Awareness Campaigns: Utilize media platforms to run campaigns informing the public about women’s rights and the unlawfulness of HBV.

Further reading on honour based violence

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