In August 2019, this chapter has been updated and should be re-read.
- Protection and Action to be Taken
- Further Information
- Local Information
Honour based abuse is a collection of practices used to encompass various offences covered by existing legislation. It is 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 honour. Such abuse can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and / or community by breaking their honour code.
For young victims it is a form of child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights.
It can be distinguished from other forms of violence and abuse, as it is often committed with some degree of approval and/or collusion from family and/or community members.
Women, men and younger members of the family can all be involved in the abuse.
Young victims may find themselves in an abusive and dangerous situation against their will with no power to seek help. The usual avenues for seeking help – through parents or other family members may be unavailable. Honour based abuse manifests itself in a diverse range of ways with children and young people, including forced marriage, domestic and/or sexual abuse, rape, physical assaults, harassment, kidnap, threats of violence (including murder), witnessing violence directed towards a sibling or indeed another family member, and female genital mutilation. Female genital mutilation is an offence under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, and can result in severe physical and psychological injuries and even death. It is almost always restricted to female children and young people i.e. those under 18 years old. See Female Genital Mutilation Procedure.
Victims can find it difficult to leave abusive relationships or ask for help if their immigration status is uncertain. They may face a number of issues such as a fear of deportation, bringing 'shame' on their families, financial difficulties and homelessness, or losing their children.The notion of shame and the associated risk to the victim may persist long after the incident that brought about dishonour occurred. This means any new partner of the victim, children, associates or their siblings may be at serious risk of Significant Harm.
Behaviours that could be seen to transgress concepts of honour include:
- Inappropriate make-up or dress;
- The existence of a boyfriend or a perceived unsuitable relationship e.g. a gay/lesbian relationship;
- Rejecting a forced marriage;
- Pregnancy outside of marriage;
- Being a victim of rape;
- Inter-faith relationships (or same faith, but different ethnicity);
- Leaving a spouse or seeking divorce;
- Kissing or intimacy in a public place;
- Alcohol and drugs use.
It is important to be mindful that young people may be subject to honour based abuse for reasons which may seem improbable or relatively minor to others.
Murders in the name of 'so called honour' are often the culmination of a series of events over a period of time and are planned. There tends to be a degree of premeditation, family conspiracy and a belief that the victim deserved to die.
It is likely that awareness that a child is the victim of an honour based crime will only come to light after an assault of some kind has taken place e.g. an allegation of domestic abuse or it may be that a child is reported as missing. There are inherent risks to the act of disclosure for the victim and possibly limited opportunities to ask for help for fear of retribution from their family or community.
There may be evidence of domestic abuse, including controlling, coercive and dominating behaviour towards the victim. Self-harming, family disputes, and unreasonable restrictions on the young person such as removal from education or virtual imprisonment within the home may occur.
Young people may be fearful of being forced into engagement/marriage.
Continual assessment and review is paramount as circumstances can change very quickly, for example, following disclosure to the police the risks to the victim and others who are supporting the victim may increase.
Young people may face significant harm if their families/communities realise that they have asked for help. All aspects of their safety need to be carefully assessed at every stage. Initially this needs to address whether it is safe for them to return home following a disclosure. The young person will need practical help such as accommodation and financial support, as well as emotional support and information about their rights and choices.
Some families go to considerable lengths to find their children who run away, and young people who leave home are at risk of significant harm if they are returned to their family. They may be reported as missing by their families, but no mention is made of the reason. It is important that practitioners explore the underlying reasons before any decisions are made.
4. Protection and Action to be Taken
Any suspicion or disclosure of violence or abuse against a child in the name of honour should be treated equally seriously as any other suspicion or disclosure or significant harm against a child. However, there are significant differences in the immediate response required. Bearing in mind the specific practice issues set out, where the concerns about the welfare and safety of the child or young person are such that a referral to Children's social care should be made the Referrals Procedure should be followed.
Involving families in cases of forced marriage is dangerous:
- It may increase the risk of serious harm to the victim. Experience shows that the family may punish them for seeking help;
- Professionals should not approach the family or community leaders, share any information with them or attempt any form of mediation. In particular, members of the local community should not be used as interpreters.
In cases of abuse in the name of honour and of forced marriage, it is essential to consider other siblings in the family that may be experiencing, or at risk of, the same abuse.
The professional response should include:
- Seeing the child immediately in a secure and private place;
- Seeing the child on their own;
- Explaining to the child the limits of confidentiality;
- Developing an emergency safety plan with the child;
- Agreeing a means of discreet future contact with the child;
- Recording all discussions and decisions, using the child's own words;
- Documenting any injuries.
Practitioners must take care that information which increases the risk to the child is not inadvertently shared with family members.
If a child is taken abroad, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may assist in repatriating them to the UK.
Addressing the needs of the individual is key, as victims of honour-based abuse will require a tailored response dependent on a number of factors including e.g. language and cultural barriers, how long they have been in the country, their social and family networks and their economic circumstances.
Authorities in some countries may support the practice of honour based abuse, and the child may be concerned that other agencies share this view, or that they will be returned to their family. The child may be carrying guilt about their rejection of cultural / family expectations. Furthermore, their immigration status may be dependent on their family, which could be used to dissuade them from seeking help.
The 'One Chance Rule'
All practitioners working with victims of honour based abuse need to be aware of the 'one chance' rule. That is, they may only have one chance to speak to a potential victim and thus they may only have one chance to save a life. This means that all practitioners working within statutory agencies need to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations when they come across these cases. If the victim is allowed to walk out of the door without support being offered, that one chance might be wasted.
Forced Marriage Guidance, Home Office - information and practice guidelines for professional protecting, advising and supporting victims
Legal Guidance - not specifically about children
Karma Nirvana website - supporting victims of honour-based abuse and forced marriage. Honour crimes are not determined by age, faith, gender or sexuality, we support and work with all victims.