Calling domestic violence ‘honour abuse’ could accidentally legitimise it, ministers warned

Labelling domestic violence as “honour abuse” could accidentally legitimise it, ministers have been warned.

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) said a range of practices known as honour abuses, such as forced marriage and abortion, rape, 24-hour monitoring, and bans on higher education, are going unreported in what it describes as “closed communities” across the UK.

The centre-right think tank called on the Government to scrap any official references to honour abuse.

In interviews with victims of domestic abuse from across different faith and ethnic groups, CSJ researchers said the term honour abuse keeps victims from disclosing their experiences, out of fear of breaking a traditional moral code or disrespecting a cultural legacy.

Former Conservative minister Baroness Verma, ministerial champion for tackling violence against women and girls overseas, who wrote the foreword to the No Honour In Honour Abuse report, said: “Getting rid of the term does not erase domestic abuse. It will however recognise that abuse is abuse.

“There can be no sensitivities around calling it exactly what it is – no matter who perpetrates it or why.”

Lead author Cristina Odone (pictured) said: “There is no honour in honour abuse. The label protects the perpetrator because it makes powerless victims feel guilty, even treacherous, about seeking to escape their tormentors and go to the police, doctors or social services. Changing the language would relieve many people, mostly women, of much pain and anguish.”

The CSJ found many victims of domestic abuse are being failed by practitioners, including health workers, who fear accusations of racism, bias and prejudice for investigating “honour” issues.

In one example, a survivor who went to see her GP twice for symptoms of depression said she “could see the GP didn’t want to go there”.

Her evidence added: “He wasn’t Asian, he didn’t know my context. He wanted me out of there as quickly as possible. He just wrote a prescription without asking me anything about my home life.”

The CSJ said 2,275 honour abuses were officially recorded by police in the year ending March 2021.

It recommended that the Government remove the term honour abuse from all official documentation, including police and medical records, as it is not recognised by victims and risks “legitimising the violent practices that it is supposed to define”.

It also calls for the NHS to “demonstrate leadership” in tackling domestic abuse by emphasising health professionals’ duty of care to all victims regardless of community or ethnic background, and for health professionals to be trained to identify victims and perpetrators.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling all forms of so-called ‘honour’-based abuse and work closely with stakeholders to tackle these crimes. We recently expanded the offence of forced marriage, making it illegal to arrange the marriage of a child in all circumstances.

“We have consulted on the use of the term ‘honour’ and the firm steer received was not to amend it, as it remains a commonly used term which helps victims recognise that what is happening to them is a crime.”

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