Better support needed to prevent honour-based abuse remaining hidden crime – MPs

Honour-based abuse should have a statutory definition in a similar way to domestic abuse, MPs said, as they warned it risks remaining a hidden crime without better victim support.

There must be improved training for police, schools, health and social services to identify such abuse, the Women and Equalities Committee said.

So-called honour-based crimes can include female genital mutilation (FGM), forced marriage, honour killings, abandonment, breast flattening and other forms of domestic abuse.

There were 2,887 offences related to honour-based abuse in England and Wales in the year ending March 2022 but the committee said that as it remains an often-hidden crime, with a reluctance from victims to come forward, the true figure is likely to be higher.

The factors behind the abuse rather than the abuse itself identifies it as honour-based, the committee’s report added, and said it is usually carried out “with the collusion or approval from family and/or community members”.

Despite a perception that some forms of this kind of abuse occur only in certain communities, the committee said its inquiry had heard that it can take place within any community “and is not a mainstream practice of any specific religion or culture”.

Among its recommendations, the committee called for the introduction of a statutory definition of honour-based abuse which it said “would contribute to social and professional understanding, help to improve data collection and ultimately assist in bringing more perpetrators to justice”.

MPs on the committee also called for a “firewall” to protect victims whose fears around their insecure immigration status are preventing them from going to authorities about abuse.

The committee called for “an appropriate firewall-type mechanism whereby the police only share information with Immigration Enforcement at the Home Office about victims “in exceptional circumstances, which must be narrowly defined and be for the purposes of assisting in the safeguarding of the individual or taking action against their abuser”.

The committee also called for better data collection, saying there is “inconsistency in how data on honour-based abuse offences is collected and recorded”.

MPs said the Home Office, National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing should publish refreshed guidance for forces on how to accurately and consistently record incidents of honour-based abuse.

Teaching around honour-based abuse should be improved in schools, the committee recommended, describing the current situation as “inadequate”. The MPs called for the ongoing review of relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) to “consider how the teaching of honour-based abuse should be improved across educational settings”.

Increased and longer-term funding is also needed for specialist support services to help victims, the committee added

Chairwoman Caroline Nokes (pictured) 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.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2023, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA.