'Honour' based abuse 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 or community member has shamed the family and / or community by breaking their 'honour' code.
It can be distinguished from other forms of violence, as it is often committed with some degree of approval and/or collusion from family and/or community members and often involves multiple perpetrators.
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, rape, physical assaults, kidnap, threats of violence (including murder, known as 'honour' killing), female genital mutilation or witnessing violence directed towards a sibling or indeed another family member. Female genital mutilation is an offence contrary to 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.
In addition to the physical risks, a child may also suffer significant emotional harm through the threat of violence or witnessing this directed at a sibling or other family member.
Shame and therefore the risk to a victim may persist long after the incident that brought about dishonour occurred. This means the victim's partner, children, associates or their siblings may be at serious risk of Significant Harm.
Practitioners should be aware that a child could be the victim of violence/abuse in the name of 'honour' for what an outside person may perceive to be a 'minor' issue.
Behaviours that could be seen to transgress concepts of 'honour' include:
- Inappropriate make-up or dress;
- The existence of a boyfriend;
- Rejecting a forced marriage;
- Sexual activity outside of marriage;
- Pregnancy outside of marriage;
- Being a victim of rape;
- Perceptions that the victim is gay/lesbian;
- Inter-faith relationships (or same faith, but different ethnicity);
- Leaving a spouse or seeking divorce;
- Kissing or intimacy in a public place.
It is likely that awareness that a child is the victim of an 'honour' based crime will only come to light after the commission of an assault of some kind. There are inherent risks to the act of disclosure for the victim and possibly limited opportunities to ask for help for fear that their families will find out.
There may be evidence of domestic abuse, self-harming, family disputes, and unreasonable restrictions on the young person such as removal from education or virtual imprisonment within the home.
Young people may face significant harm if their families 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 honour based abuse and / or 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;
- Involving the family includes visiting the family to ask them whether they are intending to force their child to marry or writing a letter to the family requesting a meeting about their child's allegation that they are being forced to marry;
- Relatives, friends, community leaders and neighbours should not be used as interpreters – despite any reassurances from this known person.
In cases of violence or 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.
Accurate record keeping in all cases of violence/abuse in the name of 'honour' is important. Records should:
- Be accurate, detailed, clear and include the date;
- Use the person's own words in quotation marks;
- Document any injuries – include photographs, body maps or pictures of their injuries;
- Only be available to those directly involved in the person's case.
Practitioners must take care that information which increases the risk to the child is not inadvertently shared with family members. All agencies and professionals working around or with the child must be informed of the need to maintain strict confidentiality in relation to the family and social network; great care must be taken to manage information about the whereabouts of the young person.
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 lost.