Karma Nirvana fully welcomes the Women and Equality Committee’s recommendations, especially the recognition of our Survivor Ambassador Panel’s voice.
However, we are disappointed to find that the report echoes previous findings from Home Affairs Select Committee into Honour Based Abuse in 2008, indicating a lack of progress in addressing Honour Based Abuse. This oversight demonstrates how Honour Based Abuse has been neglected as a government priority, leaving vulnerable individuals unprotected. We cannot afford any further delays. At our National Day of Memory, we were reminded of the devastating impact Honour Based Abuse has on lives.
The report published today reinforces ongoing serious and deeply concerningly findings, which the government must take swift and extensive action to respond to. Taken together, the recommendations within the report would resolve some of the biggest challenges to tackling Honour Based Abuse.
We welcome all of the committee’s recommendations, acknowledging the committee’s suggestions to incorporate Honour Based Abuse into the categories of “primary need at first social work assessment” and “factors identified at the end of the assessment” within the “Children in need” census.
This recommendation will support a greater understanding of the scale of Honour Based Abuse within the social care setting; this information is notably missing from the wider picture. From a data perspective, we also back the recommendation for police forces to capture more data on the protective characteristics of both victims and perpetrators.
We are especially pleased to see the recommendation for a statutory definition for Honour Based Abuse. Our Honour Based Abuse helpline recognises the many challenges that a lack of understanding of what Honour Based Abuse is presents to frontline practitioners. A strong survivor-led definition, which enables a clear understanding of Honour Based Abuse is essential for frontline practitioners to be able to meet the needs of victims and survivors. Until we have a statutory definition reflected in government language, the issues will continue to be significantly underreported and misunderstood.
At our National Day of Memory last week (14th July) our Survivor Ambassador Panel launched the first survivor-led Honour Based Abuse definition, putting their voice at the heart and centre of it.
Government support on this definition is an early opportunity to accomplish one of the most important recommendations within this report, and would evidence the government’s commitment to tackling Honour Based Abuse.
Victims of so-called honour-based abuse can be of any age, race, religion or sex. However, the true extent of honour-based abuse in the UK is not known. Action is required in a number of key areas, to address this issue and ensure that victims of honour-based abuse receive the support they need and deserve.
First, the limited and inconsistent data collection by police forces across the country makes it difficult to understand who is most at risk of honour-based abuse, in which communities it most often occurs in what forms it occurs, and how those communities are being served by the police and other agencies. The Government should ensure that police forces collect specific information about victims and perpetrators of honour-based abuse, including on their protected characteristics.
Secondly, victims of honour-based abuse are often scared to seek help from authorities for fear of retribution. They take huge risks in reporting the crimes against them, and it is critical that the public services in place to protect them are able to recognise that abuse at the first opportunity.The Government should set out the progress made in rolling out a national training package for frontline officers on recognising honour-based abuse.
Thirdly, our inquiry has highlighted that there is significant variation in the understanding of honour-based abuse, not least across statutory agencies. We have seen significant support for a statutory definition of honour-based abuse to be introduced by the Government, in the same way it did for the term ‘domestic abuse’ under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. In order to tackle honour-based abuse, it is essential that there is a shared understanding of the term across all agencies. To enable this, the Government should introduce a statutory definition of honour-based abuse, accompanied by statutory multi-agency guidance.
Finally, the issue of abusers using a victim’s insecure immigration status as a tool of control, exploiting the fear that reporting a crime against them will lead to action by Immigration Enforcement, must be tackled. In order to prevent perpetrators taking advantage of a victim’s immigration status, the Government should establish a firewall-type mechanism between the police and the Home Office to prevent data sharing for the purpose of immigration enforcement against victims of abuse, except in exceptional circumstances which must be narrowly defined.
The Government recently announced an extension to its ‘Support for Migrant Victims’ pilot, but this pilot does not address the shortfalls in funding for migrants with no recourse to public funds. This issue is also aggravated by the Government’s reservation on Article 59 of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, more commonly known as the ‘Istanbul Convention’. Removing this reservation would help limit perpetrators’ ability to use a victim’s immigration status as a tool for control, and we call on the Government to reconsider its position.
In addition to these four key areas, our Report also considers support for by-and-for services, which are an essential mechanism for assisting victims of honour-based abuse, the inclusion of honour-based abuse in the UK’s relationship, sex and health education curriculum, and the concept of honour-based abuse as an aggravating factor in law.
Conclusions and recommendations
- There is inconsistency in how data on honour-based abuse offences
is collected and recorded by the police. This is partly due to incorrect recording by police officers, either in failing to recognise an offence as honour-based, or in making an inaccurate assessment of the context. There is insufficient information provided in the published data, and the lack of ethnicity data makes it particularly difficult to know in which communities honour-based abuse occurs, in what forms, and how those communities are being served by police and other agencies. Data currently collected by children’s social care services does not allow for the prevalence of honour- based abuse amongst children and young people to be understood and monitored effectively at Government level. (Paragraph 23)
- 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. The Home Office should instruct police forces across England and Wales to collect specific information on victims and perpetrators of honour-based abuse, including data on their protected characteristics, and to report this to the Home Office as part of the existing Annual Data Requirement. (Paragraph 24)
- The Department of Health and Social Care and the Department of Education should add options for honour-based abuse to both the ‘primary need at first social work assessment’ and ‘factors identified at the end of the assessment’ categories in the ‘Children in need’ census. (Paragraph 25)Recognising honour-based abuse
- We welcome the steps taken by the police service in response to the concerns raised in the super-complaint on honour-based abuse brought by Liberty and the Halo Project in 2020. However, there is still more work to be done if victims of honour-based abuse are to feel empowered to report the crimes against them and feel confident that they will be safeguarded against further harm. People subject to honour-based abuse take huge risks in reporting the crimes against them, and it is critical that the public services in place to protect them are able to recognise that abuse at the first opportunity. (Paragraph 37)
- In response to this Report, the Government should set out the progress made in implementing the national training package for frontline police officers on recognising so-called honour-based abuse. The Government must also set out the steps it will take to ensure those working in other safeguarding roles, including in social services and education, are trained to recognise honour-based abuse and not deterred from tackling it by cultural sensitivity. (Paragraph 38)
- The Government must include specific questions on honour-based abuse in the Domestic Abuse Risk Assessment tool to help both victims and police officers identify risks confidently and accurately. (Paragraph 39)
- The Government is currently reviewing the content of relationships, sex and health education (RSHE) taught in schools. It is clear from the evidence we received that the teaching of honour-based abuse is currently inadequate. The ongoing review of RSHE should consider how the teaching of honour-based abuse should be improved across educational settings. (Paragraph 42)
- In order to tackle so-called honour-based abuse effectively, it is crucial there is shared understanding of it across all agencies. The introduction of a statutory definition of honour-based abuse would contribute to social and professional understanding, help to improve data collection and ultimately assist in bringing more perpetrators to justice. (Paragraph 48)
- The Government should introduce a statutory definition of honour-based abuse. It should consult a wide range of experts, specialist by-and-for services and survivors of honour-based abuse on framing the definition using the existing Crown Prosecution Service definition as a starting point. The definition, once finalised, should be accompanied by statutory multi- agency guidance. (Paragraph 49)
Supporting victims and reforming the law
- Abusers use the insecure immigration status of their victims to deter
and prevent them from seeking support, exploiting fears that reporting abuse to the police will lead to action against the victim by Immigration Enforcement. We are not satisfied that the Immigration Enforcement Migrant Victims Protocol proposed by the Home Office, which prevents immigration enforcement action against that victim only while investigation and prosecution proceedings are ongoing, and the victim is receiving support to make an application to regularise their stay, is sufficient to mitigate those concerns. (Paragraph 58)
- The Government should establish an appropriate firewall-type mechanism between the police and the Home Office to prevent data sharing for the purposes of enforcing immigration rules against victims of abuse. The firewall should be designed to ensure the police only share information with Immigration Enforcement on 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. If and when police become aware a victim has irregular immigration status, they should provide that person with information about local support services (including legal advice) and encourage them to seek advice on regularising their status. The National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance should be updated to reflect this. (Paragraph 59)
- By-and-for services, which are organisations designed and run by and
for people who are minoritised, are vital to ensuring victims of honour- based abuse receive the support they need. However, the sector is underfunded, and complex commissioning processes often prevent smaller specialist organisations from competing against generic and larger providers for the funding available. Such funding is also too often available only on a short term basis. (Paragraph 64)
- The Government should increase the funding available to by-and-for services that support victims of honour-based abuse. The Government should commit to providing this funding across multiple years. It should also assess the merits of that funding being made available in a simple grant form so it is accessible to smaller organisations which lack the resources to compete with larger providers in complex commissioning processes. (Paragraph 65)
- The Support for Migrant Victims Scheme pilot has been valuable and we welcome its extension to 2025. However, there are shortfalls in funding to support victims with no recourse to public funds. We are concerned this is aggravated by the Government’s reservation on Article 59 of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the ‘Istanbul Convention’). In order to help limit perpetrators’ ability to use a victim’s immigration status as a tool for control, the Government should reconsider its reservation to Article 59 of the Istanbul Convention. It should also consider extending eligibility to the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession scheme and Domestic Violence Indefinite Leave to Remain to all migrant victims. (Paragraph 75)
- We recognise the overwhelming majority of victims of honour-based abuse are female, but this must not detract from the experiences of male victims. We are concerned the inclusion of men and boys in strategies primarily aimed at women and girls fails to empower male victims and can contribute to underreporting. The Government should consider introducing a distinct honour-based abuse strategy aimed at male victims, parallel to that aimed at women and girls. Such a strategy might empower male victims to report the crimes committed against them and to seek support. (Paragraph 83)
- It is reassuring to hear judges have robustly rejected any attempts to use ‘honour’ to reduce a sentence. Explicitly recognising so-called honour
in sentencing guidelines would go further; it would strengthen the understanding that honour-based abuse is taken seriously by the criminal justice system and only ever as an aggravating factor. We recommend the Sentencing Council considers including motivations of honour as an aggravating factor in the domestic abuse guideline. (Paragraph 89)
Karma Nirvana’s Survivor Ambassador Panel joined the committee to provide their lived experience to better inform the committee. Annex B: Note of private informal meeting with survivors of so-called honour-based abuse – page 46