‘Missed opportunity’ as government rejects calls for statutory definition of so-called honour-based abuse

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner says she is “disappointed” that the Government has rejected calls for a statutory definition of so-called honour-based abuse.

Sep 18, 2023
By Paul Jacques

Nicole Jacobs said this would recognise “the severity of this crime, raise awareness and bring more perpetrators to justice”.

The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) had recommended the definition in its report into honour-based abuse in July.

But on Friday (September 15) in its response to the report, the Government said it already has a “working definition” used by the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

“It is not clear that making the definition statutory would improve understanding of or the response to these crimes, however, we will continue to keep this under review,” it added.

The WEC’s report had found significant support for a shared legal definition of honour-based abuse, which it said would improve social and professional understanding and ultimately help to bring abusers to justice.

While honour-based abuse can take a variety of forms, it is widely understood as an abuser’s perceived defence of the honour of their community, family or culture, it said.

Figures published earlier this year show offences increased in England and Wales for a second consecutive year. Evidence from the committee’s inquiry suggests that victims’ reluctance to come forward means the true figure is likely to be higher.

The WEC’s report had warned that there was a widespread ignorance of this type of abuse among frontline workers, including in the police, social care and education.

The committee heard that victims with insecure immigration status were often deterred from reporting crimes committed against them for fear of being subject to immigration enforcement action. In its response, the Government rejected the committee’s calls to remove this threat to encourage victims to come forward.

The committee’s report echoed concerns expressed by women’s organisations on the Government’s decision to reserve Article 59 of the Istanbul Convention, highlighting that it aggravates existing barriers for victims who are migrants with have no access to public funds.

The committee additionally called for such migrants to have access to the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession scheme and Domestic Violence Indefinite Leave to Remain.

“The Government failed to address those points in its response but noted that it will communicate its decision on the future of the reservation in due course,” the committee said.

Committee chair Caroline Nokes MP said: “We are disappointed the Government has rejected our call to introduce a statutory definition of honour-based abuse, similar to the domestic abuse definition in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Ministers have said such a definition is unnecessary despite findings from our inquiry showing significant variation in understanding across statutory agencies.

“The development of effective strategies to combat honour-based abuse is currently hampered by inadequate data collection. A statutory definition would help police officers and other frontline agencies recognise and record incidents of honour-based abuse accurately and consistently.

“This matters; a lack of data makes it difficult to identify where honour-based abuse occurs, in what forms, and importantly who is most at risk.”

She added: “The Government is taking welcome steps in its efforts to tackle honour-based abuse and there is no doubt the issue is being taken seriously, but it is clear that opportunities to protect victims are being missed and victims are deterred from reporting the crimes committed against them.

“Without stronger assurances, people who speak-up about their abuse could risk immigration enforcement action. It is already extraordinarily difficult for victims to seek help, without the Government maintaining conditions for abusers to threaten victims into silence. It requires immense bravery for victims to come forward, in many cases they only have one chance to do so, we must do all we can to help them.”

The most recent published annual data shows that across the year to March 2022, police in England and Wales flagged 2,887 offences as honour-based abuse-related, including 141 relating to forced marriage and 77 relating to female genital mutilation (FGM).

In the same period, police also recorded 1,871 honour-based abuse-related incidents that had not resulted in the recording of a notifiable crime. Ministry of Justice data shows that 3,523 Forced Marriage Protection Orders were made in the period November 25, 2008, to March 31, 2023, and 840 FGM Protection Orders were made in the period July 17, 2015, to March 31, 2023.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman says “ending these practices in all their forms is a key priority and commitment in our cross-government Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy”

Ms Jacobs said the Government has made “significant progress” in tackling honour-based abuse, including strengthening legislation on female gentile mutilation, forced marriage and ‘virginity testing’.

“It is also positive to see government considering Article 59 of the Istanbul Convention which would give security to victims and survivors of domestic abuse, including so-called honour-based abuse, whose immigration status is tied to their abuser,” she said.

“But there is still a long way to go to truly tackle the harm caused by so-called honour-based abuse. I urge the Government to reconsider its response to this report.

“I am disappointed to see the Government reject calls for a statutory definition of so-called honour-based abuse, which would recognise the severity of this crime, raise awareness, and bring more perpetrators to justice.

“I am also concerned that government rejected the committee’s recommendation for a firewall, which would allow victims of domestic abuse to safely report to the police without fear of deportation or detention. This rejection stands in direct opposition to the Government’s position that all victims of crime are victims first and foremost regardless of immigration status.

“I will continue to work closely with government to progress the critical action needed to reduce, and one day end, this horrific form of domestic abuse.”

Nirvana, the specialist charity for victims and survivors, said the rejection of the committee’s recommendations “misses a huge opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those impacted by honour-based abuse”.

“Whilst the Government hasn’t accepted the recommendations, we will carry on pushing for all of the recommendations to be implemented,” it added.

“Karma Nirvana intends to call for a statutory definition for honour-based abuse, utilising the opportunity to table an amendment in the Victims and Prisoners Bill.”

Read the Government’s full response at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm5803/cmselect/cmwomeq/1821/report.html

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