There is no ‘honour’ in killing or abuse

Every year in the UK it’s estimated that there are at least 12 so-called ‘honour killings.’

The victims of these crimes include people like 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed who was killed by her parents in 2003 for refusing an arranged marriage. She would have been 35 this year.

Honour Based Abuse is still not understood or widely recognised as an aspect of domestic abuse, but a number of organisations are working hard to tackle the issues and challenge the stereotypes that surround these crimes.

On July 14th Karma Nirvana, Savera and the Halo Project all held Day of Memory events to remember victims like Shafilea Ahmed and many others who are subjected to Honour Based abuse and other harmful practices.

Estimates suggest that there at least one honour-based killing every month in the UK with 7,000 recorded incidents, although many believe that the actual numbers are far higher.

Statistics from Karma Nirvana from 2020/2021 show that 98 per cent of the 1895 Honour Based Abuse victims that called the helpline were personally connected to the perpetrator and 64 per cent of new callers were suffering Honour Based Abuse from multiple perpetrators.

So-called Honour Based Abuse is motivated by the perceived need to maintain or restore family honour and victims face emotional and often physical abuse for refusing an arranged or forced marriage. It often goes unreported and is often clouded behind the guise of ‘culture’ or ‘tradition.’

Karma Nirvana supports men and women who are victims or survivors of so-called honour-based and forced marriages. It is working to end Honour Based Abuse.

This year at the seventh annual Day of Memory event, which was set up by Karma Nirvana and Cosmopolitan in Shafilea’s memory, it launched a new three-year strategy which aims to bring honour Based Abuse into the mainstream by 2024.

It wants to encourage statutory and government agencies to respond to Honour Based Abuse as a form of domestic abuse; train frontline workers to understand and respond to Honour Based Abuse; to develop national data to understand the scale of these crimes and to increase the number of specialist safe spaces for survivors and victims.

As the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, I very much support these aims.  

A predominant theme running throughout the different events of the Day of Memory is the need for services and individuals to recognise Honour Based Abuse and respond accordingly.  

At its event last week Savera – a charity campaigning to eliminate ‘honour-based’ abuse and other harmful practices, launched its ‘One Chance Rule’.

The ‘One Chance Rule’ recognises that these victims are often very isolated and may only get one chance to speak out which means that it is essential for professionals they come into contact with – like GPs, other health professionals or housing staff, teachers and youth workers– to spot the signs and take action.

Domestic abuse is everyone’s business and I believe that we all have a role to play to support colleagues, neighbours, friends and family members.

We have seen during Covid that victims of domestic abuse have been increasingly isolated. Many have been trapped with their abuser for months on end. This has been particularly true for those who are subject to Honour Based Abuse.

The Halo Project, which supports victims affected by Honour Based Abuse, forced marriages and female genital mutilation, said in its event that it had seen the impact of victims being cut off.

It saw calls decrease by almost 60 per cent during lockdown but as restrictions eased a 300 per cent increase in referrals and calls.

As a result, it set up a monitored web chat and messaging system to reach those who were isolated by the effects of Covid with fantastic results.

The ways in which these services and so many others are adapting and responding to ensure Honour Based Abuse victims are not forgotten is inspiring, but the Day of Memory for victims like Shafilea Ahmed serve as a stark reminder that there is so much more to be done.

There was no ‘honour’ in Shafilea’s killing or any of the other victims of so-called Honour Based Abuse and we need to we work together to eradicate this insidious, invisible form of domestic abuse.