Government rejects calls for legal definition of honour-based abuse

15 September 2023, 17:12 | Updated: 15 September 2023, 17:16

Honour-based abuse can include forced marriage, physical abuse, financial and coercive control, and murder
Honour-based abuse can include forced marriage, physical abuse, financial and coercive control, and murder. Picture: Getty
Charlotte Lynch

By Charlotte Lynch

The government has been urged to reconsider after it rejected calls for so-called honour-based abuse to be defined clearly in law.

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Honour-based abuse is perpetrated by people who claim to be protecting or defending of the honour of their community, family or culture. It can include forced marriage, physical abuse, financial and coercive control, and murder.

It often occurs when the victim tries to have a relationship with someone outside of their community, talk to certain people, have sex before marriage, or behave in a way their family or community think is inappropriate, like drinking alcohol or wearing certain clothing.

But a "widespread ignorance" of the crime amongst authorities within policing, education and social care is said to be allowing abusers to "threaten victims in to silence".

Honour-based abuse is perpetrated by people who claim to be protecting or defending of the honour of their community, family or culture.
Honour-based abuse is perpetrated by people who claim to be protecting or defending of the honour of their community, family or culture. Picture: Alamy

The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) recommended the definition in its report into honour-based abuse in July, which it said would improve social and professional understanding and ultimately help to bring abusers to justice.

Committee Chair, senior Tory MP Caroline Nokes, accused the government of "missing opportunities" to protect victims after the Home Office determined a clear legal definition was not necessary.

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Ms Nokes said she was “disappointed” by the decision, adding: "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."

Tory MP Caroline Nokes
Tory MP Caroline Nokes. Picture: Getty

On Friday, 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," it said.

Ms Nokes said the issue "is being taken seriously", but added "it is clear that opportunities to protect victims are being missed and victims are deterred from reporting the crimes committed against them."

She also accused the Government of "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," she said.

Responding to the government’s response to the inquiry, Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, urged the government to reconsider.

She said: “The government has made significant progress in tackling so-called 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.

“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.”

Karma Nirvana, a national charity supporting victims of honour-based abuse, said it was also disappointed by the decision, adding a statutory definition “is essential to understand this issue, ensuring it receives the attention & resources it needs to protect victims.”

The Home Office added in a statement that it was "committed to ending all forms of 'honour' based abuse".

It said "It is crucial that professionals recognise and understand these crimes, which is why we have a clear non-statutory definition of 'honour' based abuse and we have given a range of support to professionals."

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