Posted: Thursday 11th July 2019
In a new Q&A, PCC Sue Mountstevens asks Punita Bassi, honour-based abuse and forced marriage subject matter expert, about honour-based abuse (HBA), how the crime affects both men and women and what local people can do if they know someone is a victim.
Q: What is honour-based abuse?
A: HBA and forced marriage are themes that are incorporated under the domestic abuse umbrella; if you look at the definitions of HBA and domestic abuse, there are a lot of parallels.
HBA crimes are committed to defend and protect the honour of a family and/or community. Survivors have said that they are conditioned from a very young age to know what is ‘acceptable’ and what is ‘not acceptable’ and this includes how they look, how they dress and being too ‘Western’. If they breach the codes of their honour, the family will retaliate with violence, abuse and, in the worst case scenario, they could be killed in the name of honour.
Q: We’ve seen some horrendous crimes in the press, where the family feel the victim has brought dishonour to the family.
A: The codes the victims are conditioned to live by are very strict; they cannot move within them. When they do breach the codes, the family will then typically show them that, much like domestic abuse, they are in control and it is all about power and control.
Q: So how do you spot the signs of HBA?
A: It’s very difficult to reach out to victims as they are probably the most isolated and marginalised victims out there. There might be lots of barriers to reporting including victims saying they are chaperoned everywhere and language plus they are also conditioned not to reach out as speaking to the police can be seen as shameful. Victims might also be told that their children will be taken away or they will be deported if they speak out. It’s difficult to say that there is a typical case of HBA and forced marriage as survivors come in all shapes, sizes and guises. We need to be aware that victims might show similar signs those victims of domestic abuse.
Q: How does HBA affect men and boys?
A: There is a disparity that the figures say it is mainly women and young girls who are affected by these issues. However when we are talking about forced marriage, young men are currently reporting being at risk of forced marriage. One particular group that is affected by forced marriage are gay men who are often seen as very shameful and dishonourable within his community.
Q: What should you do if you or someone you know is at risk of HBA?
A: Like other vulnerabilities, it’s important to build confidence in the survivor so they come forward. There are a multitude of reasons why they stay silent. We know, like domestic abuse, that when a HBA survivor is at the point of leaving, the risk of abuse escalates.
We would say talk to someone, get the right information, advice and support to balance out the information the survivor might have been given by the perpetrator. Much like domestic abuse, speaking to an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA) is helpful and we are fortunate to have a BME IDVA that covers Bristol and South Gloucestershire. This person is there to offer support, will be culturally sensitive and is aware how speaking out about HBA can put the victim more at risk.
Overtime, a victim’s abuse will escalate and severity and frequency will increase, it will not stop. The sooner they can get help, the better.
Q: So if you think someone is in danger, the first thing to do is listen?
A: Yes and as an area we are fortunate as the forced marriage unit have a 24/7 helpline. We have fantastic national charities like Karma Nirvana so victims can speak to an expert and often survivors who have that lived experience.
For victims, it is about those small steps, building the confidence, becoming aware and having a safety plan.
What to do if you need help?
If you or someone you know feel at risk of HBA and you would like to speak to the police, please call 999 if you are immediate danger or 101 to talk to someone. However, if making contact online is the safest way for you to get in touch, visit: www.avonandsomerset.police.uk
You can also speak to a support worker from NextLink via Livechat on their website - http://www.forcedmarriageadvice.co.uk/contact-us/ - available Monday to Friday, 1pm – 5.30pm or please call 0117 9250680.
Karma Nirvana are a national charity supporting victims of HBA, forced marriage and disownment and you can call their confidential helpline on 0800 599 9247.