Manchester lawyers call for honour-based abuse to be recognised in law

  • One survivor told ITV Granada Reports' Simran Johal her alleged abuser was given only a 15 week online course after years of trauma.

A lack of a legal framework is making it difficult to secure honour-based abuse convictions, a professor calling for the crime to be recognised in law has said.

A report from Manchester Metropolitan University looked to discover the shortfalls in the legal system that lead to a conviction rate of less than 3% in 2023 for perpetrators.

Honour-based abuse is currently defined as any crime or incident that was committed to protect the "honour" of a family or group.

In 2023, there were just under 3,000 cases of honour-based abuse, yet less than 100 ended in a conviction.

Riya, not her real name and one of thousands of victims of honour-based abuse, says she feels she never got justice for what happened to her.

Without a clear legal definition police were unable to help her - which, she says, leaves her, and others "open to be abused again".

She said: "I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere without him. When he did go to work, we would be locked in.

"When I did speak to the police they didn’t really understand the honour-based abuse, they didn’t understand what sort of a situation I was in.

"I did show them screenshots of things being put on WhatsApp for other community members to see.

"They took all the information down and nothing came back to me. Then they wrote down no action needed, and that was it."

Dr Maz Idriss is calling for more police training and for a legal definition of honour-based abuse.

Riya's ex-partner's only punishment was a 15-week online abuse course. Once he has attended all of the sessions, he will be entitled to unsupervised access to their son.

She said: "It moves forward like nothing ever did happen. It really is a system where you can be abused again."

The report argues that a statutory definition would mean the courts would be legally required to hear cases of honour-based abuse.

Author of the report, Dr Maz Idriss, said: "There can be instances where the courts have been asked to consider a murder or an act of violence as a case of honour-based abuse, but they have declined to even consider it because there’s no obligation.

"There’s no law that requires them to consider it. Some judges consider it, others ignore it."

The report also found that victims are often hesitant to go to the police because they often "do not wish for their parents to go to court... It will be embarrassing" and ruin "the family name."

Dr Idriss said: "They don’t want to see their family members prosecuted… That could be their parents, loved ones, aunts and uncles.

"To actually bring a case, that’s a form of dishonour as well."

For Riya, she was scared there would be consequences for her and her family if she went to the police.

She said: "Growing up in the South Asian community, you don’t want to call the police.

"I remember I said 'you have to leave now, or I’m going to call the police' and just because I said those words I was frowned upon.

"It did discourage me. I would never have called the police if it wasn’t for the agencies involved."

  • Simran Johal speaks about the campaigners who are calling for significant changes

The report comes 20 years after the death of Shafilea Ahmed - who was killed by her parents when she was 17-years-old after refusing to be married.

Her death is still regarded as a 'suspected' honour killing, but experts would say all the signs are there.

Shafilea's parents, Iftikhar and Farzana, were jailed for a minimum of 25 years for her murder in 2012.

In a statement, the Home Office said: “We are committed to ending all forms of ‘honour’ based abuse.

"We have taken significant action to tackle this crime, such as introducing a forced marriage offence, providing funding for the national ‘honour’ based abuse helpline, and giving support for victims.

“It is crucial that professionals recognise and understand these crimes, which is why we have a clear non-statutory definition of 'honour' based abuse, which we are constantly keeping under review."

  • If you, or someone you know is at risk of honour-based abuse, charity Savera UK can provide advice, help or advocacy, on a completely confidential basis.

  • You can call their helpline on 0800 107 0726 (10am – 4pm, Monday – Friday, excluding bank holidays).

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