'Honour' Based Abuse


The Government's updated Tackling Violence against Women and Girls Strategy sets out the government's strategy including planned legislative provisions to tackle issues such as child marriage and 'virginity testing'.

1. Definition

Honour based violence is a collection of practices, which are used to control behaviour within families or other social groups to protect perceived cultural and religious beliefs and/or honour. Such violence can occur when perpetrators perceive that a relative has shamed the family and / or community by breaking their honour code.

For young victims it is a form of child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights.

It can be distinguished from other forms of violence, as it is often committed with some degree of approval and/or collusion from family and/or community members. Women, men and younger members of the family can all be involved in the abuse.

2. Risks

Young victims may find themselves in an abusive and dangerous situation against their will with no power to seek help. The usual avenues for seeking help – through parents or other family members may be unavailable. Honour based violence manifests itself in a diverse range of ways with children and young people, including forced marriage, domestic and/or sexual violence, rape, physical assaults, harassment, kidnap, threats of violence (including murder), witnessing violence directed towards a sibling or indeed another family member, and female genital mutilation.

Female genital mutilation is an offence under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, and can result in severe physical and psychological injuries and even death. It is almost always restricted to female children and young people i.e. those under 18 years old. See Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Procedure.

Online targeting of victims is being used more frequently as a means of controlling and exploiting them. 

Victims can find it difficult to leave abusive relationships or ask for help if their immigration status is uncertain. They may face a number of issues such as a fear of deportation, bringing 'shame' on their families, financial difficulties and homelessness, or losing their children.

The notion of shame and the associated risk to the victim may persist long after the incident that brought about dishonour occurred. This means any new partner of the victim, children, associates or their siblings may be at serious risk of Significant Harm.

Behaviours that could be seen to transgress concepts of honour include:

  • Inappropriate make-up or dress;
  • The existence of a boyfriend or a perceived unsuitable relationship e.g. a gay/lesbian relationship;
  • Rejecting a forced marriage;
  • Pregnancy outside of marriage;
  • Being a victim of rape;
  • Inter-faith relationships (or same faith, but different ethnicity);
  • Leaving a spouse or seeking divorce;
  • Kissing or intimacy in a public place;
  • Alcohol and drugs use.

It is important to be mindful that young people may be subject to honour based violence for reasons which may seem improbable or relatively minor to others.

3. Indicators

It is likely that awareness that a child is the victim of an honour based crime will only come to light after an assault of some kind has taken place e.g. an allegation of domestic abuse or it may be that a child is reported as missing. There are inherent risks to the act of disclosure for the victim and possibly limited opportunities to ask for help for fear of retribution from their family or community.

There may be evidence of domestic abuse, including controlling, coercive and dominating behaviour towards the victim. Self-harming, family disputes, and unreasonable restrictions on the young person such as removal from education or virtual imprisonment within the home may occur.

Young people may be fearful of being forced into engagement/marriage.

Other warning signs may be FGM, sexual abuse and forced marriage. (See Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Procedure and Forced Marriage Procedure).

Continual assessment and review is paramount as circumstances can change very quickly, for example, following disclosure to the police the risks to the victim and others who are supporting the victim may increase.

Young people may face significant harm if their families/communities realise that they have asked for help. All aspects of their safety need to be carefully assessed at every stage. Initially this needs to address whether it is safe for them to return home following a disclosure. The young person will need practical help such as accommodation and financial support, as well as emotional support and information about their rights and choices.

Some families go to considerable lengths to find their children who run away, and young people who leave home are at risk of significant harm if they are returned to their family. They may be reported as missing by their families, but no mention is made of the reason. It is important that practitioners explore the underlying reasons before any decisions are made.

4. Protection and Action to be Taken

Any suspicion or disclosure of violence or abuse against a child in the name of honour should be treated equally seriously as any other suspicion or disclosure or significant harm against a child. However, there are significant differences in the immediate response required. Bearing in mind the specific practice issues set out, where the concerns about the welfare and safety of the child or young person are such that a referral to the Children's Services Trust should be made the Contacts and Referrals Procedure should be followed.

Involving families in cases of forced marriage is dangerous:

  • It may increase the risk of serious harm to the victim. Experience shows that the family may punish them for seeking help;
  • Involving the family includes visiting the family to ask them whether they are intending to force their child to marry or writing a letter to the family requesting a meeting about their child's allegation that they are being forced to marry;
  • Interpreters should be on the approved list. Relatives, friends, community leaders and neighbours should not be used as interpreters in case they are linked to the group suspected of carrying out the crime - despite any reassurances from this known person.

In cases of violence in the name of honour and of forced marriage, it is essential to consider other siblings in the family that may be experiencing, or at risk of, the same abuse.

Accurate record keeping in all cases of violence/abuse in the name of honour is important. Records should:

  • Be accurate, detailed, clear and include the date;
  • Use the person's own words in quotation marks;
  • Document any injuries – include photographs, body maps or pictures of their injuries;
  • Only be available to those directly involved in the person's case.

Practitioners must take care that information which increases the risk to the child is not inadvertently shared with family members.

5. Issues

Addressing the needs of the individual is key, as victims of honour-based violence will require a tailored response dependent on a number of factors including e.g. language and cultural barriers, how long they have been in the country, their social and family networks and their economic circumstances.

The 'One Chance Rule'

All practitioners working with victims of honour based violence need to be aware of the 'one chance' rule. That is, they may only have one chance to speak to a potential victim and thus they may only have one chance to save a life. This means that all practitioners working within statutory agencies need to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations when they come across these cases. If the victim is allowed to walk out of the door without support being offered, that one chance might be wasted.

6. Initial Response - Best Practice Guidance

When dealing with cases of 'Honour' based violence and/or Forced Marriage, it is important to take a victim centred approach. The victim should be listened to and their wishes respected as much as possible. There may be occasions where the victim chooses to take a course of action that may put them in danger, and in these instances the risks should be explained to the victim, and safety planning advice offered. It is highly likely that practitioners may need to follow their child or adult protection procedures, and this should be explained to the victim prior to those actions being undertaken, and the impact of those actions on the victim's safety need to be considered with the victim and these discussions need to be recorded. Victims should also be given the opportunity to access support from agencies with specialist expertise in 'Honour' based violence and Forced Marriage (e.g. Domestic Abuse Navigator / DANs), and if the victim is agreeable, there needs to be an agreed safe method of contact with the victim. The victim also needs to understand the steps a practitioner will undertake if the victim does not respond within timescales agreed with the victim (e.g. asking the Police to undertake a welfare check).

A good initial response includes:

  • Seeing the victim alone, in a secure, private place, where the conversation cannot be overheard - even if they attend with others;
  • Assuring the victim they are believed;
  • Ascertaining what 'Honour' may mean to the victim;
  • Explaining all options open to the victim, but respect their wishes and ensure their safety is taken into account and discussed with them;
  • Seeking advice from a DAN, Young person's Advisor, IDVA and/or the Police Public Protection Unit, Independent Domestic Violence Advocates or other local specialist agency;
  • Reassuring the victim of their confidentiality, and that the family and/or community members/leaders will not be informed unless there is a risk to others and actions to safeguard those others will not impact on their safety;
  • Being mindful of who the victim is clear you should not contact;
  • Undertaking DASH Risk Assessment and referring cases assessed as high risk to the MARAC (Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference) and local Independent Domestic Violence Advisors if the victim is aged 16 or over;
  • Ensuring that there is a way to contact the victim discreetly in the future;
  • Referring to your agency's vulnerable adult or child safeguarding procedures in relation to 'Honour' based violence and activate them if appropriate;
  • Initiating Strategy Discussions under the relevant safeguarding procedures and ensure the victim is kept informed of those discussions and the actions that have been agreed in those discussions;
  • Considering the need for immediate protection away from the family;
  • Referring all cases of 'Honour' based violence to the South Yorkshire Police Vulnerable Person's Unit.

Additional steps to take include:

  • Give the victim, where possible, the choice of the ethnicity and gender of the specialist who deals with their case;
  • Inform them of their right to seek legal advice and representation if this appropriate to their age;
  • If necessary, record any injuries you observe and advise the victim of the need to arrange a medical examination;
  • Give them personal safety advice;
  • Develop a safety plan in case they are seen when accessing support (i.e. prepare another reason why you are meeting and consider where it is safe for you to meet with the victim);
  • Establish if there is a family history of Forced Marriage, e.g. siblings or wider family members forced to marry. Other indicators may include domestic abuse, self-harm within younger members of the family, family history of suicides, family disputes, unreasonable restrictions (e.g. withdrawal from education or "house arrest") or missing persons within the family;
  • Identify any potential criminal offences and refer to the SYP Public Protection Unit (PPU) if appropriate, and support the victim in making complaints to the Police if they choose to do this;
  • Give them advice on what service or support they should expect and from whom;
  • Ensure that they have the contact details for any trained specialist they will be referred to and that the specialist agency knows of the agreed safety plan including an explanation of who they are when they make contact with the victim;
  • Maintain a full record of the decisions made and the reason for those decisions Information from case files and database files should be kept strictly confidential and preferably be restricted to named members of staff only;
  • Refer them, with their consent, to appropriate local and national support groups, counselling services and women's groups that have a history of working with survivors of domestic violence and abuse and Forced Marriage.

Practitioners should not:

  • Treat allegations solely as a case of domestic abuse – whilst there will be links with domestic abuse, the response required is a specialist approach that ensures victim safety and that of others who may also be at risk and this, in the case of young people aged 16 or over, will be informed by undertaking DASH Risk Assessment and making the appropriate referrals to MARAC, IDVA and specialist agencies with expertise in dealing with cases of 'Honour' based violence;
  • Send the victim back to the family home as part of the routine safeguarding procedures – practitioners need to be sure that such action will be safe for the victim and, if it is, that the victim has a safety plan and is clear on how to access support when it is needed at any point in the future. If the victim is determined to return home, and this will place them and/or others at risk, there will be a need to trigger the appropriate safeguarding procedures in addition to other procedures that are triggered by the disclosure and the victim needs to be aware of this;
  • Ignore what the victim has disclosed or minimise the disclosure – even if what is happening sounds improbable to you it is likely to be the reality of the victim;
  • Be unclear about the remits of confidentiality;
  • Approach the victim's family or friends or those who have influence within the community without the expressed permission of the victim;
  • Use friends, family members, community leaders or members as interpreters even if they give reassurances of their support for the victim;
  • Share information from any Strategy Meetings or MARAC discussions without the agreement of partners at those meetings;
  • Attempt mediation, reconciliation or family counselling.