A Freedom of Information (FOI) request to British police forces has revealed only 3% of reported incidents of so-called ‘honour’ based violence resulted in charges, in some areas and that police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are poorly equipped to deal with these abuses.
Abuse consists of control, with violence beginning when victims are children and continuing into adult life. Disobeying is seen as an insult and brings perceived shame to not only relatives, but to entire communities.
The figures reveal that some incidents were simply logged as “unresolved”, while others were deemed to have insufficient evidence, and in some cases the victim withdrew their complaint.
Anna Kaur, from campaign group Karma Nirvana, said “It has everything to do with response. So how you respond to the victim is what you are going to get out of them.”
Professor Marianne Hester, criminologist and chair in gender, violence and international policy at the University of Bristol, says there have been some improvements in the way police investigate domestic violence and rape cases. However, there remains a lack of understanding regarding honour based abuse. Professor Hester says, “they still don’t really understand what it is about.”
The FOI request asked each police force how many reports of honour based violence they had received between January 2011 and August 2016.
Of the 42 forces that responded and provided figures, it was revealed there had been 7,048 reports to police, with most incidents recorded as assaults, threats to kill and kidnap.
The forces that received the highest number of reports were the Metropolitan Police Service (2,330), Thames Valley Police (1,000) and Greater Manchester Police (857).
Humberside was the only force who received no reports of honour base violence. City of London and Police Northern Ireland both received one report. Sussex Police did not respond to the FOI request.
Karma Nirvana has been supporting victims of honour based abuse and forced marriages for more than two decades. The charity receives about 700 calls to their helpline a month.
Kaur says, “this is a family or a community doing this to a victim, so there is this added pressure on them. If victims are not getting the right response or the right support from the authorities then they may be feeling more pressure to take the complaint away. It is all about the safeguarding and the response to the victims.”
The Met police arrested and charged 181 people (8%) over the five-year period. In 376 instances there was not enough evidence to proceed and in 174 cases victims were unwilling to prosecute.
Of the 857 incidents reported to Greater Manchester Police, 143 were deemed a crime, but just 23 (3%) resulted in a person being charged. Thames Valley Police refused to provide a breakdown of the outcomes of reports.
By comparison, Home Office records show that 13% of all reported crimes in the UK between April 2015 and March 2016 resulted in a charge or summons being issued.
In the Home Office figures there was no statistical breakdown of honour based violence, but of the crimes listed ‘rape’ had the lowest charge/ summons outcome rate (7.5%).
A National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) spokesman says the organisation focuses on “preventing and protecting potential victims”, rather than arrests and prosecutions alone.
Greater Manchester Police says it takes all reports of honour based abuse “extremely seriously” and that officers work “tirelessly to tackle these abhorrent crimes”, but the decision whether or not to prosecute rests with the CPS.
The figures reveal the number of incidents of honour based violence being reported to police has also steadily increased year-on-year since 2013.
While not all police forces provided a breakdown of their reports, those that did showed there had been a 29% rise in reports of honour violence between 2013 and 2014 and a 25% rise in reports to police between 2014 and 2015.
Police forces have faced growing scrutiny in recent years over how they deal with reports of honour based violence.
The HMIC investigation into how police respond to honour based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, found that well-trained officers capable of identifying victims were spread thinly across England and Wales. While Staffordshire, Thames Valley and Dyfed Powys forces were found not to have passed any key tests for honour violence preparedness.
Kaur believes that police and other local authority bodies can sometimes be hesitant to pursue an accusation of honour based violence because they do not want to offend other cultures or people’s sensibilities. Kaur say, “If you look at the Rotherham abuse and the scandal there it was exactly that. When we are seeing this within communities, there is a sense of ‘we don’t want to offend.”
Victims of honour based violence:
- Surjit Athwal, 27. December 1998. Her mother-in law and her husband arranged for her to be killed after she said she wanted a divorce.
- Tulay Goren, 15. January 1999. She was drugged, tortured and murdered by her father because of her relationship with an older man who he did not approve of.
- Heshu Yones, 16. October 2002. Her father slit her throat after she started dating a man from outside her own culture.
- Samaira Nazir, 25. April 2005. Stabbed to death by her brother, with the support of many of her family members, after she fell in love with her Afhgan boyfriend
- Banaz Mahmod, 19. January 2006. Banaz’s father and uncle arranged for her to be raped and murdered after she fell in love with someone of her own choosing.