Government rejects legal definition for honour-based abuse

The government has declined to establish a legal definition for honour-based abuse, despite recommendations from the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) made in July.

This comes as WEC stated in July that so-called honour-based abuse risks remaining a hidden crime without improved victim support and law enforcement focus.

In a report that was been published, the Committee found victims would continue to be reluctant to report crimes without greater assurance that they would be protected from further abuse.

The government asserted that a functional definition, already employed by the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), is in place and suggested that enacting a statutory definition would not necessarily enhance the understanding or response to such crimes.

Caroline Nokes, the WEC chairwoman, expressed disappointment in the government’s decision and stressed the need for a statutory definition to aid front-line workers, including police, social care, and education professionals, in recognizing and recording incidents of honour-based abuse consistently and accurately. She told the BBC:

“A statutory definition would help police officers and other front-line 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.”

Natasha Rattu, director of specialist charity Karma Nirvana also told the BBC:

 “There’s a real opportunity through a statutory definition to have that strength in recognising exactly what this [type of abuse] is.

Many victims, we feel as a consequence [of this decision], will continue to be missed by professionals that should have a duty in law to protect and safeguard them.”

The government’s non-statutory definition of honour-based abuse is that it is “an incident or crime involving violence, threats of violence, intimidation, coercion or abuse… which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of an individual, family and/or community for alleged or perceived breaches of the family and/or community’s code of behaviour“.

Commenting on the governments response, Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales said that the government has made “significant process” in tackling so-called honour-based abuse, including “strengthening legislation on female gentile mutilation, forced marriage, and ‘virginity testing’”. She continued:

“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.”

Jacobs also stated that she is also concerned that the government rejected the Committee’s recommendation for a firewall, which would allow victims of domestic abuse to safely report to the police without fear of deportation or detention. She continued:

“This rejection stands in direct opposition to the Government’s position that all victims of crime are victims first and foremost regardless of immigration status.

I will continue to work closely with government to progress the critical action needed to reduce, and one day end, this horrific form of domestic abuse.”

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