‘Honour’ Based Abuse, Forced Marriage & Dowry
It is important to note that there is currently no statutory definition of ‘honour’ based abuse in England and Wales. However, a common definition has been adopted across government and criminal justice agencies which defines ‘honour’ based abuse as an incident or crime involving violence, threats of violence, intimidation, coercion or abuse (including psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional 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 (Crown Prosecution Service, 2019).
To understand ‘honour’ based abuse, it is important to understand the concept of ‘honour.’ For some families, their reputation and place in the community is so important to them that they are willing to hurt those whose behaviour they believe damages their family honour. The concept of ‘honour’ within this context is directly attached to the behaviours of girls and women and their role within the family and community. Violating these codes of ‘honour’ can lead to family shame and community ostracization, and the need to correct this often results in abuse or violence, such as forced marriages and in extreme circumstances, ‘honour’ killings. ‘Honour’ based abuse can take many forms and is usually perpetrated by family members, either close family members, such as parents or siblings or extended family, like uncles or cousins. Relatives, including females, may conspire, aid, abet or participate in ‘honour’ based abuse. There is often an element of approval and social acceptance from other family members and the community. Acts committed with the intention of restoring ‘honour’ are often premeditated and rooted in patriarchal beliefs of male control over women’s lives (Dyer, 2015; Gill, 2008). Although women are mainly the victims of ‘honour’ based abuse, it can also affect men.
It is estimated that around 15 murders are committed in the UK each year in response to a perceived breach of ‘honour’ (Khan et al., 2021). ‘Honour’ based violence is a gendered crime.
Forced marriages and dowry abuse are forms of ‘honour’ based abuse. They are defined as follows:
A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both people do not (or cannot, in cases of people with learning disabilities or reduced capacity) consent to the marriage but are pressurised, or abuse is used to force them to do so. It is very important to differentiate forced marriage and arranged marriage. In an arranged marriage, families may play a part in choosing and introducing partners. The choice of whether to accept the arrangement remains with the prospective spouses. They have the final say and can decline at any point. If a person changes their mind but is not given any choice, then it becomes a forced marriage.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 came into effect on Monday 27 February 2023, to protect children from forced marriage.
It is now illegal for anyone under the age of 18 in England and Wales to marry or enter a civil partnership under any circumstances, including with parental or judicial consent. The forced marriage offence will continue to include ceremonies of marriage which are not legally binding, for example in community or traditional settings.
Prior to the Marriage And Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022, forced marriage was only an offence if the person uses a type of coercion, for example threats, to cause someone to marry, or if the person lacks capacity to consent to marry under the Mental Capacity Act. The 2022 Act expands the criminal offence of forced marriage in England and Wales to make it an offence in all circumstances to do anything intended to cause a child to marry before they turn 18. Therefore, it is now an offence to cause a child under the age of 18 to enter a marriage in any circumstances, without the need to prove that a form of coercion was used.
For full details of the provisions of this Act, see Marriage And Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022.
This refers to any act of coercion, violence or harassment associated with the giving or receiving of a dowry at any time before, during or after marriage. It is important to note that the mere receiving or giving of a dowry is not an act of abuse. The abuse comes when there is violence of any kind involved.
Crown Prosecution Service (2019). So-called Honour Based Abuse and Forced Marriage
Dyer, E. (2015). ‘Honour’ killings in the UK. The Henry Jackson Society.
Gill, A. (2008). ‘Crimes of honour’ and violence against women in the UK. International Journal of Comparative and Applied Criminal Justice, 32(2), 243– 263.
Khan, Y., Khan, R., Adisa, O., Kumari, M., & Allen, K. (2021). ‘Honour’ abuse, violence, and forced marriage in the UK. Police cases (incidents and charges) and specialised training: 2018-2019. University of Central Lancashire.
Prevalence of ‘Honour’ Based Abuse (HBA)
In the year ending March 2021, there were 2,725 HBA-related offences recorded by police in England and Wales (excluding Greater Manchester Police). This is an increase of 18% compared with the year ending March 2020 (Source: Police recorded crime, Home Office 2021).
Table 1: Proportion of offences involving so called ‘honour-based’ abuse recorded by the police, by offence category, England and Wales, year ending March 20211
|Offence code||Offence category||Percentage|
|8N||Assault with injury||16|
|105A||Assault without injury||15|
|8U||Controlling and coercive behaviour||14|
|3B||Threats to kill||8|
|19C||Rape of a female aged 16 and over||6|
|11A||Cruelty to children/young persons||2|
|9A||Public fear, alarm or distress||1|
|All other offences||14|
Source: Police recorded crime, Home Office 2021
1 Numbers may not sum to 100 due to rounding
Increases in HBA-related offence recorded by the police over the last year could be due to several reasons, including:
- General improvements in crime recording.
- The police improving their identification of what constitutes so-called HBA.
- More victims coming forward to report these offences to the police.
- A genuine increase in these offences.
As there may be a number of reasons for the increase in these offences, caution is urged in interpreting the 18% increase in these crimes (Source: Statistics on so called ‘honour-based’ abuse offences recorded by the police – GOV.UK).
Prevalence of Forced Marriages
In 2021, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave advice and support in 337 cases related to a possible forced marriage and/or possible female genital mutilation (FGM). It also responded to 868 general enquiries. The 337 advice and support cases comprised 316 cases solely related to forced marriage, three cases related to both forced marriage and FGM, and 18 cases solely related to FGM. This figure includes contact that was made to the FMU through the public helpline or by email in relation to a new case. The figures in the rest of this section refer to the 337 cases.
Of the cases that the FMU provided advice or support to in 2021:
- 118 cases (35%) involved victims below 18 years of age.
- 120 cases (36%) involved victims aged 18-25.
- 53 cases (16%) involved victims with mental capacity concerns.
- 251 cases (74%) involved female victims, and 86 cases (26%) involved male victims.
(Source: Forced Marriage Unit statistics 2021 – GOV.UK)
Prevalence of Dowry Abuse
The concept of dowry has existed for hundreds of years. The difference nowadays is that it is mainly used as a tool of violence and oppression against women and girls. Today, the practice of dowry is present in several parts of the world, especially in South Asia and several Middle East and North African countries. In India, dowry violence has led to extreme outcomes such as acid attacks, setting the brides on fire or other physical and emotional humiliation. It also has led to women ending their own lives because they could not see any way out. They often do not get family support and hence decide to come to that decision as their last resort. The prevalence of dowry related abuse is therefore difficult to estimate. It is a hidden crime mostly carried out behind closed doors.
It is very important to note that cases of ‘honour’ based abuse (including forced marriages and dowry abuse) are largely under reported. Perpetrators and involved communities often make efforts to ensure these crimes are kept hidden and many incidents may never be reported (Gill et al., 2012; Home Office, 2021; Payton, 2014).
Despite the scale of offences highlighted in these statistics, this type of abuse is not officially recognised as a specific recorded crime category (CPS, 2017; Gill et al., 2018).
Gill, A. K., Begikhani, N., & Hague, G. (2012). ‘Honour’-based violence in Kurdish communities. Women’s Studies International Forum, 35(2), 75– 85.
Payton, J. (2014). “Honor,” Collectively, and Agnation: Emerging Risk Factors in Honor Based Violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29(16), 2863– 2883.
It is important to understand why ‘honour’ based abuse happens. Factors include, but are not limited to:
- Support or care needed for elderly or disabled.
- Peer/family pressure including extended family and elders.
- Strengthening family links.
- Reporting domestic abuse/forced marriage.
- Commitment of parents – promised at a young age, keeping their word.
- Help with UK residence – moving to the UK.
- Causing gossip or bringing shame upon the family.
- Refusing an arranged marriage.
- Non-approved relationship / loss of virginity.
- Running away from home.
- ‘Westernised’ lifestyle, for example, smoking, wearing make-up, clothing.
- Pregnancy outside of an approved relationship.
- Ideological conflicts.
- Interfaith/intercommunity relationships.
- Leaving spouse/seeking divorce.
Professionals should be aware of the signs and indicators below that may suggest a child is at risk of, or has experienced, ‘honour’ based abuse:
- Domestic abuse.
- Threats of violence.
- Sexual abuse, rape and forced pregnancy / forced abortion.
- Psychological and emotional abuse.
- Being held against their will or being taken somewhere they don’t want to go.
- Assault – various reasons can include not falling pregnant; going out; making friends outside of the community.
- Surveillance by family and community.
- Unnecessary restrictions.
- Isolation – not allowed to have friends outside of establishments.
- Personal attacks of any kind, including physical, for example, acid attacks.
- Forced marriage (which is a criminal offence).
- Forced repatriation (sending someone back to a country from which they originate without their consent).
- Transnational marriage abandonment.
- Written or verbal threats or insults.
- Threatening or abusive phone calls, emails and messages.
- Passport taken away (if arrived from abroad).
- Not being able to learn English.
- Different forms of abuse from more than one perpetrator.
- Fear of going on holiday.
- Sudden travel arrangements to ‘home’ country.
- Suicide of a sibling or suicidal thoughts themselves.
- History of ‘honour’ based violence and/or forced marriage in the family.
- Decline in attendance.
- Announcement of sudden engagement.
- Running away.
- Request of extended leave and then not returning.
- Eating disorders.
- Student being prevented from attending higher education.
- Virginity testing and hymenoplasty (illegal in the UK since 1 July 2022).
Moreover, a victim of ‘honour’ based abuse might show the following signs/behaviours:
- Acting withdrawn or upset.
- Bruising or other unexplained physical injury.
- Depression, self-harming or attempted suicide.
- Unexplained absence or poor performance at school or work.
- Their movements at home are strictly controlled.
- Family rows.
- Running away from home.
- A family history of relatives going missing.
‘Honour’ based abuse is wrongly thought to be limited to some communities or faith. The reality is different. ‘Honour’ based abuse can happen to anyone regardless of their religion, ethnicity, background, sex or age. ‘Honour’ based abuse often happens in communities where there is a strong patriarchal feel and where women and girls hold the family’s “honour.”
‘Honour’ based abuse is a hidden crime and there are barriers to reporting that should be considered:
- Young people are unlikely to report their parents/family members because of the fear of involvement with the police.
- Not wanting to criminalise their family, as victims do not always come from abusive households – they can be from loving and caring families.
- ‘Honour’ based abuse may be preventing them from reporting for example, imprisonment or being under constant surveillance.
- Community acceptance / Marriage.
- Language/immigration status where there is fear of going back to their country.
- Unaware of legality or laws in place.
- Lack of trust towards the authorities.
- Worry or fear of not being believed.
- Fear that children will be removed.
- Fear of reprisals from family/community.
‘Honour’ based abuse could have high repercussions on the victims.
The literature on ‘honour’ based abuse has suggested that differentiating domestic abuse from ‘honour’ based abuse can create a separation of abuse against black and ethnic minority women from domestic abuse against white women (Bates, 2021; Gill & Brah, 2014). Seeing the victims of ‘honour’ based abuse as different to the victims of domestic abuse, perpetuates stereotypical beliefs of people from other backgrounds and different practices (Gill & Brah, 2014; Payton, 2014). This in turn encourages the attribution of this form of abuse to ethnic minority cultures and communities, but the assumption that ‘honour’ based abuse is only a cultural or religious issue can cause dismissal and disregard of victims, preventing their needs from being met (Gill et al., 2012; Walker, 2020).
Moreover, understanding the prevalence of different ‘honour’ based abuse characteristics is key to an improved insight into this type of abuse (Bates, 2021) as there is still lack of understanding on ‘honour’ based abuse. According to data shared by Karma Nirvana, only three out of the 43 constabularies in England and Wales are prepared to respond to ‘honour’ based abuse (Nirvana, 2020).
ONE CHANCE RULE
The lack of response from police forces is not the only and main issue. Being able to identify ‘honour’ based abuse at an early stage could be crucial in providing the support that victims need. A potential victim may only have one chance to ask for help. Professionals may only have one chance to provide help, so it is important to get it right on the first occasion, as there may only be one chance to save a life.
It is important to listen and be confident to ask questions. However, professionals need to avoid using judgemental language around entire “cultures” and ethnicities. They need to believe, even if it is beyond their understanding, and seek advice. Professionals need to take action to protect under Section 47 of the Children’s Act. All practitioners working within statutory agencies need to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations when they become aware of potential forced marriage cases/’honour’ based violence. If the victim is allowed to walk out the door without support being offered, that one chance might be wasted.
Professionals should recognise that a victim of ‘honour’ based abuse is at high risk of harm. Being able to identify and understand the abuse, as well as put safety measures in place for the victim can lead to successfully engaging with the victim and protecting them from harm. Professionals need to recognise the importance of spreading awareness around ‘honour’ based abuse and engaging with the communities using a grassroots approach where they involve community groups and community champions, as well as faith leaders.
If you are concerned about someone:
- Recognise: Gather information, note a child/adult’s words, behaviour, presentation, physical, emotional and psychological information.
- Respond: Ask the right questions.
- Record: Keep clear and accurate records.
- Refer: Pass on as much information as possible.
- ALWAYS REMEMBER – IN AN EMERGENCY DIAL 999.
Bates, L. (2021). Honour-based abuse in England and Wales: Who does what to whom? Violence Against Women, 27(10).
Gill, A.K. and Brah, A. (2014) Interrogating Cultural Narratives about Honour Based Violence. European Journal of Women’s Studies 21 (1) pp. 72 – 86
Payton, J. (2014). “Honor,” Collectively, and Agnation: Emerging Risk Factors in Honor Based Violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 29(16), 2863– 2883.
Gill, A. K., Begikhani, N., & Hague, G. (2012). ‘Honour’-based violence in Kurdish communities. Women’s Studies International Forum, 35(2), 75–85.
Gill, A.K., Walker, S. (2020) On Honour, Culture and Violence Against Women in Black and Minority Ethnic Communities
Nirvana, K. (2020) What is honour-based abuse and how does it affect men?
4LSAB and 4LSCP Multi-Agency Guidance on ‘Honour’ Based Abuse, Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation – A multi‐agency guidance document for agencies and organisations to use with cases or suspected cases of ‘honour’ based abuse in Hampshire, Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight.
Forced Marriage and Learning Disabilities: Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines – These practice guidelines have been developed to assist professionals encountering cases of forced marriage of people with learning disabilities.
Stop Domestic Abuse – Charity providing support to victims of Domestic Abuse, covering Hampshire.
Telephone: 0330 0533 630
In an emergency dial 999
Telephone: 0300 555 1386
Out of Hours: 0300 555 1373
Telephone: 0300 555 1384
Professionals should complete the online Interagency Referral Form.
For urgent child protection enquiries, professionals can Telephone: 01329 225379 or email: email@example.com
Forced Marriage Unit – Single point of confidential advice and assistance for those at risk or being forced into a marriage.
Telephone: 020 7008 0151
Karma Nirvana – A national helpline offering direct support and guidance to victims and professionals, and support victims of ‘honour’ based abuse and forced marriage.
Telephone: 0800 5999 247
Southall Black Sisters – Addressing needs of BME women empowering them to escape domestic violence, forced marriage, ‘honour’ based violence, FGM.
Telephone: 0208 8571 9595
The Halo Project Charity – Established in 2011, the Halo Project was formed in response to a gap in service provision, for black and minoritised women and girls experiencing, or at risk of, domestic and sexual abuse and violence. Since its launch they have supported over 3,000 women from over 49 different ethnicities and helped them to move from a situation of untenable violence to a life free from abuse. The Halo Project strives to support survivors through their programmes to ensure survivors are believed, protected, supported, and empowered to live independent and fulfilled lives.
Support for forced marriage/’honour’ based abuse and FGM – Telephone: 01642 683 045
In an emergency (including fear of being taken abroad) call: 08081 788 424 (free phone)
Aanchal – 24-hour crisis line for Asian women experiencing any form of domestic abuse.
Telephone: 0845 451 2547
Mankind – Confidential helpline available for male victims of domestic abuse and violence across the UK.
Telephone: 01823 334244
Telephone: 0808 2000 247
IMECE Women’s centre – Stands against all forms of violence against women and girls. Provides specialist support for Turkish, Kurdish and Cypriot Turkish women and Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic And Refugee (BAMER) women.
Telephone: 020 7354 1359
What is honour based abuse? – The Metropolitan Police website provides information about recognising signs of ‘honour’ based abuse, types, warning signs and how to report it.
Honour Based Abuse Offences – The Karma Nirvana website provides the police annual statistics on ‘honour’ based offences with a helpline telephone number.
UK Helpline: 0800 5999 247
Freedom Charity – This organisation brings awareness, help and support to victims of forced marriage, ‘honour’ based violence and female genital mutilation (FGM).
The Impact of Covid-19 and Covid-Related Restrictions on Forced Marriage – Three sources of forced marriage (FM) data analysed to understand the impact of COVID-19 and COVID-related restrictions on FM.