Al Hasaniya Moroccan Women’s Centre was established in 1985 to support Moroccan and Arabic speaking women and their families, in the local community. However, due to our unique standing, we receive enquiries from women all over the UK and internationally. We are UN ECOSOC accredited and have various projects running, including Domestic Abuse.
The Domestic Abuse Project is one of the most in demand projects which includes us supporting those who suffer from ‘Honour’ Based Violence.
From our experience supporting victims and survivors of abuse, we have seen that there are multiple forms of violence against women and girls motivated by ‘Honour’ Based Violence.
It is important to firstly begin by stating that we strongly believe that there must be a UK Government definition of what constitutes HBV. Currently there isn’t one, but rather, a general, shared statement that HBV relates to an incident which is motivated by ‘defending’ the family’s/community’s honour. Without having consistency and a clear understanding between services and bodies, we will continue to fail victims and survivors of HBV as many cases will continue to go unreported.
Additionally, we do not see HBV occurring in isolation, but is generally accompanied by other forms of abuse. This can include one or more of the following - physical, verbal, emotional, financial and sexual abuse (rape). We also see threats to disfigure or kill the victim/survivor or anyone the perpetrator is aware she loves.
It is important to remember that power and control is at the core of all forms of abuse and HBV.
Additionally, coercive and controlling behaviours can accompany HBV as we see many perpetrators scaring and threating the victim/survivor in order to attempt exercising as much control as possible.
We as a by and for service, have come across many examples where victims/survivors who experience HBV, are also experiencing physical abuse by the perpetrator/s. Or they are subjected to verbal abuse, where they are sworn at and belittled. At times, victims/survivors disclose to experiencing emotional blackmail, which we sometimes see tied into religious and cultural misconceptions. The aim of this as we see it, is to cause the victim/survivor to feel as much guilt and shame of wanting to be independent or free from the abuse. At times emotional abuse is also tied into the victim/survivor’s relationship with the perpetrators. For instance, if the abuse is perpetuated by parents, we would see them using their health or love for the victim/survivor as a way to try exercising control and justifying the abuse. We have also seen many victims/survivors financially dependent on the perpetrators and them withholding money as a form of punishment.
Other times, we have seen extreme coercive and controlling behaviour such as perpetrators checking the victim/survivor’s phone, limiting their social interactions, not allowing them out of the house unless accompanied by a trusted family member, or taking their passport.
But what is key to remember is that culture and religion are often used as justifications for HBV due to them being deep rooted beliefs and therefore, it is important to understand why culture and religion is so important and how to successfully challenge these core beliefs.
Specialist services such Karma Nirvana and SafeLives regularly produce figures that detail how many victim/survivors are impacted by various forms of HBV. However, we as a specialist service are aware that any figures produced are only a fraction of the reality. For instance, we see many more women accessing our service seeking advice and support without having reached out to other larger services such as Karma Nirvana or SafeLives. That means such women accessing our service, are not being included in research conducted by larger Domestic Violence / HBV services.
There are multiple forms of HBV which many people are unaware of and tend to only focus on the 2 most popular ones - forced marriage or FGM. Other forms such as child marriages, virginity testing, forced abortion, kidnapping, rape, sometimes go unnoticed or due to the lack of a definition of what constitutes HBV, do not link these forms of abuse to HBV.
There are many myths, assumptions and stereotypes around the backgrounds and characteristics of victim/survivors and perpetrators. This includes their ethnic background, religion, socio economic status or age. Many assumptions are made that for example, victim/survivors and perpetrators are predominantly from an Asian backgrounds such as Pakistan or Bangladesh. There is a lack of awareness that issues such as forced marriage, can affect women and girls from the Middle East, North Africa, Asia and in relation to religions, can affect women and girls who subscribe to the Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu religions amongst more.
But there needs to be more education to correct these assumptions. As there are various forms of HBV, it impacts women and girls from all ethnicities and backgrounds. Furthermore, better understanding needs to be developed around the perpetrators and that they are not exclusively male family members, but are also female family members and also members of the local community and tribes.
Without having a clear, consistently used definition of what HBV is, it is very difficult to know about the abuse practiced in the pretext of upholding cultural norms. Every agency or organisation will be viewing this in their own, unique manner.
However, as a by and for service that is culturally sensitive, we believe we have a greater understanding in identifying cultural and religious misconceptions and challenging these respectfully and sensitively with victims/survivors.
Whilst carrying out our risk assessments and general needs assessments, we will explore with the victim/survivor some behavioural traits and some justifications which the perpetrators may have given for the abuse. We would ask whether specific religious or cultural meanings were associated and begin to challenge these. Although we are not a faith based service, we are aware of how prevalent these misconceptions are being used and look at correcting them and breaking the cycle of abuse.
We also see how other forms of abuse are used to further control the victim/survivor, however, the most predominant forms in HBV is the manipulation using religion and culture as they are so significant and deep rooted.
We do not believe that there is enough data or research in this area and would call on the government to ensure there is fair and adequate funding to services such as ours who support a minoritized group within a minority and are under represented. Support for Moroccan and Arabic speaking women is extremely limited and we would like to see the government tapping into our experience and expert knowledge to gain a better understanding which would be shared with other key agencies.
There are two parts to the question as to why a victim/survivor may face challenges or barriers in seeking support or protection. Support and protection are two very different factors.
We have seen that many victims/survivors are more willing to seek support than protection.
In both cases, it is important to remember that victims/survivors are extremely afraid.
When seeking support, the victim/survivor may reach out to an agency that speaks their language and understands their culture to confide in, to remain in touch with to ensure she is as safe as possible, or to seek advice.
Others, may feel their situation is so dangerous, they have no option but to seek assistance in leaving the environment they are in.
There are multiple barriers that may prevent victim/survivors from seeking support. Some are not only afraid for their safety, but they could be afraid for the safety of loved ones such as a partner whom their family disapproves off or their family- whether they are the perpetrators or not. So, for a young girl experiencing HBV, she may not want to report her family in fear of being blamed as the reason why her parents / uncles are arrested or imprisoned. She may also fear for her younger siblings and their fate and may want to remain in the house to protect them.
But there is another key reason that centres around culture- which is not wanting to be ostracised from the community. We are aware from many women’s experiences that if they do report incidents to the Police or do leave home, they are the ‘talk of the community,’ and feel they are never able to be fully accepted again. This has resulted in victims/survivors suffering from isolation, shame, guilt as well as an increase in mental health disorders including, Anxiety, Depression, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Suicidal Ideations and Suicide Attempts.
On a practical level, we must not forget that many women may not speak English or may not know their rights in the UK and do not know how to or fear reaching out to services.
One source of information which we have looked into is His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) which independently reviews how effective the police and fire responses are. In 2015, they carried out research into Police responses to HBV across England and Wales.
In summary, they found that the Police were not set up to adequately protect victims/survivors of HBV. It found that the Police must do more to support victims/survivors in reporting incidents and also work to include community groups to increase better engagement.
It appears that most if not all Police task forces have an HBV Policy. However, we believe this could be improved by setting up a specialist unit that is trained by by and for services in understanding what HBV is, the importance of how culture and religion are misused and how to challenge these positively.
We do not believe that the current law in relation to HBV is enough to protect victims/survivors. If there is no HBV definition that is consistently used and understood by key agencies across the UK- how can we successfully protect and prosecute?
The current protective orders in place include the Non Molestation Order. This has a number of challenges as many victims/survivors need legal aid in order to be supported by a solicitor. Although they can make the paper applications their selves, the notion of standing in front of the perpetrator and representing one’s self is a frightening one for many traumatised victims/survivors. Furthermore, the order typically lasts between 6 months – 1 year, which many do not feel is enough.
The second protective order is the Forced Marriage Protection Order which may offer protection to anyone at risk of forced marriage. The advantages of this order is that it includes anyone who aids, abets, encourages or assists someone to force or attempt to force someone to marry. It is also positive to see that the FMPO can last indefinitely or for a specific time and breaching the order can result in a custodial sentence.
It is also positive that there is a similar order in relation to FGM- FGM Protection Orders, which allows anyone to apply in support of the victim/survivor and breaches of the order can also result in a custodial sentence.
However, for other forms of abuse, it appears that if they are breaking the current UK laws, they will be handled accordingly, rather than looking at specific protection for the victim/survivor.
As a 37 year old, well established charity in the community, we continue to deal with extremely complex cases. We believe that there needs to be better awareness of culturally sensitive services so that better support is offered to victims/survivors, which could encourage consistent engagement and more disclosures. We also believe it is important that services such as ours are included in more consultations in order to share our knowledge and expertise.
Lastly, we believe it is also key for services such as ours to be funded to carry out trainings to statutory agencies and additional funding for appropriate research into HBV. We as a by and for service have a unique role in supporting victim/survivors and should we receive the appropriate commissioning and support, we would be able to share our findings that will contribute to the overall better understanding of HBV in England and Wales and its prevalence.
We call on the UK government to agree on a clear and concise definition of what constitutes HBV, in order to create consistency with services that come into contact with victims/survivors.
It is imperative that ‘honour’ is understood and its links to cultural and religious misconceptions. It is also key to understand that this form of abuse typically hand in hand with other forms of abuse and is also not limited to a victim/survivor and a perpetrator, but may include multiple perpetrators and can extend from the family to the tribe, to the community.
We also call on there to be better training for statutory services from by and for services in order for there to be better understanding on the cultural and religious misconceptions used by perpetrators to continue abusing victims/survivors.
We need more statistics and data on HBV in England and Wales, which will indicate what more needs to be done in order to support victims/survivors. As such, we call for more funding for by and for services to lead on such research and to support us to publish our fundings.