Statistics from the Home Office show that West Yorkshire has one of the highest rates of honour-based abuse in the country, but campaigners say that the number is a “huge underestimation”.
By Shawna Healey
Statistics from the Home Office show that West Yorkshire is tied with having the second greatest number of reported incidents of honour-based abuse (HBA) in England and Wales.
HBA is a form of gender-based violence that encompasses multiple patterns of behaviours and incidents including sexual assault, female genital mutilation, forced or child marriage, and murder – known as ‘honour’ killings, which take the lives of 12-15 women a year in the UK.
The police and the Crown Prosecution Service defines HBA 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 or community for alleged or perceived breaches of the family or community’s code of behaviour.”
Between 2020 and 2021, West Yorkshire Police had 203 reported incidents of HBA or nine reported incidents of HBA per 100,000 people, the same as the West Midlands and Bedfordshire. This is compared with Greater Manchester Police, which has the highest HBA rate of police force area, with twelve per 100,000.
Rates of HBA vary across Yorkshire, with the Humberside and North Yorkshire having the lowest rates out of England and Wales, with just one case reported per 100,000. In South Yorkshire, the rate is four per 100,000.
However, charities working with victims of HBA, who are most often women from the South Asian community says that the statistics are a “huge underestimation and fails to consider how some perpetrators will go to great lengths to protect their honour.”
Yasmin Khan, Director of the Halo Project, a charity supporting Black, Asian, and minoritized victims and survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and hidden harms including honour-based abuse, said: “HBA is especially prevalent among South Asian communities, where female victims face a higher risk of poor mental health and are three times more likely to commit suicide than female white British victims and seventeen times more likely than male South Asian victims.
“Victims are often discouraged in disclosing abuse from a young age because it brings ‘shame’ and ‘dishonour’ to the family – and many face additional barriers, such as language, insecure immigration status and past negative experiences with frontline services such as the police.”
One woman who suffered HBA and found help through The Halo Project is Madiha. Madiha arrived in the UK from Pakistan a decade ago and started to receive HBA after not being able to fall pregnant.
The abuse got so bad that she ended up in the hospital. It was here that she was suggested to 101 – the non-emergency crime hotline. She was told that she must report the crime herself, which in turn would allow a police officer to visit her take a statement.
Not speaking any English, she was unable to do this until a helpful NHS worker contacted The Halo Project who was then able to advocate on her behalf.
The charity worker helped Madiha work with a police officer who was specially trained in HBA to receive appropriate care.
Madiha safely moved from the hospital to an appropriate refuge and was able to remove her belongings from the family home. She was given constant emotional support as well as counselling and group activities to keep her confidence and morale levels up after leaving a traumatic situation.
One of the reasons why incidents of HBA is underreported is because “police forces haven’t got the understanding or fail to consider the additional barriers that victims from Black, Asian, or minoritized communities face, meaning they may drop the case or file it as a separate offence such as domestic abuse,” says Ms Khan.
She added: “This misreporting then causes HBA to not appear prevalent from a statistical point of view, meaning it is then not afforded the priority it needs in terms of attention, funding, and awareness, which results in the inadequate provision, a lack of safeguarding and a heightened risk to the lives of women.”
To change the way HBA is recorded and dealt with in society, the director of the Halo Project said: “We must change the monolithic approach to violence against women and girls and consider the complexities for all victims.
“Specialist training should be compulsory for all frontline professionals, a national strategy is needed to ensure all crimes of this type are recorded, and more funding must be allocated to services that understand and specialise in these cases.
“We must invest in the complexities of domestic abuse in all its forms because too many victims are suffering unnecessarily.
“The responsibility is on all of us to spot the signs of honour-based abuse, signpost survivors, and support specialist services.”
Detective Chief Inspector Allan Raw, of West Yorkshire Police’s Safeguarding Central Governance Unit, said: “There is no honour in any form of abuse. We take a victim-led approach to deal with these challenging issues which respects the views of victims and witnesses, provides the necessary support, confidentiality and protection from harm.
“Specialist officers located in the Force’s district Safeguarding Units or Domestic Abuse Teams are responsible for ensuring the safety of those who report concerns about themselves directly or who are otherwise brought to our attention as being potential victims, ensuring that all crimes are fully investigated and prosecuted wherever possible.
“However, we acknowledge that it is often difficult for victims as they do not want to prosecute their family, so our primary aim is to make sure the victim has the necessary support and above all, is safe. Some police interventions in respect of honour-based abuse are preventative in nature and our response is always to work with partner agencies to safeguard that person from coming to harm, for example, by considering Forced Marriage Prevention Orders.
“We know that this is a hidden and under-reported crime and it is testament to the work that is being done to raise awareness and encourage reporting that we have seen more victims coming forward.
“West Yorkshire Police has invested in further awareness training for officers and staff to ensure that we are able to recognise honour-based abuse at the earliest opportunity and to ensure that we provide an effective response.
“If you have been a victim of honour-based abuse or have concerns for someone you know then we would urge you to please make contact with the police. Officers within our specialist safeguarding units understand the sensitive nature of these offences, and have access to interpreters where they are needed.”
If you need help or more information about honour-based violence or suspect somebody is a victim of HBA, please contact the following charities:
- The Halo Project: Phone 01642 683 045 or email email@example.com. Their live chat is open from Monday to Friday 8am – 10am and 6pm – 9pm and Saturday and Sunday 10am – 2pm.
- Karma Nirvana: Open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Phone 0800 5999 247.
- Refuge: Domestic abuse hotline is open 24 hours on 0808 2000 247.
- True Honour on 07480 621711.