Britain’s Forgotten Women: Speaking to Survivors of ‘Honour’-Based Abuse

By Emily Dyer

Survivors of ‘honour’-based abuse and forced marriage have chosen to leave their families behind, often as a means of staying alive. In doing so, they form part of a new scattered community of disowned human beings who are vulnerable and in urgent need of support. Yet, many are still being met with a lack of understanding from local authorities and services.

Using new case studies of survivors of ‘honour’ abuse, new HJS report Britain’s Forgotten Women: Speaking to Survivors of ‘Honour’-Based Abuse identifies a clear gap in support for victims leaving an ‘honour’ system, at a time when many are at their most vulnerable and isolated. It also provides practical recommendations for professionals in statutory agencies, including the police, schools and social services in how to fill this gap.

Key findings and recommendations include:

  • The most common themes that emerged from survivor case studies profiled as well as wider existing research include: the normalisation of ‘honour’ codes and abuse; feelings of guilt and shame; difficulties and risks in speaking out about ‘honour’ abuse; and, feelings of isolation.
  • Victims of ‘honour’-based abuse often suffer various layers of emotional pain. These can include: the trauma of suffering sustained abuse from loved ones; the subsequent and often long-term internalised guilt and self-hatred for having ‘failed’ their family and their ‘honour’ system; and feeling trapped in a pattern of abuse.
  • Survivors reported feeling let down by professionals in social services and schools due to their failure in identifying risk or intervening in cases of forced marriage and ‘honour’-based abuse. This deterred some survivors from reaching out for help in the future, instead remaining in abusive situations.
  • There are three key stages of care provision needed for those involved in ‘honour’-based abuse and forced marriage: prevention and identifying victims; safeguarding victims leaving home; and, aftercare support. All professionals need to have the basic knowledge and understanding of ‘honour’-based abuse to have the confidence and ability in assessing levels of risk appropriately and supporting victims accordingly.
  • All professionals need to have an awareness and understanding of how and why many common signs of risk or standard safeguarding measures applied within other forms of child protection simply do not apply – or apply differently – to cases of ‘honour’-based abuse and forced marriage due to the specificity of the nature of the abuse.

The report is to be launched on 14th July – the UK’s first ever Day of Memory for victims of ‘honour’ killings – at a Survivor’s Conference hosted by Cosmopolitan magazine and Karma Nirvana. The 14th would have been the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed, a young British woman who was suffocated to death by her parents in 2003 when she was just 17 years old. On the Day of Memory, advertising agency Leo Burnett London are running a social campaign whereby the public are being asked to channel their messages of support – using the Twitter hashtag ‘#RememberShafilea’ to help physically create a permanent memorial to the victims of ‘honour’ killings.

Britain’s Forgotten Women: Speaking to Survivors of ‘Honour’-Based Abuse is available to download here


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