Practice blog

Breaking the Silence within Communities and Service-Providers

Afrah Qassim is the Founder and Director at Savera UK, a Merseyside-based charity, working to safeguard those at risk from horrific incidents of honour-based violence, female genital mutilation and forced marriage. Since Savera UK was set up in 2010, the charity has been dedicated to tackling domestic abuse within BME communities, raising awareness among professionals and practitioners about these harmful practices. Savera UK has made an outstanding contribution to protecting some of the most vulnerable and marginalised individuals in our local communities. For an audio version of this blog, scroll to the bottom of the page, or visit our Soundcloud profile

From our research and ongoing interaction with Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities, it is apparent that the greatest fear that some families have is the Westernisation of their young people, specifically their daughters. This fear is due to culturally constituted notions of honour and shame within the community and daughters (and women in general) are expected to act honourably. The dominant patriarchal culture in many of these communities dictates what is considered honourable (although not all community members hold such beliefs). Due to the fear of Westernisation, there has been a surge in traditional and cultural practices that are, in many cases, no longer practised in the countries from which the families originate. Harmful practices such as forced marriage, 'honour' based violence and female genital mutilation remain at the heart of many communities, despite criminal justice remedies being available. The number of domestic abuse cases reported to the police by women from BME communities is increasing but the resources and expertise to deal with them is reducing year-on-year. This is evidenced in the recent HMIC report, The Depths of Dishonour: Hidden Voices and Shameful Crimes, 2015)

Furthermore, from our engagement with BME communities, an oft-cited reason for not reporting abuses nor asking for the support they need is for fear of bringing shame and dishonour upon their families and community. Sadly, another reason many do not make the reports is the fear of being misunderstood by services. For these reasons, charities such as Savera UK are essential in tackling and addressing issues such as:

Lack of representative data: the lack of data collection has stopped us from understanding the bigger picture of how to prevent these harmful practices both within the UK and further afield. In 2004, the United Nations urged all governments to collect data around harmful practices, but the statistics are commonly gathered through crime and prosecution numbers.

Education & communication: a lack of funding has resulted in budgetary cuts in training and development that are so key to understanding the issues surrounding harmful practices, as well as developing and coordinating a multi-agency approach.

Specialist support: survivors of harmful practices still have great difficulty in receiving the appropriate counselling or therapeutic support. Those who have received such service provision feel that their cultural traditions are misunderstood by those who merely have generic counselling.

No resources, nor access to public funds: women with insecure immigration state can be reluctant to approach for help, in fear of being exposed and refused support.

Although I have outlined above some key issues, these are only a handful of those that Savera UK faces as a charity on a day-to-day basis. The individuals who seek our help experience first-hand the gaps in service provision that exist; we are trying to bridge those gaps, so that those who need the support, do not need to search endlessly for it. However, there are many issues that Savera UK cannot even begin to address as a lone entity e.g. the justice system; it still needs to understand the issues surrounding harmful practices and the impact it has on survivors who have the courage to stand up to their perpetrators; perpetrators who could be their own family, or community. Furthermore, work also must be done to re-engage communities and raise awareness within them to highlight and promote the rights individuals have. More work must be done with community leaders who can have a strong influence in making positive changes and have the ability to challenge dominant attitudes within the community towards such issues. Most concern we now face is the lack of funding, which prevents further development.  

Visit our Spotlight homepage for more insight, stories and resources for professionals encountering 'honour'-based violence and forced marriage.

Reflections of an Idva on 'honour'-based violence

Tina Ciccotto is a Senior Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (Idva) at Victim Support in the borough of Tower Hamlets in London. Tina was trained as an Idva, Isva and most recently also completed the Safelives Service Manager training. Here Tina reflects on the role of managing cases in relation to ‘honour’- based violence which are quite prevalent in the borough. Tina also delivers training and raises awareness to professionals within the borough. For an audio version of this blog, scroll to the bottom of the page or visit our Soundcloud profile.

Tower Hamlets is the sixth smallest of the 32 London boroughs and yet it is the fourth most densely populated. We are extremely diverse with the single largest ethnic group being Bangladeshi (32%), bringing it up to 46% when considering other Asian populations. In fact, Tower Hamlets has the largest Bangladeshi population in England (Ethnicity in Tower Hamlets, Analysis of 2011 Census data, Tower Hamlets Council). Tower Hamlets consistently has one of the highest rates of reported domestic abuse across London(Metropolitan Police Crime Figures, available at: (last accessed 11.01.16), and ‘honour’ - based violence, including forced marriage,accounts for a quarter of our referrals.

When I started working as an Idva for Victim Support, I was aware that pride/honour was important to people in all societies.However,it was not long before the word “izzat” (Hindi, Urdu and Bengali refers to the concept of honour) became apparent in our daily work and I soon realised that it was often linked to family members or acquaintances who mistakenly believe someone has brought shame to their family or community by doing something that is not in keeping with the traditional beliefs of their culture.This honour came with a price: violence and abuse. There are many factors we have come across in our service which are viewed as dishonourable and may be considered as bringing shame and dishonour on the individual, their family and their community such as:

  • defying parental authority
  • “westernised” dress, behaviour and attitude
  •  pre-marital sex or extra-marital affairs
  • the existence of a “non-approved” relationship
    •  rejecting a forced or arranged marriage
    • leaving a partner
    • seeking divorce particularly when a dowry may be large.
    • Rumours and gossip.

The repercussions of this perceived damaged ‘honour’are both extreme and diverse: ostracising from one’s family and community, kidnapping and house ‘arrest’, including restriction of movement within and outside the home and excessive restrictions on home life (not allowed a phone, to use internet or develop friendships outside of wider family / friends circle etc.) are just a few. For many, escaping these abusive situations seem hopeless and their only sense of release or control is through self-harm or suicide. And there is always the looming threat of an honour killing which thankfully we have not experienced lately in our borough.

Recently I supported a woman named Sabina*. Following a miscarriage, which led to escalated abuse, she separated from her husband after years of domestic violence and abuse from both her husband and in-laws. She fled to her sister in London.  Living in the UK on a spousal visa, with her residency dependent on her relationship to her husband, and with no recourse to public funds, she felt hopeless to escape the abuse. Returning to her home country was not an option, as she feared that she would face the repercussions for her actions (i.e. ‘honour’ based violence). Being divorced was a subject of taboo and was frowned upon within her community and culture.She felt she was the ‘‘black sheep’’ of the family and considered a ‘’whore’’.  She explained some relatives had disowned her, and the family members she was in contact with were indifferent to the abuse she had experienced and they blamed her for it. As her husband had made threats that the police would deport her, Sabina was fearful of the supposed repercussions she may face if she reported the abuse to the police (i.e. being deported and facing further violence from her community)

For many of the clients that we support, their experiences of domestic abuse are compounded by the pressure to protect the honour of themselves, their family and their community, which in turn makes escaping even more dangerous and unlikely. The risk of further harm from one’s husband or partner, is often multiplied by the threat of violence or abuse from both their own family (both in the UK and ‘back home’), their marital family and the wider community.  To add to this, the practical consequences of fleeing such as immigration (no recourse to public funds), language and cultural barriers, all make escaping their family and community even more treacherous and overwhelming.

With over a quarter of our clients at risk of ‘honour’ – based violence, as Tower Hamlets Idvas, it is a central aspect of our role to understand and respond to these greater risks linked to ‘honour’. We provide our clients with the emotional support, encouragement, and reassurance to give them the courage to take action despite the multitude of barriers. We reassure them that despite their circumstances, support is available and we can explore all their needs and options.Some of the added risks and fears that we must understand and respond to include:

  • No recourse to public funds, spousal visas and Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC),
  • The risk of further violence and abuse if she must return to her home country
  • A fear or mistrust of the police (especially with uncertain immigration status)
  • A fear of the repercussions of going to the police, both at home and in the wider community
  • Refuge options and availability for BME women and those with ‘no recourse to public funds’.
  • Unavailability of public benefits to flee (for food, refuge or even legal aid)
  • The wider community and family backlash (including the threat of violence and abuse) for leaving a relationship, even after they’ve fled the relationship and abuse.

By effectively understanding and responding to these wider issues linked to not only domestic violence and abuse, but ‘honour- based violence, we ensure that the women and men we support find a safe place they can call home and are given the opportunity to rebuild their life and gain back their independence and strength.

Visit our Spotlight homepage for more insight, stories and resources for professionals encountering 'honour'-based violence and forced marriage

Acknowledging sexual violence in forced marriage

Mridul Wadhwa works at Rape Crisis Scotland and for the College of Policing England and Wales. She has spent over a decade at Shakti Women’s Aid supporting victims of forced marriage as well as delivering training to professionals and volunteers.

In this blog she talks about the links between forced marriage and sexual violence and abuse. She advises  practitioners to make the connection between these forms of abuse, and provides helpful guidance on how to support survivors who may be at risk. For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Forced marriage is a direct outcome and consequence of patriarchal power over women’s bodies and lives. It is rooted in the idea that women are objects to be possessed and that their only value is to make the men they are attached to glimmer and shine positively in society in various stages of their lives. These men are their father, husband and then their son.

This value is measured by the policing of women’s bodies, especially unmarried women, by telling them that their virginity and virginal behaviour is of ultimate value and pride to the family. Their virginity can only be given to their husband, and the loss of it outside of marriage is something shameful and can bring with it significant negative consequences including forced marriage.  This culture of virginity is exploited by perpetrators of forced marriage to isolate women from developing a healthy understanding of their sexuality, sexual consent and their own bodily autonomy.

Definitions of forced marriage in Scotland and England frame the experience as one of duress where consent, if given, is done under undue pressure without free will.  Therefore, it is very likely that survivors of forced marriage would have experienced sexual violence, especially where the success of such a marriage is predicated on the ability of the bride to prove her virginity by bleeding on her wedding night.  Proving and maintaining virginity might not always be the focus of perpetrators of forced marriage, especially where they have used it as a means of controlling women’s sexuality because they have had sex outside of marriage, are lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or have experienced rape and sexual abuse.

Acknowledging that sexual violence (or the risk of it) is a feature of forced marriage should provide support workers with the confidence to think about the safety of and impact on survivors when offering support or carrying out risk assessments.  It can be challenging to have a discussion about sexual violence with survivors, especially when discussions on safety are often about who and how many people are involved in perpetrating the forced marriage and the practical consequences of that risk.

It may be helpful to start by carrying out a practical discussion with survivors or those at risk about their sexual health and the meaning of consent in the context of sex. I have found that this can be a helpful start, even if it is met with discomfort or rejection on part of the survivor.  It is crucial to remember that many survivors have been socialised to think about their sexuality as unimportant or embarrassing and something to be silent about.

Sexual violence is not the same thing as sexuality and it has nothing to do with sex, but creating a space to talk about sex will then give survivors the confidence to talk about their experiences of sexual violence if they wish to.  All survivors of sexual violence must control their disclosure and the actions that come following such a disclosure. The role of those of us who support survivors of forced marriage is to let them know that it is okay to talk about it.  

Throughout May and early June we'll be talking about 'honour'-based violence and forced marriage, sharing expert content, survivor stories and practice tips. Visit our Spotlight homepage for more.

'Honour' and violence against women – what's in a name?

Dr Moira Dustin is a Research Fellow in the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex. She is currently working on the European Research Council project SOGICA - Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Claims of Asylum, assessing how fairly asylum claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity are treated across Europe. She has previously worked at the Equality and Diversity Forum, the Refugee Council, and as a freelance sub-editor. She has a PhD in Gender Studies from the London School of Economics where she is a Visiting Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE)

For an audio version of this blog, visit our Soundcloud profile or scroll to the bottom of the page.

When talking about preventing gender-based violence, language matters more than it should: the gravity of violence against women and girls is trivialised by references to cat-calling, slut-shaming and pussy-grabbing. And calling pornographic magazines ‘lads’ mags’ suggests anyone who objects to the routine objectification of women is a killjoy who doesn’t understand it’s just a bit of fun.

In the case of so-called honour crimes, there is a particular problem of language for campaigners, service-providers and policy-makers. The word ‘honour’ has mainly positive connotations. By repeating it, there is a danger of reinforcing rather than undermining the idea that there is an honour attached to some forms of violence.

Following this line of thinking, a Private Members Bill in January – subsequently withdrawn – suggested banning the use of the term ‘honour killing’ in official publications. As the Bill’s proponent, Nusrat Ghani MP, pointed out ‘language matters’. She went on to argue that

The use of the term “honour” to describe a violent criminal act—sometimes committed against a man, but more often against a woman—can be explained only as a means of self-justification for the perpetrator. It diminishes the victim and provides a convenient excuse for what in our society we should accurately and simply call murder, rape, abuse or enslavement.[i]

The problem with ‘honour’ has been widely recognised: by the CPS (‘There is no, and cannot be, honour or justification for abusing the human rights of others.’); by the United Nations (‘I do not even wish to use the phrase ‘honour killing’: there is not the faintest vestige of honour in killing a woman in this way’); and by women’s organisations (‘As we at Southall Black Sisters have proclaimed in our campaign slogans: There is no honour in such violence, only shame’).[ii] 

So why did 66 experts and survivors write to Nusrat Ghani opposing her Bill? Precisely because they recognise that language matters. They point out that progress in ending ‘honour’ based violence has been made by using this particular term, and developing expertise and support around it.[iii] Moreover, the wording is used globally, including in international instruments that can usefully be cited in the UK. Perhaps most importantly, the term is understood in the communities where such violence occurs, where it is ‘owned’ by survivors.

The letter writers – representing organisations ranging from the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, to Southall Black Sisters, to End Violence Against Women – convincingly show why the unhelpful positive connotations of the word ‘honour’ are less important than the role it has in organising people and policies in a particular area of gender-based violence that primarily affects women from minority ethnic communities in the UK.

I have a different concern with the use of ‘honour’ but which is also related to how violence is labelled, which is that the term is not always applied with sufficient specificity. The label ‘honour’ has been applied to a range of crimes including forced marriage and female genital mutilation in a way that separate them out from ‘mainstream’ violence against (white) women and implies they are a different phenomenon with different motives. Forced marriage, ‘honour’ crimes and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) are routinely grouped together as a single strategy or area of policy when often the only common feature of these abuses is that the victims are from a minority ethnic community.[iv]

Similarly troubling is the conflation of ‘honour’ violence with terrorism in a way that confuses strategies on extremism action to protect women and girls: in her first Prime Minister’s Questions last July, Theresa May said:

"Extremism does take many forms. That is why, in the Government’s counter-extremism strategy, we are looking very widely across the breadth of issues of extremism, including tackling the root causes of some practices within communities, such as so-called honour-based violence. I absolutely agree with her that there is absolutely no honour in so-called honour-based violence. It is violence and a criminal act, pure and simple.[v]"

It may appear petty-minded to criticise the Government for finally acknowledging and trying to stop violence against minoritised women and girls. But by attributing a range of different offenses to a single motive – the culture of shame and honour among minorities in the UK – the real and more complex causes are disguised and both perpetrators and victims are deprived of agency.

A better model does exist and there has been much success in recent decades in calling violence against women what it is – a human rights abuse. This approach has been led by women’s organisations, including those mentioned above, working separately, but also coming together to inform policy and hold government and parliamentarians accountable.

Returning to the problem of terminology, one must work with the tools that are to hand. In the short term, the dilemma will in all likelihood continue to be resolved by the distancing mechanism of using quotation marks – referring to so-called ‘honour’ killings and ‘honour’ based violence. In the longer term, it is to be hoped the question will become redundant along with this particular form of violence against women.


[iv] The HM Inspectorate of Constabulary website states that ‘HBV [Honour-based violence] incidents and crimes include specific types of offence, such as forced marriage (FM) and female genital mutilation (FGM), and acts which have long been criminalised, such as assault, rape and murder. We use HBV to refer to the full range of incidents and crimes which perpetrators carry out under the guise of maintaining or protecting perceived ‘honour’.

"It's helped me build a good rapport with my clients": reflections on Responding to Young People training

Domestic abuse can affect people of any age and background, and supporting young people experiencing domestic abuse brings a unique set of challenges. That’s why at SafeLives we run a training course specifically designed for professionals working with young people. Helena Cartlidge completed our Responding to Young People training course in February 2016, and SafeLives Communications Officer Ruth caught up with her to find out how it’s making a difference to her practice.

Ruth: Hi Helena, thank you for speaking with me. Could you start by telling me a bit about your background?

Helena: I worked for a domestic abuse team in Stoke-on-Trent, taking on various roles: working in a refuge as children's worker, delivering the Freedom programme to victims and the recovery toolkit and community outreach support. Mostly I was a one to one support worker with children and young people from 11-19 who had witnessed domestic abuse.

When the legal definition of domestic abuse changed to lower the age to 16, there was a gap in our service for young people in their own abusive relationships – which is why I decided to take SafeLives young people training.  

What were the main things you took away from the training, and how is it helping you in your day to day work?

The biggest thing I took a way was knowledge about the development of the adolescent, and how it affects their thinking and choices. The resources on how to engage with an adolescent were really useful  and have helped me to build a good rapport with my clients.

Also useful was the training on gangs, the criminal justice system, safety planning, digital and online abuse, risk assessment and sexual abuse.

It was really useful to go into detailed safety planning and risk assessment, as you never know when this might be needed with a client. Also useful was how to respond to a crisis while maintaining your own safety.

The opportunity to discuss good practice with the other people on the course was invaluable. Collette and Alice were excellent facilitators and we had some good discussions during the training days.

What have you been up to since you finished the course? 

After 7 years in the domestic abuse field, I felt ready to use my skills in another area. I’m now a Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) support worker, working with 11-18 year olds at risk of sexual exploitation. My SafeLives training has been vital when engaging with young people. While I am enjoying my current role, the work around domestic abuse will always be something I remain passionate about.

Finally, thinking about what you learned on the course as well as your own experiences with clients, what do you think are some important things for professionals to bear in mind when working with young people?

I think it’s really important to empathise with young people as much as possible and see things from an adolescent point of view. You need to show understanding and find the right balance of support. Establish a good rapport by finding out their likes and strengths. When it comes to confidentiality and safeguarding, make it clear you are not an authority figure and the support you’re offering is confidential.

Visit our training pages for more information on our current courses