Practice blog


Survivors of so called ‘honour’-based abuse need Scottish Maracs to be their ally

Elizabeth Hughes is our Scottish Multi-Agency Lead. In this blog she talks about one of the key findings that have come out of research carried out by the Safer, Sooner team on current and best practice of so called 'honour’-based abuse and forced marriage cases at Marac in Scotland. 

The term, So Called ‘Honour’-Based Abuse (HBA) is used because ‘honour’ or ‘izzat’ has no place in abuse and killings.

As part of the Equally Safe funded Safer, Sooner programme, we carried out research on Marac referral and response to HBA cases in Scotland. Our work is focused on improving multi-agency consistency, capacity, and systems across Scotland to ensure they are survivor-centred and accessible to all victims. 

We gathered data from specialist practitioners and Scottish Maracs, to find out what guidance is needed to deliver the best response we can to victims of HBA in Scotland.

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 introduced a law that criminalises a course of coercive and controlling conduct, which is now widely recognised as abusive. Yet, while this legislation represents a determined effort to recognise the complexity of domestic abuse, the infrastructure of this act specifies that domestic abuse is only recognised when committed by a partner or ex-partner, leaving legislative gaps for victims of HBA to fall through. 

And whilst at a strategic policy level, the Scottish Government’s Equally Safe Strategy incorporates HBA into their wider definition of domestic abuse, there remains no statutory definition of HBA and no specific crime of HBA within Scots’ law. 

These gaps influence Scotland’s multi-agency response to HBA victims leaving them vulnerable to their experiences. The way Maracs across Scotland respond to HBA referrals is inconsistent. Many Maracs do not accept HBA referrals when the primary perpetrator is not a partner or ex-partner - despite an identification of high-risk. 

If not for the perseverance of specialist services supporting HBA victims (regardless of whom the abuse is perpetrated by), there would be little to no support for these victims in Scotland. They courageously advocate for better protection for victims, recognising that at legal and policy level there are too many barricades in the way of better protection for HBA victims.

The inconsistency of Marac response to HBA results in specialist services unempowered to make an effective referral. This leaves them struggling in isolation, unsupported and overwhelmed bearing full responsibility for navigating through a minefield, towards a safe space for victims.  

Marac is a key framework for tackling high-risk domestic abuse and gender-based violence. Core agencies are the driving force of Marac, with the power and resources to help victims become safer sooner and deter perpetrators from continuing harm. When Marac works, it works well! Research shows that 71% of victims discussed at Marac feel safer and more than two-thirds say their quality of life has improved since they got help. 

HBA victims and specialist services need reinforcement and call for an alliance with Scottish Maracs. Now is the time for intentional change so that all who have been identified at being high risk of serious harm or homicide are supported to become safer, sooner. Without question, there is honour in that.  

Improve your Maracs response to HBA – read our new guidance here.


Date for the diary

The National Day of Memory for Victims of Honour Killings takes place each year on 14 July to commemorate victims of HBA in the UK.


Support services

Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre
National support and advice service for Muslim and Black, Asian, and racially minoritised women.
Helpline: 0808 801 0301

Domestic Abuse support for LGBT & male survivors in Scotland

LGBT Domestic Abuse 
Helpline: 0800 999 5428

Hemat Gryffe Women’s Aid
Specialist domestic abuse service for Black, Asian, and racially minoritised women and children in the Glasgow area

Karma Nirvana
UK Honour Based Abuse 
Helpline: 0800 5999 247

LGBT Domestic Abuse Scotland
Domestic Abuse project managed by LGBT Youth Scotland 

Specialist mental health and well-being support for Black, Asian, and racially minoritised women and girls (12+) in the Edinburgh and Glasgow area

Scotland’s Domestic Abuse & Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234

Shakti Women’s Aid
Specialist domestic abuse service for Black, Asian, and racially minoritised women and children in Edinburgh & the Lothians, as well as outreach services in Fife, Dundee and Forth Valley. Including a specific support service for LGBT victims experiencing domestic abuse and ‘honour’-based abuse.


Feeling confident, understood, and prepared for the future – where is RSE going wrong?

We are so grateful to the member of SafeLives’ Young Changemakers Panel who shared their experience of Relationships and Sex Education classes with us.


“I’m 19 years old, so when I was in school Relationships & Sex Education, or RSE, wasn’t a legal requirement like it is now, but I did have some RSE lessons, and my younger siblings have also studied RSE.

I consider RSE extremely important – it gives young people a safe environment to explore often taboo topics, such as intimate relationships, sex, pressures in society, and the changes your body goes through in your teens. Young people today are overwhelmed with so many different sources of information - family, school, friends, and social media, there can be a lot of different expectations and relationships to cope with.

RSE is the only time young people are formally educated on topics that they will be facing and experiencing for the rest of their lives. And yet, for myself, my friends, and siblings, RSE lessons were seen as the ‘easy’ lesson of the week - the lesson where there wasn't much writing or homework, and where you would be most likely to get to watch a film instead of working. It's only now that I'm older, with more life experience, and having worked with Safelives, that I realise just how important the RSE I did have was – it touched on the feelings, pressures, and questions I would later have as a young adult.

I really believe that something as important and wide-reaching as RSE must be taken seriously. Teaching should be consistent, and content should be relevant, accurate, and inclusive. 

When studying RSE, teaching and lessons were often inconsistent when compared to my friends. There would be some teachers at my school who were comfortable exploring topics such as FGM, coercive control, and sexual health. These teachers operated an "Ask Anything" policy, whereas others would avoid what they considered "tricky topics" or inappropriate discussion themes. These kind of inconsistencies in the teaching of RSE often lead to my peers feeling embarrassed about asking questions. Some searched for answers elsewhere (with the risk that they may be misleading or false), and some left school still feeling confused about what an unhealthy relationship looks like.

After working with SafeLives on this research, I spoke to my sister about her experience of RSE – I wanted to know whether it was similar or different. We both felt the content in our RSE lessons had been very surface level. For example, we had many lessons on physical abuse and the dangers of sex and drugs, but we weren’t taught about things like gaslighting in relationships, or how sex isn’t just this terrifying act that leads to STIs - it can actually be part of a healthy relationship. I wish we had talked about the pressures young people might face to do drugs and how to deal with that. These examples are just some of the topics young people are having to confront outside class – secondary school is when they might be thinking about first relationships, gaining more independence and socialising with friends outside of school more often.


My sister had to Google ‘gaslighting’ herself when her friend told her she might be experiencing it - that should have been something she learnt about in school and could ask about in a safe environment.

My sister and I both felt that the content in RSE lessons was not in-depth enough to prepare young people for the kinds of experiences they might have and that RSE would often only look at one aspect of a topic - ignoring how different young people may view that subject, depending on identity, background and life experiences.  

In my family, my sister and I know that my 14-year-old brother faced different pressures or expectations than we did in secondary school, simply because of his gender. For example, he would say he understands what consent means, but he was never taught that consent goes two ways and applies to boys as well. His RSE lessons never covered that if he feels uncomfortable in a situation, he has a right to say "No" as well and that doesn’t make him any less “cool” or “manly”.

Similar to this, RSE taught consent as being when someone says “Yes” and agrees to doing something, but this explanation is quite reductionist. It doesn’t cover how it is not consent if someone initially says “No,” but then says “Yes” after being heavily convinced or persuaded into it. There are so many instances in which myself or my friends have felt pressured into a situation we didn’t really want to be in – feeling guilty about upsetting anyone or regretting it, because eventually we gave consent and didn't keep saying “No”.

 And that’s not to say that the other person in the situation was bad or wouldn’t have stopped if asked - it’s because we both weren’t taught how to recognise coercion and active consent - someone might reluctantly agree because they feel guilty or that they’re disappointing someone, rather than because they really want to. 

I fully believe that the research Safelives is doing is vital to help us understand what it is about the current RSE curriculum that is preventing young people from feeling confident, understood, and prepared for the future. It is only once we understand where the current issues and gaps are, that we can begin to put measures in place to ensure we have an RSE curriculum that is relevant and inclusive, and taught consistently to young people across the UK.”


Read the report: "I love it - but wish it were taken more seriously." An exploration of Relationships & Sex Education in English secondary school settings.



Marac in Scotland

Marac in Scotland 2005-2022

For the past 15 years Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (Marac) have transformed the multi-agency response to domestic abuse across Scotland, providing a coordinated response to risk for domestic abuse victims. At the heart of Marac is the working assumption that no single agency or individual can see the complete picture of the life of a victim, but all may have insights that are crucial to their safety. By sharing relevant, risk-focused information in a safe environment, a coordinated multi-agency safety plan can be developed, increasing victim safety.

The first Scottish Maracs were set up in 2005, and as of August 2022 Marac is operating in all 32 Scottish local authorities, a major milestone for Marac development in Scotland. Whilst we know there are still discrepancies between how the evaluated model is applied in practice, including resourcing for Independent domestic abuse advocates (Idaas), Marac Chairs and Coordinators, it means a victim at high risk of harm can expect to receive a coordinated response to risk, no matter where they are in Scotland.

Attending Marac allowed me to see how important the sharing of information can be to enable discussions on how to reduce harm and [address risk]

Domestic Abuse Practitioner, Whole Lives Scotland, 2019

SafeLives have been supporting Scottish Maracs through the Marac Development Programme (MDP) since 2015 and have been working closely with local areas to embed the evaluated Marac model and develop a national framework to improve and enhance the multi-agency response to domestic abuse in Scotland.  Although the first Maracs were set up 15+ years ago, the roll-out across Scotland has been largely organic, driven by committed individuals in local areas and with no centralised roll-out or funding for Marac Chairs, Coordinators and Idaas. As a result, although there is a wealth of experience and good practice across Scotland, there are also discrepancies in the application of the evaluated model and the operational support and strategic buy-in available for Marac.

In Equally Safe the Scottish Government committed to developing and building a national framework for Marac in Scotland, and the responses to the 2018/2019 consultation on multi-agency risk assessment arrangements for domestic abuse victims, indicated there is broad support for the Marac model in Scotland. However, access to consistent, sustainable funding for Idaas, Marac Coordinators and Chairs and national training for wider Marac professionals that recognises local diversity, are key to ensuring the sustainability of Scottish Maracs. In 2021 Scottish Government hosted a series of deep-dive events exploring the themes from the consultation in more detail and set up a National Advisory Group to oversee this work, including making recommendations for future developments for Marac in Scotland.

Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie said: "I am pleased that Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (Maracs) are operating in every local authority in Scotland.

"Maracs enable different agencies to work together to support victim-survivors of domestic abuse. Together, these agencies can share their knowledge to create better plans that keep people safe.

"We're working with SafeLives and other key partners to produce a report on the success of Maracs so far, and how they can be more effective in the future."

[Marac creates an] opportunity to participate and communicate with multi-agency [partners] to ensure holistic assessment and support provisioned via an action plan.

Idaa service Manager, 2021

A robust multi-agency response is a crucial component of a risk-led response to domestic abuse, alongside early and effective identification (through use of common tools like Dash), and specialist domestic abuse support through Idaa (Independent Domestic Abuse Advocate) provision. Through our Delivering Equally Safe funded Safer, Sooner programme SafeLives are continuing to support increased consistency of Marac operation across Scotland, working closely with Marac and wider multi-agency professionals and stakeholders, by sharing and examining best practice, providing support, and highlighting the views and voices of survivors across Scotland. As one of the only dedicated multi-agency forums, Maracs play a crucial role in the domestic abuse response in Scotland and effective multi-agency working will improve the safety of Scotland's survivors, but organisations and structures need to be well supported with long-term, sustained resource.  We must work together to ensure anyone experiencing domestic abuse in Scotland can access the right support, at the right time to make them safer, sooner.


Marac in Scotland - 16 Days event

Our 16 Days event on 7th December is an opportunity to reflect on the past 15+ years of Marac operation, including celebrating the hard work of everyone involved to get us to this point, and to consider what the next steps are for Marac development in Scotland as we await the publication of the Scottish Government Marac deep-dive learning report and action plan.

Find out more and sign up here

Katrina's story

It was when I tried calling a helpline to talk through my experience with emotional abuse and to understand what I had been going through, that I realised there was a bigger problem than just my own toxic relationship.

I tried calling at least five times over two days and all I got each time was an answer-phone message saying I could leave my number and someone could try to call me back at an appropriate time.

I didn’t leave a message but I did wonder how many other people struggled to get through to get the support they needed. I wondered how big the problem really was.

Instead of talking over a phone, I turned to the internet, trying to make sense of the confusing world of emotional abuse that I had experienced for eight years.

It turned out to be vast. I didn’t have a physical bruise but the subtle, covert and controlling behaviour of emotional abuse had left a scar on my soul. All I could sufficiently do was sum it up as a feeling: I felt like I was drowning. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

And clearly, I wasn’t alone. There seemed to be many women and men – millions in fact – who had been on the receiving end of emotional abuse.

This was a problem bigger than just my own toxic relationship.

I realised that getting through on a telephone helpline might have helped me in that moment I needed it but it wasn’t going to help all those others who were too scared to call or those who couldn’t even get access to a phone because of the controlling behaviours of their partner.

It wasn’t going to help those who didn’t realise the type of relationship they were in.

And it certainly wasn’t going to prevent or stop abuse from happening in the first place.

I was lucky enough to get out of that toxic relationship and I was lucky enough to then fall in love with Mark, a truly amazing man who supports me and loves me the way a woman should be loved.

But not everyone is that lucky.

The thought that there were other people experiencing emotional abuse who were currently feeling what I had felt – ashamed for finding myself in this sort of relationship, trapped with seemingly no options for getting out, looking in the mirror and wondering who that person was staring back at me, feeling unloved and worthless – that tore at my heart.

No one deserves to feel that way.

As part of my healing process, I realised I could turn my abusive experience into something good, which could help others. I came across SafeLives and the charity’s focus on ending domestic abuse, by raising awareness and providing educational resources and advocating at a policy level, resonated with me.

It was a no brainer then to fundraise for SafeLives when Mark and I spent almost four months sailing around the coast of Great Britain in a 28-foot boat during the summer of 2022. It was part of my healing process but there was something apt about raising money for an anti-domestic abuse charity while being stuck on a boat in a confined space with a partner.

That is the freedom I wish for everyone.

Turning my bad experience into something good meant Mark and I raised more than £2,000 (with Gift Aid) for SafeLives and also increased awareness of domestic abuse and the amazing work this charity does.

Our fundraising will go towards domestic abuse data gathering, training people on the frontline and working with partners. This is significant because this is what real change looks like: identifying and understanding the problem on the ground and responding systematically.

I am proud that my small action will have contributed towards this change and the creation of a better world.

I know from my experience that in times of darkness there is always hope. That is why I want to imagine a world where domestic abuse doesn’t exist. That is why I want to believe this world can become reality.


If you are currently experiencing abuse, help is available.

If you are interested in fundraising for SafeLives you can find out more here. 


16 Days of Activism - Pioneers speak to Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service

On Friday 26 November, our Pioneers participated in a webinar for Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) sharing their experience of engaging with HMPPS as a victim and survivor of domestic abuse. Sharing what good can look like so that front line professionals can scale what works well and where there is need to change and develop services from their experience of poor practice. 

One Pioneer spoke of her recent visit to a female prison with her CIC, and how powerful the session with black and brown women was, with many women disclosing their own experiences of domestic abuse.  

There were some clear takeaways from the webinar for HMPPS. Firstly, we received such positive feedback after hearing the voices of those who have experienced abuse. Victims become survivors and it is important to acknowledge that early in the process and to think about language.  

Communication is always key, as are equitable relationships built on trust with clear understanding of roles and responsibilities as survivors are likely to be involved with the services provided for a long time. Professionals might know the terminology and process people will go through, but this is new to survivors. 

The need for a culturally competent response to domestic abuse by all within the prison and probation services was really clear – there are absolutely additional barriers faced by black and minoritised women that are not always well understood by those working in HMPPS (or other sectors). Those who have experienced domestic abuse should be heard when they request protective conditions and give their thoughts on day release.  

Ultimately, HMPPS need to hear the voices of those who experience domestic abuse and communicate effectively in a way that meets their needs.  

That is the mark of a truly domestic abuse informed prison and probation service.