Government Rejects Legal Definition of Honour-Based Abuse Despite Pleas from WEC

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Despite the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) for a legal definition of honour-based abuse, the government has refrained from adopting such measures. The WEC had released a report in July discussing the prevalence and complexities of honour-based violence, necessitating a clear definition. However, the government’s response highlighted the existence of a working definition, utilized by the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which it deemed sufficient.

The government expressed doubts about the effectiveness of a statutory definition improving the comprehension and response towards these offences. Ranging from forced marriages to coercive control and potentially life-threatening acts, honour-based crimes are perpetuated by individuals claiming to safeguard a family or a community’s so-called honour.

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The government’s decision has prompted a wave of criticism from Members of Parliament, the domestic abuse commissioner, and charities specializing in the field. Chairwoman of the WEC, Caroline Nokes, shared her disappointment with the government’s refusal. The committee’s July report had highlighted a high degree of unawareness about such abuse among first responder service providers in areas like the police, social care, and education.

Nokes stressed that a codified legal definition is essential to allow officers and other first responders to recognize and record such incidents consistently and accurately. She pointed out the difficulty in spotting patterns and identifying those most at risk without reliable data, stressing the importance of a statutory definition.

Endorsing this viewpoint, Natasha Rattu, director of Karma Nirvana, a leading charity, believe that defining the term legally could bolster the understanding and identification of this specific type of abuse. She feared that the absence of a statutory definition could result in professionals overlooking victims, despite being duty-bound to protect them.

In its non-statutory definition, the government characterizes honour-based abuse as any incident or crime involving violence, intimidation, coercion, or abuse, potentially committed to safeguard a family or community’s honour against perceived or actual breach of their codes of behaviour.

However, Rattu argued that honour-based abuse is not confined to individual incidents or crimes. Instead, it manifests as continuous conduct. Survivors did not believe the prevailing non-statutory definition accurately represented their experiences, she added.

Echoing these sentiments, the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, urged the government to revisit their response, expressing her disappointment in their decision to disallow a statutory definition of honour-based abuse. She believed such an action would underscore the seriousness of the crime, raise awareness, and facilitate the prosecution of more offenders.