UK police fail to record ‘honour’ crimes, put women at risk-report

by Katie Nguyen | Katie_Nguyen1 | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 6 February 2014 10:47 GMT

Surjit Kaur Athwal is seen at a wedding in India shortly before she disappeared in this handout file photograph. Her husband and mother-in-law were sentenced for her murder at the Old Bailey, London September 19, 2007. They said she had brought shame on her Sikh family by seeking a divorce. REUTERS/Scotland Yard/Handout

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British police need to know more about 'honour'-based violence, usually inflicted on young women in families from South Asia and the Middle East, to tackle the problem effectively

(Updates with police response, final three paragaphs)

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - More than one in five police forces in Britain are failing to record cases of ‘honour’-based violence, and this is putting lives in danger, a women's rights charity said in a report published on Thursday.

Many police officers still do not understand the 'honour' system, which punishes women and girls perceived to have brought shame on their family or community, the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO) said.

The violence occurs largely, but not exclusively, in communities with origins in the Middle East and South Asia, and can, for example, stem from a girl's refusal to marry the man her father has chosen for her.

"There may only be one chance to protect someone who is at risk from 'honour' killing," Diana Nammi, IKWRO's executive director, said in a statement.

"It is imperative that every police officer, from the telephone operator to those handling the case face to face, can identify an 'honour' based violence case, secure the trust of the victim and act appropriately to ensure that they are not further endangered, for example by never communicating with their family or community, from whom they are at risk."

The violence ranges from acid attacks, mutilation and rape to abduction, beatings and even murder, and is hard to prevent or tackle without better data and police training, said the report, Postcode Lottery: police recording of reported 'honour' based violence.

IKWRO carried out research in 2011 that suggested  there were up to 3,000 cases of ‘honour’ violence in Britain every year. 

IKWRO said ‘honour’-based cases can escalate quickly, from what might be interpreted as a trivial incident - for example, talk of being married off - to extreme violence and killing.

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) issued new guidelines to help forces deal with potential ‘honour’ victims in 2008 after a series of high-profile ‘honour’ killings - including the gang rape and murder of Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old woman who asked the police for help five times before being killed by members of her family in 2006.

IKWRO said the definition of ‘honour’-based violence laid out by the independent police body was too vague, and contributed to inconsistencies in police records of ‘honour’ crimes and incidents.

Another problem was that some police forces, such as the London Metropolitan Police, record forced marriage cases separately from cases of ‘honour’-based violence, the charity said.

The report called for a wider definition of ‘honour’-based violence and a review of policing of such cases, among other recommendations.

In a statement responding to the report, ACPO said the police service had made significant progress in tackling 'honour'-based violence in the past 10 years, and highlighted successful prosecution cases.
"The police service is not complacent about the work yet to be done and continues to explore examples of best practice so that these can be shared with colleagues around the country,” said Commander Mak Chishty, who leads police work on honour-based violence nationally.
“Joint working between agencies continues to improve with closer links to prosecutors, health and social care services to ensure that we have the best systems in place to prevent crimes, support victims and keep them safe, while investigating perpetrators."


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