Inquiry into the police response to honour-based abuse and forced marriage in England

The police recognition of and response to honour-based abuse, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, while very well-meaning, does not usually provide adequate support for victims.

Jennifer Holton, director of Citizens in Policing for the Wiltshire Police (England), talks about this in her study based on her own experience and research into the issues with the aim of highlighting the key challenges and opportunities for change.

The research was carried out through a thematic review of national statistics and research, as well as the engagement of frontline practitioners in the South West region of England.

Holton rejects the idea that attending training courses or conferences or reading research that finds that the work is going badly is not talked about or that no one is looking for ways to improve it.

She also documents a number of key issues such as incorrect recording of offences. Crimes such as harassment, rape or assault are often considered in isolation, and the qualifier of honour-based abuse is not recorded or recognised. Therefore, it is unlikely that a consensus on this crime will be reached if it is not even recognised. And without accurate statistics, it is almost impossible to achieve greater funding and development in this area.

The research also notes that nearly half of the participants said that their agency had a designated person to contact for help related to honour-based abuse, but the vast majority added that they did not know who these people were or how to contact them.

The disparity in the reports is further demonstrated in the statistics, especially those referring to female genital mutilation. According to the statistics of the National Health Service of 2018-2019, 6,415 women went to a healthcare centre because they had evidence of a case of female genital mutilation, but successful prosecutions of this type of crime remain in single digits.

In 2019, 1,355 cases were referred to the Forced Marriage Unit for counselling. Of these cases, 64% were reported by professionals, 18% by victims and 18% by friends and family members anonymously.

The low proportion of cases referred by the victims reinforces the important role played by professionals. However, since many professionals are not confident in reporting it themselves, the problem lies in under-reporting at multiple sources.

In addition, the fact that most victims only report it to someone they trust, usually a close friend or family member, increases this responsibility on professionals to detect possible signs or symptoms.

This is the only guaranteed setting a vulnerable young person at risk of honour-based abuse has to safely and independently report someone. Jennifer Holton stresses the incomprehensibility of avoiding teaching about it in schools, which is the place where discussions on the subject should be promoted.

However, it also demonstrates that no individual or organisation is responsible – there is no lead agency, no one to take responsibility and ensure that action is taken. So, instead of everyone being accountable, it turns out that no one is.

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