The government has rejected calls to put in place a statutory definition of honour-based abuse along with immigration protection for victims.
The government has rejected calls to legally define honour-based abuse, a move which will further fail vulnerable victims, an MP has said.
Caroline Nokes, Tory chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, said the refusal to put a statutory definition on the crimes—which include forced marriage and female genital mutilation—allows abusers to continue threatening victims “into silence.”
A plea to introduce a “firewall” to protect the immigration status of those who have reported the abuse was also rejected, with the government saying such a move would be “inappropriate.”
The Women and Equalities Committee had recommended that honour-based abuse should be given a statutory definition in a similar way to domestic abuse and warned it risks remaining a hidden crime without better victim support.
So-called honour-based crimes can include honour killings, abandonment, breast flattening and other forms of domestic abuse.
But, in a response published this month, the government said on Friday, “It is not clear that making the definition statutory would improve understanding of or the response to these crimes, however, we will continue to keep this under review.”
Responding to the decision, Ms. Nokes said: “We are disappointed the government has rejected our call to introduce a statutory definition of honour-based abuse, similar to the domestic abuse definition in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021.
“Ministers have said such a definition is unnecessary despite findings from our inquiry showing significant variation in understanding across statutory agencies.”
The Conservative MP welcomed the government’s “steps in its efforts to tackle honour-based abuse”, but added, “it is clear that opportunities to protect victims are being missed and victims are deterred from reporting the crimes committed against them.”
She repeated calls for more to be done to protect migrant victims, saying: “Without stronger assurances, people who speak up about their abuse could risk immigration enforcement action. It is already extraordinarily difficult for victims to seek help, without the Government maintaining conditions for abusers to threaten victims into silence.
“It requires immense bravery for victims to come forward, in many cases, they only have one chance to do so, we must do all we can to help them.”
The committee had called for a “firewall” to protect victims whose fears around their insecure immigration status are preventing them from going to authorities about abuse.
The MPs said police should only share information with Immigration Enforcement at the Home Office about victims “in exceptional circumstances, which must be narrowly defined and be for the purposes of assisting in the safeguarding of the individual or taking action against their abuser.”
But in its response, the government said: “It would not be appropriate to introduce such restrictions on data sharing as it is important to preserve the police’s ability to work with the Home Office to help resolve a victim’s uncertainty about their immigration status and so remove the perpetrator’s ability to control and manipulate them because of their status.
“A firewall would not prevent a perpetrator referring a victim directly to immigration enforcement.”
The government’s non-statutory definition of honour-based abuse is “an incident or crime involving violence, threats of violence, intimidation, coercion or abuse […] which has or may have been committed to protect or defend the honour of an individual, family and/or community for alleged or perceived breaches of the family and/or community’s code of behaviour.”
There is specific legislation, or criminal offences, which cover the abuse or violence, although forcing someone to marry is an offence with a civil remedy available through a Forced Marriage Protection Order.
Although the Crown Prosecution Service says honour-based violence is “flagged” while going through the courts, related cases can only be prosecuted under the specific offence committed such as common assault, previous bodily harm, stalking and harassment.
“I am disappointed to see the government reject calls