One thing we know for sure about domestic abuse is that its impact is extremely harmful to a person’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. Its manifestation has multiple forms and for many South Asian women it presents as “honour-based” violence (HBV).
This form of abuse is fuelled by the concept of shame and honour within a patriarchal system. For some South Asian communities, upholding family honour is of upmost importance, which can supersede the happiness of family members.
Data published by Safe Lives Insights as part of the spotlight on HBV and forced marriage shows that HBV cases were more likely to score high-risk (68%) than non-HBV domestic abuse cases (55%). It found that over half (54%) of domestic abuse victims at risk of HBV were abused by multiple people, compared to only 7% of those not identified as at risk of HBV.
During my experience of setting up and managing the Stonewater Asian Women’s refuge, I gained great insights into the experiences of women and children impacted by HBV. A lack of understanding and the sensitivities around cultural beliefs sometimes made professionals reluctant to intervene. In cases of HBV, it is not unusual that the perpetrators are not an intimate partner and instead, they are close family members forcing their daughter into a marriage, for example, because she is becoming “too westernised”. An important thing to note here is the fact that there are multiple perpetrators, which in turn increases the risk of harm to a person escaping HBV.
When supporting South Asian women and children I found that providing an environment that was culturally familiar and homely eased the feeling of isolation and enabled women and children to settle in. This included the availability of staff members that could communicate in South Asian languages. Many of our customers had not led an independent life. Everyday things that we take for granted, such as getting a bus, taking the children to school, going to the doctors, even spending money, was alien to most of the women that came through our doors, especially those with no recourse to public funds. Therefore, it was really important that we understood their needs and worked collaboratively with them, helping them to take control of their lives.
Support for women with no recourse to public funds is scarce, with many professionals turning women away mainly due to economic fears. My team and I refused to turn abused women away and decided to explore an alternative way to support them. Through developing partnerships with key stakeholders, we managed to build a process that supported women in getting their indefinite leave to remain, which in turn gave them a lifeline to becoming independent and live a life free from abuse.
HBV is a relatively small part of domestic abuse reporting, but there are still a sizeable number of cases in this country each year. Annually, around 1,800 incidents are reported to the police in England and Wales (HMIC, 2015), but of course, these numbers could just be the tip of the iceberg given the nature of those experiencing it.