Much has been made of the rise in cases of so-called “honour-based violence” here in London.
The very term annoys me. Indeed, I abhor it.
I know I am not alone. The language used to describe and identify this very particular kind of crime has led to fierce debate but, in my mind, the matter is very simple: every time the term “honour” is used in this reference we are viewing the victim through the eyes of their attacker.
We are, in fact, making them a victim twice over.
How? Well, by adding the word ‘honour’ to a murder or a violent attack we use the language which perpetrators use to justify their dreadful crime.
People who carry out such an attack – and those who aid and abet them or who are complicit in the act, use “honour” as the excuse. And by using this word ourselves, we give their ‘excuse’ credence, and we give them power.
It is highly offensive to the survivors of such an attack: those who have been brave and bold, often defying not only the wishes of their families but of the social expectations in an oppressive culture in which they find themselves. They have been punished for daring to be free, to challenge, to live freely.
This, surely is the absolute crux of the matter. And this is the lens through which this crime should be viewed: as an attempt to oppress and suppress and crush.
Thousands of people living in the United Kingdom are at risk of losing their lives to this unwritten code of conduct known as ‘honour’.
Recently it was revealed that children younger than 10 were among hundreds of suspected forced marriage and ‘honour’ victims in London.
Police statistics painted a detailed picture of a frightening scale of crimes in the capital. Reports of violence has soared more than 40 per cent over the past five years, with 1,081 made to Scotland Yard. Those relating to forced marriages doubled in the same period, with 367 in total.
Women and girls overwhelmingly formed the majority of reported victims, with more than half coming from Asian backgrounds. Dozens of rapes and other sexual crimes were reported as well as knives and guns being involved in more than 70 incidents.
Too many of these awful crimes are still hidden.
There is still too little protection, too few prosecutions and too much stigma which prevents people coming forward and it’s vital that when victims do speak out they get proper help from support groups and from the police to keep them safe.
Aneeta Prem, founder of the Freedom Charity, which helps victims and visits schools to educate children, said in a recent article that her organisation had recently provided support to a six-year-old girl suspected of being groomed by her family for a forced marriage after being taken to Bangladesh.
“These figures are shocking and to think this is happening in London in the 21st Century is abhorrent, barbaric and wrong as well as against the law,” she said.
She is right. And she points out that suicide rates among Asian girls between the ages of 16 and 25 are three times the national average.
“Tragically many girls feel the only way they can escape a forced marriage is to take their own lives.”
On many occasions the victims are women who have come to the UK to escape violent cultural practises abroad yet have been met here – the place they sought sanctuary – with the same horrors.
We need to talk about this openly, frankly and honestly. Families and members of the community often play an integral role in the perpetuation of the violence – and sometimes that simply means being silent when it is happening.
There also seems to be a huge disparity in how the issue is addressed in different parts of the country and there needs to be an exchange of best practice and skills sharing amongst the police force.
It starts with education at a grassroots level.
The recent figures paint a shocking figure of the scale of violence and forced marriages in London.
But they also indicate the reporting of such crimes is improving, which has to be a shining beacon of hope; an indication that it is coming from out of the shadows at last.
Such vile crimes have no place in modern society and it is not something that women or men from any culture or background should have to tolerate.
And we need to change the language. The word “honour” has no place in the debate. None at all.
Victims or those who suspect abuse can call 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. They can also download the Freedom Charity App or call its hotline on 0845 607 0133