Select Committee on Home Affairs Sixth Report

2  Context

Definitions and nature of abuse

Domestic violence

4. Definitions of domestic violence vary. The United Nations uses a gender-based definition, situating domestic violence within a broader context of violence against women:

Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivations of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.[1]

A gender-based definition is the preferred approach of many UK organisations, including Women's Aid, the End Violence Against Women coalition, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

5. The common non-statutory definition adopted across the UK Government, however, is gender-neutral:

Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality.[2]

We have used this as a working definition for the purpose of our inquiry.

6. Victims and survivors of domestic violence writing on our eConsultation described the impact of the abuse on them:

"Having experienced many kinds of abuse the physical abuse is horrible but the verbal and emotional abuse are far worse - no one sees that and often people think you are the one with the problem not the abuser. The emotional abuse goes on for a long time and believe me that's what you need help with" -

  "Imagine this scene: being beaten so bad you just curl up and wish to die but then you hear him say he is going to kill you and the children with a gun you then realise you have to save your kids, you panic and try to fight back. In the mean time your toddler wakes up crying he then comes towards you with a beg him not to shoot you instead he throws the gun and comes at you and your daughter and punches you repeatedly in the face and head you both fall on the floor and feel like giving up" - louie

So-called "honour"-based violence

7. So-called "honour"-based violence occurs in communities where the concepts of honour and shame are fundamentally bound up with the expected behaviour of families and individuals, particularly that of women. There have been a number of high-profile "honour killings", the most extreme form of so-called "honour"-based violence, in the UK in recent years. In other circumstances, the victim can be subjected to long term low level physical abuse and bullying as 'punishment' for 'bringing dishonour on the family'.[3] The term describes a form of domestic violence motivated by the notion of "honour". The Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO), a London-based women's and human rights advocacy group, describes the notion of honour as follows:

So-called family 'honour' is a patriarchal ideology of oppression. Women who make autonomous decisions, particularly relating to their private lives, are believed to have brought 'shame' to their family. 'Honour' crime is performed with the intent of limiting the psychological and physical freedom of women.[4]

8. A recent report by the Centre for Social Cohesion on "honour"-based violence in the UK described common ways in which honour can be perceived to be damaged:

Perceptions of common ways in which honour can be damaged

Defying parental authority: In many cultures, elder members of the family are expected to control their children. Parents who publicly fail to do so may lose status in the community as a result.

Becoming 'western' (clothes, behaviour, attitude): People from honour-based cultures often transform ideas of honour into a pride in one's origins and/or religion once they settle in 'the West'. Families who allow their children to assimilate into wider society can be seen as betraying their origins, their community and their ancestors.

Women having sex/relationships before marriage: Many honour-based cultures put a high premium on a girl's virginity and sexual fidelity. Families whose women are believed to have extramarital relationships (even of a non-sexual kind) can suffer a decline in honour and social standing.

Use of drugs or alcohol: Drinking alcohol and using drugs not endorsed by religion, culture or tradition can bring shame on families because their children are seen as abandoning or rejecting the values of their parents and their community.

Gossip: In many cases honour is damaged less by a person's action than by knowledge of that action becoming public knowledge. Rumours and gossip—even if untrue—can damage the status of a family or an individual. In many cases, families are less concerned with immoral acts, than with how these will affect how they are seen by their relatives and by other members of their community.[5]

9. So-called "honour"-based violence differs from domestic violence in that it is often perpetrated by more than one individual, from the victim's own family or wider community. It is most usually directed towards young women, although this is not always the case: men have also been victims. We emphasise that so-called "honour"-based violence is not associated with particular religions or religious practice: it has been recorded across Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Muslim communities.

10. The perception of violence in this context as a 'cultural' practice—to be respected in the same way as other cultural practices—has in the past granted immunity to perpetrators of these violent crimes. In recent years, however, so-called "honour"-based violence has been denounced in simple terms, both in this country and internationally, as a grave abuse of human rights. Responses to our eConsultation agreed with this interpretation:

"We need the community and the professionals to understand this is a human rights issue...that every person has a right to make choices in their lives and that as professionals we should not hide behind "cultural issues" so cannot interfere, may upset the community etc. The attitudes and views on this subject are what used to be, and to some extent still is in the arena of domestic violence". - anonymous

11. Forced marriage is defined by the Government as "a marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties where duress (emotional pressure in addition to physical abuse) is a factor".[6] It is not an arranged marriage into which, while families may be involved in choosing the marriage partner, both parties enter freely. Forced marriage can be seen as a form of so-called "honour"-based violence. IKWRO states that:

There is an absolute correlation between the crime of forced marriage and crimes committed in the name of 'honour'. In cultures where marriages are conducted between families, and where women are valued for their capacities for domestic labour and childbearing above all others, submission and chastity become the essential of a woman's worth in life. It is precisely the nature of marriage as a transaction between families that creates the condition of 'shame' for a family suspected of passing on unacceptable merchandise. Forced marriage is often in itself an honour crime, used as a punishment for girls who defy parental authority and as a means to increase masculine control over a woman.[7]

12. A recent report on forced marriage in Luton observed that forced marriage has historically been practised in many different communities:

Although the expression 'shotgun wedding' is nowadays used jokingly among white British people, it testifies to the use of force in marriage in the past.[8]

However, it concluded that, due to their relative size within the UK population, forced marriage was now most common in the UK amongst South Asian communities:

In Britain, the largest communities which display such strong commitment to a sense of 'traditional' values are South Asian—Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Indians— and so the majority of forced marriages take place among these communities. It happens among other minorities as well, especially from Africa, the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe, but the numbers are inevitably smaller.[9]

13. Survivors told us that, in many cases, neither they nor their parents considered that their marriage was forced:

"My parents would never think what they did to me was 'forced'. They genuinely thought they knew what was best for me. In ALL relationships...there is always one party who thinks they know what's best for the other" - The Real Me

  "Supporting parents is key as sometimes they too are under pressure to force - either from the extended family or other community members" - anonymous

The Luton report supported this interpretation:

Forced marriage is universally condemned, even by the perpetrators. When it happens, the perpetrators do not say—or for the most part even believe—that they are forcing their children into an unpleasant situation. They say and usually believe that their greater age, wisdom and experience give them a better understanding of their children's long term welfare, and that their right to assert their authority is sanctioned by custom, religion and common sense. The children's resistance only corroborates their immaturity.[10]

14. Forced marriage is not a religious practice. This was particularly emphasised through our eConsultation:

"What does shock me, is when they do not whisper it, or at least try to make sure I don't hear them, they all freely say 'It's their religion'. It's NOT 'their' religion. Abuse is NOT anyone's religion" - hope

  "There is no religion I know of which allows forced marriages" - dare2connect

  "It's so hard talking about forced marriages coming from my ethnicity/religion. Over the last few years a malignant form of hatred, directed against Muslims especially those of Pakistani origin has come to permeate British life. A recent article described the problem well: "Muslim people as a whole are now being stereotyped not just as terrorists but also as backward, sexist, homophobic bigots whose intolerance and values threaten [Britain's freedoms]". It then does not help when topics such as forced marriage are branded with Muslims" - The Real Me

So-called "honour"-based violence and forced marriage: mainstreamed or separate?

15. There is some debate around whether the issues of so-called "honour"-based violence and forced marriage should be considered as part of, or separately from, mainstream domestic violence provision and legislation. On the whole South Asian women's groups agree that policies to address so-called "honour"-based violence and forced marriage should be integrated into broader domestic violence policy as this allows the issues to benefit from the resources and best practice developed in this area and can help to prevent the development of "differential policies which negatively impact on minority communities, such as racist immigration controls".[11] This approach also stresses that, although the term "honour"-based violence describes a particular motive for violence, whatever the background the result is still domestic violence.

16. Middle Eastern women's groups, however, have expressed the view that so-called "honour"-based violence and forced marriage should be considered separately in order to make sense of and deal with the issues in a targeted way.[12] Such groups also doubt that so-called "honour"-based violence and forced marriage fit the core Government definition of domestic violence, as many of those forced into marriage are children, and perpetrators of so-called "honour"-based violence may be members of the extended family or wider community, rather than intimate partners.

17. The approach of the UK Government is to address so-called "honour"-based violence and forced marriage in the context of its domestic violence policy framework, although it recognises that these kinds of violence raise specific issues. The provisions of the recent Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 take the form of a new part 4A of the Family Law Act, thereby also placing this legislation in the wider context of domestic violence and family proceedings.[13] This framework was supported by the recent report on forced marriage in Luton, which concluded that "forced marriage should be regarded as a highly specific form of domestic bullying".[14]

18. We considered so-called "honour"-based violence and forced marriage within the context of our wider domestic violence inquiry. However we also considered issues which relate specifically to these types of violence. We note that some groups disagree with the use of the term "honour"-based violence on the grounds that this could perpetuate the notion that such violence is indeed honourable. Others believe that the term is useful to attempts to highlight and promote understanding of the issue and should be used as it engages with the language of those who perpetrate such violence. We have used the term 'so-called "honour"-based violence' during our inquiry to reflect this range of views. However, for ease of reference, we use the term "honour"-based violence during the remainder of this report.

Scale of abuse

Domestic violence

19. There are no data on general incidence of domestic violence in the UK. Analysing statistics on the incidence of domestic violence and the impact of interventions is a complex task. Some definitions and data include only intimate partner violence while others include both intimate partners and other family members. Only a tiny proportion of victims ever come into contact with statutory authorities, particularly criminal justice agencies, making measurement of the scale of abuse even harder. It is, however, possible to build up some kind of picture as to the scale of the problem in relation to more serious violence.

20. Domestic violence is the largest cause of morbidity worldwide in women aged 19-44, greater than war, cancer or motor vehicle accidents.[15] In the UK, according to estimates from the British Crime Survey (BCS), one in four women, and one in six men, will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives.[16] The BCS data excludes sexual violence, which constitutes a major factor in intimate partner violence against women. BCS data shows that less serious violence is broadly gender-neutral, but that the vast majority of serious and recurring violence is perpetuated by men towards women.[17] Home Office figures show that domestic violence accounts for 16% of all violent incidents reported to and recorded by the police, and that on average around two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner.[18] This accounts for around one-third of all female homicide victims.

21. Different agencies measure domestic violence rates in different ways. For example, the police record arrests made, and may present these as a proportion of incidents recorded, as a proportion of incidents with a power of arrest, and/or as a proportion of incidents classed as crimes related to domestic violence. By contrast, the Crown Prosecution Service focuses on charges and convictions, and tends to present these as proportions of charges resulting in convictions. Thus the proportions are unlikely to be comparable.

22. Domestic violence has not been separately identified in police force statistical returns of recorded crime to the Home Office because it is not a legally defined offence. Crimes of domestic violence can be recorded by the police and prosecuted in numerous ways, and the police do not have to record the relationship between victim and offender.[19] In pilot schemes carried out between 2007-08 and 2008-09, however, police forces will flag incidents of domestic violence in their data returns.[20]

"Honour"-based violence

23. Even less data are collected on "honour"-based violence or forced marriage. Crimes connected with these forms of violence have not until now been separately or comprehensively recorded by any agency, making it likely that they are even more under-reported than other forms of domestic violence. Home Office figures suggest there are around 12 honour killings, the most extreme form of "honour-based" violence, a year,[21] but as "honour"-based violence is often a hidden problem with the criminal justice system either not detecting the motive for murder or mistaking honour killings for suicide, it is likely that this figure is too low.[22] The Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO), a small London-based voluntary organisation, reported dealing with 14 cases of an individual threatened with death for reasons of honour in 2006. This number rose to 60 in 2007.[23]

24. Organisations working with "honour"-based violence victims also report that often families "drive" women to suicide (often setting themselves alight) by applying psychological pressure. The Metropolitan Police is undertaking a review of 109 cases of murder, suicide and missing persons over a 10 year period across the country. As of summer 2007, 12 cases of previously unrecognised honour killings had been identified.[24] In the same way there are no reliable figures for non-fatal incidents of violence in the name of honour, but community-based organisation Karma Nivana sees around 15 cases a week of "honour" related violence, including forced marriage.[25]

25. In July 2007, a pilot project to introduce specialist prosecutors and to flag all incidents of forced marriage and "honour"-based violence commenced in four CPS Areas: Lancashire, London, West Midlands, and West Yorkshire. The Crown Prosecution Service told us that the aims of the pilot were to:

identify the number and patterns of cases;

identify issues facing prosecutors in identifying, managing and prosecuting these cases; and

inform the development of any national guidance and training for prosecutors to improve these prosecutions and increase support for victims.[26]

The CPS gave us sight of emerging findings from the pilot.[27] It expects to complete a full report on the pilot in summer 2008.

Forced marriage

26. The Government's Forced Marriage Unit, which handles approximately 5,000 enquiries and 300 cases per year concerning young British nationals at risk of being forced into marriage overseas, believes that forced marriage is another issue that remains vastly under-reported. The majority of individuals dealt with by the unit are aged 15-24, but 30% of cases involve minors (under 18).[28] 85% of the unit's caseload involves women, but 15% involves men. The unit's caseload has increased by around 50% in recent months,[29] seemingly corresponding to a rise in general public awareness of the issue.

27. A recent report on incidence of forced marriage in Luton concluded that "there are over 300 approaches to external bodies for advice of some sort [on forced marriage] in Luton per year".[30] Although the report concluded that these figures may include a degree of double counting, it suggests that the evidence from interviews demonstrates that the incidence of forced marriage is likely to be far higher nationally than the 300 cases per year referred to the Forced Marriage Unit.

The cost of domestic violence

28. In 2004, a major study by Sylvia Walby estimated the overall cost of domestic violence in England and Wales.[31] Updated to reflect the latest population numbers and prices, this cost was estimated at 25.3 billion for 2005-06. This included a total cost to public services of 3.4 billion, 3.0 billion in lost employment, and 18.9 billion in costs to the victim. The breakdown of costs to services was as follows:[32]

Criminal justice 1.1 billion

Health services 1.5 billion

Social services 0.25 billion

Housing 0.17 billion

Civil legal 0.3 billion

29. Some acknowledgement of the vast cost of domestic violence to employers and the economy has been made with the introduction of the Corporate Alliance Against Domestic Violence, a group of businesses and employers committed to tackling domestic violence in the workplace and supporting employees who are victims of violence. The Alliance currently has 160 members, including KPMG, The Body Shop and NHS employers. It aims to demonstrate to employers the direct cost of domestic violence to their business in terms of absenteeism, presenteeism, health and safety, security and behaviour.

30. A lack of standardised data, and what is judged to be significant under-reporting, make it difficult to make an accurate assessment of the numbers of individuals experiencing domestic violence. Only a tiny proportion of victims ever come into contact with statutory authorities, particularly criminal justice agencies, making measurement of the scale of abuse even more complex. However, available statistics suggest that one in four women and one in six men will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. The vast majority of serious and recurring violence is perpetuated by men towards women.

31. Understanding of the scale of "honour"-based violence and forced marriage is even patchier. The Government's Forced Marriage Unit handles around 300 cases of forced marriage each year, but this is likely to represent only the tip of the iceberg.

32. Too little is still understood about the true scale of domestic violence, "honour"-based violence and, particularly, forced marriage. Because of the different ways in which data is gathered and recorded by different agencies, it is difficult to assess the effectiveness of the Government's response to domestic violence. Differences in data recording also makes it virtually impossible to track offenders across agencies, and between relationships. We recommend that the Government implements a single performance management framework on the collection and reporting of domestic violence data, to apply across all relevant Government agencies, not only criminal justice agencies. This framework should ensure that data are comparable across all agencies, and be used to measure the effectiveness of the Government's response to domestic violence.

33. In addition, the Government should introduce a specific requirement into its annual National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan progress report to publish available Government data on domestic violence across all departments, including health, education, social services and the criminal justice departments.

34. We found that the lack of any comprehensive data on forced marriage made it difficult for agencies to understand the nature of the issue and formulate appropriate responses. We recommend that the Government commission a separate study into the prevalence of forced marriage in the UK, as a matter of urgency.

35. We had sight of emerging data on prosecutions of "honour"-based violence and forced marriage cases, which is currently being collected via a pilot study in four Crown Prosecution Service areas. We think that this data, particularly that relating to the age of defendants, will make an important contribution to understanding the nature and scale of these particular forms of violence. We look forward to the full results of the pilot in the summer of 2008.

36. It is calculated that domestic violence cost the UK 25.3 billion in 2005-06 in costs to public services, losses to the economy and costs to the victim. The true cost of domestic violence to its victims is immeasurable. But estimates of the burden placed by domestic violence on public services should further strengthen the Government's resolve and the economic case for tackling domestic violence.

The current legislative picture

37. This section briefly outlines recent key legislation on domestic violence. We discuss the implementation of new powers in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act, and the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill later in this report, at paragraphs 399 to 414 Neither domestic violence nor forced marriage is in itself a criminal offence. However there are a range of current criminal offences and civil remedies which are relevant in cases of domestic violence and forced marriage, including assault and battery, threats to kill, public order offences, harassment, sexual offences, kidnap and child cruelty.

38. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004:

Introduced new police powers to deal with domestic violence, including making it a criminal offence to breach a non-molestation order, punishable by up to five years imprisonment (implemented July 2007);

Strengthened the civil law on domestic violence to ensure cohabiting same-sex couples have equal access to non-molestation and occupation orders (implemented in December 2005 via the Civil Partnership Act) and extending the availability of these orders to couples who have never lived together or been married (implemented in July 2007); and

Made common assault an arrestable offence[33]

The following measures have yet to be implemented:

Extending the courts' powers to impose restraining orders when sentencing for any offence, and not just offenders convicted of harassment or causing fear of violence;

Enabling courts to impose restraining orders on acquittal for any offence, if it is considered necessary to protect the victim from harassment; and

Putting the establishment and conduct of domestic homicide reviews on a statutory footing, allowing a systems review of key agencies policies and practices when a domestic homicide has occurred, with the aim of learning lessons.[34]

During the course of our inquiry the Government announced it would implement this last measure in the summer of 2008.[35]

39. The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, coming into force in autumn 2008, will enable victims and third parties to seek an injunction to prevent a forced marriage and put forced marriage guidelines (for police, education, health and social services professionals) on a statutory footing. While forced marriage is not itself made a criminal offence (in the same way that domestic violence is not), breach of an injunction would be a contempt of court and courts would have the full range of sanctions available to them, including imprisonment. The first phase of implementation will enable people to apply for an order at specified county courts rather than just the high courts.[36]

Government responsibilities

40. Government action on domestic violence is led by an Inter-Ministerial Group, set up in 2003 and currently chaired by Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office Vernon Coaker MP. Lead policy responsibility for domestic violence sits within the Home Office, but the issue cuts across a number of different departments. Policy on the specific issue of forced marriage is led by the Forced Marriage Unit, a joint Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office initiative. The Government monitors progress on domestic violence by way of an annual report against its 2005/06 National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan. We discuss the effectiveness of the cross-Government approach further, at paragraphs 415 to 429.


1   UN Declaration of Violence Against Women, Article 1 Back

2   House of Commons Library, Domestic Violence, Standard Note SN/HA/3989, 2006, p 1 Back

3   Ev 278 (Family Justice Council Diversity Sub-Committee) Back

4   Ev 289 Back

5   James Brandon and Salam Hafez, Crimes of the Community: Honour-based violence in the UK , Centre for Social Cohesion (2008), p 6 Back

6   Home Office, A choice by right: the report of the working group on forced marriage (2000), p 4 Back

7   Ev 291 Back

8   Dr Nazia Khanum OBE, Forced marriage, family cohesion and community engagement: National learning through a case study of Luton (March 2008), p 8 Back

9   Dr Nazia Khanum OBE, Forced marriage, family cohesion and community engagement: National learning through a case study of Luton (March 2008), p 9 Back

10   Ibid., pp 8-9 Back

11   Hannana Siddiqui, BME women's struggles against forced marriage and honour based violence, Safe, vol.22 (2007), p 23 Back

12   See for example, the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation (IKWRO), Ev 289 ff Back

13   House of Commons Library, Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Bill [HL] Committee Stage Report, Research Paper 07/63 (2007), p 8 Back

14   Dr Nazia Khanum OBE, Forced marriage, family cohesion and community engagement: National learning through a case study of Luton, (March 2008), p 11 Back

15   Home Office, Domestic Violence: A National Report (2005), p 2 Back

16   Home Office Domestic Violence mini-site:  Back

17   Walby and Allen, Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking: Findings from the British Crime Survey, Home Office Research Study 276 (2004); see also Ev 280 (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service).  Back

18   Home Office Domestic Violence mini-site:  Back

19   House of Commons Library, Domestic Violence, Standard Note SN/HA/3989 (2006), p 3 Back

20   HM Treasury, 2007 Pre-budget Report and Comprehensive Spending Review, PSA Delivery Agreement 23: Make Communities Safer, October 2007, pp 27-28 Back

21   UK 'Honour Killings', cloaked in family silence, stymie police,, 17 January 2007 Back

22   Until now, neither the police nor the CPS have separately recorded "honour"-based violence of forced marriage Back

23   Ev 289 Back

24   Hannana Siddiqui, BME women's struggles against forced marriage and honour based violence, Safe, vol 22 (2007), p 23 Back

25   Ev 238 Back

26   Ev 246 Back

27   It should be noted that these findings were partial, since the pilot was incomplete, and the CPS advised caution in drawing any firm conclusions from the interim data. Back

28   Presentation from Hannah Buckley, FCO Forced Marriage Unit, to the Home Affairs Committee seminar, 15 January 2008 Back

29   See paragraph 132 of this report Back

30   Dr Nazia Khanum OBE, Forced marriage, family cohesion and community engagement: National learning through a case study of Luton, (March 2008), p 42 Back

31   Professor Sylvia Walby, The Cost of Domestic Violence, Women and Equality Unit (2004) Back

32   Costs have been updated using the 'Cost Calculator' developed by Professor Sylvia Walby and the Greater London Authority. Prices have been uprated by 10.46 per cent to allow for price increases between 2001 and 2006, using GDP deflators from HM Treasury 29 March 2006 budget deflator update. Population estimates are based on the latest mid-year update from the Office for National Statistics. Back

33   This was implemented in January 2006 via the Serious and Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Back

34   Ev 250 (Home Office) Back

35   Q 422 (Vernon Coaker MP) Back

36   Ministry of Justice press release, Autumn date for forced marriages law, ref 145/07, 27 November 2007 Back

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