Why seek legal help for honour-based violence
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Between 2016 and 2020, the number of recorded incidents of violent, honour-based abuse rose from 884 to 1,599, explains Imran Khodabocus, senior associate solicitor at the Devon and Cornwall-based Family Law Co.
The firm focuses on all areas of family law and is unusual in that it still offers Legal Aid. Here Imran explains more about honour-based violence and how legal support can help those in this desperate situation:
Q: What is honour-based violence?
Honour-based violence is where a culture plays a role in one party (normally the man) controlling the life of their partner (usually the woman) and sometimes their children in order to preserve their ‘honour.’
This might mean restricting who they can see, what they can wear and what they can spend their money on. Failure to comply to the rules set by the person asserting control can often end up in violence or sexual violence.
It’s not necessarily one particular culture, but very often there are strong religious beliefs or rules around the way people are expected to behave because of their culture – and by not behaving in a particular way, they are perceived to be bringing shame on their family.
Q: Is honour-based violence just a big city problem?
No. Honour-based offences have risen 450 per cent in the south west over the past five years. The numbers are still much smaller than in major cities, but this is something that can happen anywhere. Our information came from Freedom of Information requests.
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The figures from Devon and Cornwall Police revealed they had 63 incidents of coercive control reported to them in 2016 and 560 in 2020; those that were counted honour-based violence rose from four in 2016 to 22 in 2020.
While these may not seem like high numbers, you can see a marked increase and the reality is that this is not something people often speak out about, so we could well see those numbers continue to rise. Because we don’t have the same community support down here as there might be somewhere like Birmingham, honour-based violence goes under the radar much more.
We are a multi-cultural nation, yet the support and education around these problems is sadly lacking when you move away from the cities.
Q: Is the situation worse because of Covid-19?
Yes – very much so. These figures are likely to just show the tip of the iceberg – lockdowns have exasperated the problem for many and as we continue to get back to normal life, I expect to see even more cases involving honour-based abuse.
Domestic abuse as a whole has become more prevalent because of the pandemic. This was partly because people were stuck inside so much, in very stressful circumstances, but also because the normal touch points where someone might have noticed something was wrong – children discussing their home life at school or a club, for example – were not available to many people.
Q: What should someone in this situation do?
First and foremost, anyone who feels in imminent danger should contact the police. That is vital. But even if they don’t feel in danger at one particular time, they can call the police to explain they are a victim and need urgent help.
One aspect of honour-based violence, coercive control, is a criminal offence, and someone convicted of it can face up to five years in prison. There are also lots of charities and organisations that can step in to help someone who wants to flee an abusive relationship. We can put them in touch with the right organisation to help them find somewhere safe to go.
Q: What legal help can The Family Law Co offer people in an honour-based violence situation?
I think we are quite unique in that we have a strong cultural awareness here at our firm and we have experience in representing families where honour-based abuse has taken place.
It is vital to stress that any approach to us will be completely confidential. People can approach us whether or not they have managed to leave their partner yet and we can offer them our advice.
We can consider orders that we might be able to put in place. These might include a Non-Molestation Order, which could be issued to prohibit an abuser from using or threatening physical violence, intimidating or communicating with the person they have been abusing.
A breach of this order automatically results in the abuser being arrested. There is also something called an Occupation Order. This is a court order dealing with who lives in a property and if this is put in place then the offender could be required to leave the family home and not come back. If there are children involved, then their safety becomes a priority and can be taken into account within an order.
Q: What if someone is concerned about legal costs?
We understand that people in this situation often don’t have financial independence and might be frightened of contacting solicitors because of worries regarding cost. But we can help them with Legal Aid. We would assess them for Legal Aid and in emergencies, this could be granted in the initial meeting. Even if someone doesn’t qualify for Legal Aid, our first appointment with them is always free. This enables us to understand their situation and help them get in touch with the right support, as well as to discuss legal options.