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‘Honour’-based abuse, forced marriage and FGM

So-called ‘honour’-based abuse

‘Honour’-based abuse (HBA) is abuse motivated by the belief that someone in the family has brought shame or dishonour to the family or community, and the abuse is committed to protect or defend the honour of the family or community. It’s estimated that around 76% of victims of ‘honour’-based abuse are female, but boys and men are also at risk.

In many cases, there are multiple perpetrators, within the family, extended family and sometimes the wider community.

The perpetrators aim to “correct” the victims behaviour, or restore the reputation of the family within the community. Abuse may be verbal, sexual, economic or physical and can encompass various criminal offences such as forced marriage, sexual assault, stalking and harassment, rape, coercive control, physical assault, forced suicide or murder.

‘Honour’-based killings have been described as:

‘Murders within the framework of collective family structures, in which predominantly women are mutilated, imprisoned, forced to commit suicide and killed for actual or perceived immoral behaviour, which is deemed to have breached the honour codes of a household or community, causing shame.’ (Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation)

It is estimated that one girl or woman is killed every month in the name of “honour”. There are 17,000 reported incidents of HBA or forced marriage in the UK each year.

Behaviours which may be perceived as breaching the honour codes of a household or community include:

  • Refusing an arranged marriage
  • Relationships outside marriage
  • Relationships outside the approved group
  • ‘Inappropriate’ make-up or dress
  • Loss of virginity
  • Running away
  • Ideological differences
  • Westernisation
  • Pregnancy
  • Homosexuality
  • Reporting/fleeing domestic abuse, coercive control or forced marriage
  • Leaving an arranged marriage

Sometimes a rumour about a family member doing one or more of the above is enough to elicit an abusive reaction.

Unlike domestic abuse where it is typically one person abusing another, in cases of HBA and forced marriage the perpetrators can be one or many including:

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Grandparents
  • Uncles, aunts, cousins
  • Community members
  • Bounty hunters/’hit men’

Victims of HBA may experience: bullying, emotional and psychological abuse, other forms of abuse, surveillance and monitoring, restriction of movements, reducing contact with the outside world, false imprisonment or kidnap, domestic servitude, ABH or GBH, threats to kill, harassment and stalking, sexual assault, rape, female genital mutilation, forced to take their own lives, forced marriage, or murder.

If there is a suggestion of HBA, then family, friends and neighbours must NOT be automatically involved in any safety planning. Usually, in domestic abuse cases family, friends and neighbours will offer support and keep an eye out for problems, like calling the police if a perpetrator turns up, but in HBA cases it is often very difficult to identify those that could condone or be coerced into accepting abuse. The victim will be able to say whom they do trust but the safest course is to try to seek support for the victim outside the community.

There is no religious basis to HBA and forced marriage; they are widely condemned by all religious faiths and communities.

Forced marriage

A forced marriage is one that is carried out without the consent of both people, meaning the victim(s) is/are pressured into marrying someone against their will. Those involved may be emotionally/physically blackmailed or threatened to go through with the marriage and may experience ‘honour’-based abuse for refusing. Forced marriage is very different to an arranged marriage, which both people will have agreed to.

Forced marriage is a criminal offence and an abuse of human rights, with no justification from any religious or cultural basis. It can affect men, women and children, and is a form of domestic and child abuse. It can also be linked to human slavery offences such as domestic servitude.

According to the Forced Marriage Unit, forced marriages happen because of:

  • Controlling unwanted behaviour and sexuality, particularly that of women, and preventing ‘unsuitable’ relationships
  • Peer group or family pressure
  • Projecting perceived cultural or religious ideals which can often be misguided
  • Attempting to strengthen family links
  • Family honour or long-standing family commitments
  • Ensuring land remains within the family
  • Assisting claims for residence and citizenship
  • Providing a carer for a disabled family member/reducing the ‘stigma’ of disability

Forcing someone into marriage can lead to up to 7 years in prison. People have the right to refuse and not accept a marriage and have the right to legal protection against abuse. They can also legally separate or annul a forced marriage, within 3 years of the marriage. The Forced Marriage Unit deals with around 300 cases a year, of which 25% end in rescue or repatriation. Around 15% of cases are male victims, though the majority are females aged 15-24.

Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPO) enable family courts to protect someone from being forced into marriage or to help remove someone from their existing forced marriage. An order can also be used to protect someone who has already been forced into marriage, to remove them from the situation.

Each FMPO contains terms designed to protect the victim in their particular circumstances, for example, to prevent them from being taken abroad, to stop intimidation or violence, to reveal someone’s whereabouts, or to prevent a forced marriage from occurring.

If you know of someone who is being or has been, forced into marriage, visit our National Services page to find a specialist support service, and read the UK’s multi-agency statutory guidance on forced marriage in the resources section at the bottom of this page.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/FGC)

FGM, also known as ‘female circumcision’, ‘cutting’ or ‘Sunna’, as defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) involves the partial or total removal of external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. There is no benefit or medical reason to justify carrying out FGM yet it is thought that 100-140 million women worldwide have undergone some form of genital mutilation, with around 60,000 girls aged 0-14 in the UK having undergone FGM. FGM is internationally recognised as a violation of the human rights of girls and women.

FGM is mainly carried out by unqualified family relatives or elder (female) members of the community. It is extremely harmful with both physical, psychological, emotional and sexual short-term and long-term impacts. It is mostly carried out on girls sometime between infancy and 15 years of age.

The procedure usually happens without anaesthetic, using makeshift devices such as razor blades, scissors, knives, glass, sharpened rocks, and even fingernails. It is considered by many to be an extreme form of gender-based violence.

Consequences of FGM can include –

Short term:

  • Severe pain and shock
  • Severe bleeding
  • Infection
  • Issues with urination
  • Injury to adjacent tissues
  • Immediate fatality

Long term:

  • Extensive damage of the external reproductive system
  • Uterus, vaginal and pelvic infections
  • Cysts and neuromas
  • Increased risk of vesico vaginal fistula
  • Complications in pregnancy and childbirth including newborn death
  • Psychological impact
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Difficulties with menstruation

It is illegal in the UK; it is child abuse; it violates the human rights of girls and women; and anybody involved in arranging FGM, or failing to protect a girl from FGM, faces up to 14 years in prison. 

There is more information on FGM on the Oxford Against Cutting website, including information about where to seek medical support. For services and support, visit our National Services page.

This Ted Talk by Payzee Mahmod discusses some of the key issues on this page. Her sister Banaz was forced into marriage and was a victim of ‘honour’-based abuse and killing.

Further reading and resources

‘Honour’-based abuse

Forced marriage


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