How COVID-19 is endangering people at risk of ‘honour’-based abuse

It is like we have stepped into the world of a dystopian novel. The UK is in lockdown, you cannot have a conversation with someone without mentioning the words ‘Coronavirus’, ‘self-isolation’ or ‘social distancing’. We have been told to stay indoors with the members of our own household, only going outside for exercise or to purchase essential items like food and medicine.

In the midst of a global pandemic we must do all we can to keep COVID-19 at bay and protect the most vulnerable people in our communities. But what if this public duty leaves you isolated with your abuser or abusers?

There will be many who will have no choice but to stay at home in abusive situations. Abusive behaviour in all forms will increase during this time, due to being confined to the home. In particular, there will be a growth in coercive and controlling behaviour which victims of ‘honour’-based abuse experience every day.

Although domestic abuse affects all genders, women are most likely to be affected with 1 in 3 women having experienced physical or sexual violence, usually the hands of an intimate partner. What’s more, two women are killed every week by a partner or former partner.

Amid the pandemic, China has already seen a surge in domestic abuse reporting. Local police stations saw a threefold increase in cases reported in February compared with the previous year, according to Wan Fei, the founder of an anti-domestic violence not-for-profit.

So-called ‘honour’-based abuse is a widespread phenomenon that represents the most horrific outcome of a patriarchal, ‘honour’-based society in which ‘honour’ is considered more important than human life. It is already an under-reported practice as those at risk fear what could happen to them if they speak out. Statistics for this practice are not common but it is estimated that only 3,000 incidents of honour crime are reported each year in the UK, just the tip of the iceberg.

‘Honour’-based abuse and other harmful practices are so hidden, that there is concern that many of these cases will slip through the cracks with attention being on the Coronavirus. Those at risk of ‘honour’-based abuse are often already heavily surveyed by their abusers, denied access to internet or phones and isolated from friends in order to keep the family ‘honour’. All of this will be made easier for perpetrators to enforce, as individuals are confined to the home.

Perpetrators are not just significant others or spouses. In the case of ‘honour’-based abuse they can be your mother, father, siblings and extended family who may all live under one roof. The amount of pressure on individuals at risk of ‘honour’-based abuse will be inevitably heightened at this time as so many will not see a way out.

Support for those at risk

Support services will be tasked with supporting those who are at risk of these practices from afar as the population has been urged to work from home, if they can, for the safety of their staff and service users. Although a vital measure, it does make it challenging to provide all the regular services that are in place to reduce social isolation and ultimately help those at risk.

As an organisation, Savera UK, a specialist service for those at risk of ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices, has been forced to suspend its face-to-face support as well as cancel the weekly drop-in service for our clients. Despite this, our staff are continuing to provide support through our helpline (0800 107 0726) which operates Monday-Friday 9am-5pm (excluding bank holidays). Service users, those who want to refer into the service and professionals will all be able to call for any advice about harmful traditional practices as usual. We are also still available via email [email protected].

Founder, Afrah Qassim, said: “’The Coronavirus outbreak has made the world spin and caused so much pain and anxiety to us all.

“As an organisation supporting survivors and those at risk of ‘honour’-based abuse and harmful practices, the measures necessary to prevent the spread of the virus have been challenging.

“However, our small and committed team has always been able to overcome any challenges they are faced with. I am so proud of how they have continued to work in reassuring and supporting our clients, as well as finding creative ways to deliver activities and communicate with those at risk. This determination will help to keep them safe and their spirits up in these difficult times.”

We understand it might be difficult to get the support you need at this time but we are here to help and give culturally sensitive advice to anyone who needs it in relation to harmful practices. Our service remains confidential and we will refer you on to other support services that may be able to help you as well as our own. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know are at risk of forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM), ‘honour’-based abuse or any other harmful traditional practice then please contact us on 0800 107 0726. If there is immediate danger then call 999.

Government advice on domestic abuse during the Coronavirus outbreak: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-victim-and-witness-services#support-for-victims-of-domestic-abuse

 

Reporting by Shauna Lacy & Nikki Girvan