Challenges Faced Supporting Those at Risk of ‘Honour’-Based Abuse

Navigating COVID-19 challenges

In August of this year, Savera UK will celebrate 10 years since its establishment. We have achieved so much and faced many challenges, but the current pandemic was an unprecedented obstacle. 

Savera UK has always operated outside the box to create a range of opportunities to break the silence around ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) and harmful practices, as well as providing support to our services users, professional partners and the communities that we serve. COVID-19 has made developing innovative and effective ways to support those affected by HBA and to work toward eradicating these harmful practices more important than ever.

Savera UK has been very fortunate to work with amazing partners that enable us to provide the best support and to raise awareness. However, we still encounter challenges along the way. Many professionals still have limited knowledge and understanding on how HBA can impact those at risk. Savera UK has to take the ultimate measures to ensure safeguarding.

Take, for example, when a service user’s location was compromised by mistake by a professional. Despite this, they did not feel it was necessary to relocate the individual and Savera UK staff had to challenge that decision. Mistakes like this can make the individual at risk feel like they have been let down by those who are meant to protect them and put them at even greater risk.

Adapting to lockdown

The Savera UK team has worked hard to adapt to lockdown and create ways to support our service users. Access to food and household provisions is usually something Savera UK can help with, by supplying service users with food bank vouchers when needed. However, due to the current situation, food banks began to operate solely online with individuals having to send their personal details via email to gain access. 

Not only was it difficult for service users without internet access to get support, but sharing personal information online could potentially put them at risk. With our good partnership with the food bank, we were able to arrange a way for our service users to get supplies while ensuring their safety.  

The risks we highlight on a daily basis with services can be very simple and some think that we are being over-cautious, but we can never be over-cautious when working with those at risk of HBA. From experiences and research, an individual can disappear within hours. 

Perseverance and Creativity

An example of this is where we worked with an individual who was put into temporary accommodation with plans to relocate them the following day, despite statutory services involved believing that there was no risk posed to them by their family. 

On the day, we contacted the service users several times and got no answer and so involved the police and other services to complete a welfare check. However services still did not recognise the risks and pulled support. Savera UK staff, after perseverance and creativity managed to reconnect with the service user. 

By then, they already lost faith and trust in services and began to minimise their own risk due to fearing the consequences of their actions. Savera UK continued the support and helped them to realise that what they are going through was abuse and control. It took Savera UK’s team a number of months to finally get them to recognise their abuse and help escape into safety. 

We asked them what would have happened if they did not escape when they did. Their answer was: “they’d have killed me slowly”

One Chance Rule

Savera UK work on the ONE CHANCE rule and it is important for professionals to listen and acknowledge that we can learn from one another if we work together. Using Savera UK’s expertise and following its guidance would have ensured that the service user in the example above was safeguarded and protected. 

We continue to face many similar challenges and for us as a team when we receive a case where all professionals do their part, we see a huge difference, not just on protecting those at risk, but also the great partnership. 

During lockdown, we have found that the risk of HBA, forced marriage and female genital mutilation are being downplayed by services because individuals cannot travel. However, despite being at home, the risk to those experiencing harmful practices is elevated. 

Perpetrators will be able to enforce their beliefs in such practices while we are forced to stay at home. The closure of schools, universities and colleges, Gps surgeries etc  means that places where individuals would most likely reach out for help are not available. 

As a small team, we face many obstacles and try to overcome them. Our service users are based in  different areas across the North-West and it hasn’t been easy during lockdown to provide them with all the emergency support where required with limited movement. The majority of our service users have no other family to support them or even just have a conversation with. 

Welfare calls and 1-1 support

Before lockdown, Savera UK would combat this isolation with our weekly drop-in sessions, providing activities and programmes for those who attended. Now, Savera UK support staff give each service user a welfare call to support them through this extra level of isolation. Many service users don’t have a TV or phone and/or phone credit to make a quick call which would no doubt have a serious impact on their wellbeing.

We continue to provide our 1-1 support via telephone and use interpreting services when needed. We have been able to provide a range of activities including arts, crafts, wellbeing packs and food provisions. We have also seen a number of service users reconnecting with us for help as a result of the current situation. We continue to develop and create ways to help us engage and support them in every way possible. Working with those at risk of HBA and harmful practices has taught us so much about life and what we take for granted, in terms of the things we have and the family we are brought up in.

Make a stand against harmful culture 

Savera UK’s message to all our colleagues across professionals and communities is this: Let’s work together, not to just provide support and protect the most vulnerable but to celebrate our diverse culture, but stand against harmful culture. 

A quote from a service user who shows their appreciation: “I’m so honoured that I have found someone who understands and wants to hear from me. Really sometimes you just need someone to speak to and then your heart and mind is at peace. I thought it would take a psychologist to fix me, but look at what you have done. One day we will sit together, share the sun’s warmth and enjoy a good cup of coffee and say thank you.”

Savera UK is here to help and support, we operate weekly  Monday – Friday (9am – 5pm, excluding bank holidays). If you would like to make a referral or need advice and support around ‘honour’-based abuse, forced marriage, female genital mutilation or any other harmful practices, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 0800 107 0726. 

 For further guidance on safety during COVID-19 then please click here.

If you are in immediate danger, then please call 999.