The UK has seen some shocking cases of honour-based violence and murder. But most people would be surprised to learn that many of the victims of this horrendous abuse are men. Despite 20% of cases of forced marriage relating to men, they have become the forgotten victims and as a result there is very little help available to them. There is a dearth of empirical research into this issue but we hope our ongoing study will help find some solutions.
Honour-based violence occurs when the actions of a victim are perceived by their family to have damaged its reputation. There could be a number of reasons for this, including having a relationship outside marriage, being too “westernised” or refusing to enter into a forced marriage.
Two of the most notable cases in the UK involved the murder of young girls by their families. In 2003, Shafilea Ahmed was murdered by her parents because she had refused to enter into a forced marriage. And in 2006, Banaz Mahmod was also murdered on the orders of her father and uncle for “dishonouring” the family.
Cases involving male victims are indeed rarer – but they exist and those victims need help too. Our research involved a number of studies on honour-based violence and forced marriages with the aim of helping victims and survivors.
Responding to and improving service provision for men poses certain challenges. Male victims have been neglected due to a combination of factors, including a lack of awareness. There is also resistance or dismissiveness by some organisations to address the service needs of men.
The social construction that “men cannot be victims”, as well as a framework that views the service needs of women as a higher priority, adds to this complexity.
Barriers for men to report their abuse also exist in the form of concepts of masculinity, honour and shame. All these issues can prevent male victims from coming forward.
It is true that cases of honour-based violence and forced marriage generally relate to violence inflicted by older male relatives. But perpetrators can also be women and wives. Where women are the perpetrators, men often avoid reporting it because of the fear of being ridiculed or shamed.
Lack of service provision
I am one of the trustees of The Elm Foundation which is a domestic abuse organisation. Although its core operation is to support women, the foundation also supports male victims with a male refuge that can house three single male victims at any one time.
But the next nearest male refuge is over 150 miles away. There is clearly a disparity between the service provision for men and women. Sadly, the national picture is the same. There are no refuges in London and only 18 nationally that serve men. Although more services should be available for women because they are predominantly the victims of violence, there still needs to be provision for men.
In 2008, the House of Commons Select Committee issued a report recommending various changes to help address the issues around honour-based violence. But ten years on, there are still problems with intervention and many of the committee’s recommendations have not been fully implemented or acted upon.
What’s going wrong?
There are problems with the police, particularly around how victims are treated by officers and how they feel uninformed on the progress of their cases. They are not receiving help soon enough or being believed in the first instance. There were also instances in our research where information about victims was not treated in strict confidence, potentially exposing victims to further risk of harm.
This is largely due to a lack of training and awareness on the part of police officers to recognise and spot the signs of abuse and them failing to appreciate the cultural issues some cases present.
In June 2014, the government criminalised breaches of Forced Marriage Protection Orders and created a new criminal offence of forced marriage. But a major concern about criminalisation is the fact that perpetrators are often family members. So while some victims are prepared to see their parents prosecuted many others are not because of the love and emotional attachments involved.
Our research has uncovered key improvements that need to be made including: a national strategy on honour-based violence; better training and awareness for all state agencies around men being victims, and better education in schools, colleges and universities to inform young people about their rights and responsibilities.
There is clearly a conversation to be had about how we can improve support for victims, both women and men. But it is hoped that our work will spark a much needed change in policy and improve services for male victims.