Calls to UK ‘honour abuse’ hotlines triple during virus lockdown

LONDON: British charities for victims of so-called honour abuse have seen a surge in pleas for help during lockdown, with many women and girls living in constant fear of family violence for defying strict traditions.

Cases include a young mother whose husband attempted to strangle her and threatened to throw acid in her face, and another who was hospitalised after being stabbed.

Karma Nirvana, which runs a helpline for honour abuse victims, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it had received nearly 2,000 calls and emails since lockdown began on March 23 – double the number in the same period last year.

Honour abuse in Britain is most commonly associated with families from South Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds.

The abuse – often inflicted by multiple members of the extended family – can be physical, psychological, emotional or sexual.

The plight of domestic abuse victims trapped at home with violent partners during lockdown has been highlighted by the government and media.

But Karma Nirvana chief executive Natasha Rattu said little attention had been given to victims of honour abuse isolated at home with “multiple perpetrators”.

She said the lockdown had created perfect conditions for families to exert total control. “We’re hugely worried about victims at this time,” Rattu said.

“We’re very much anticipating more victims will come forward now that restrictions are relaxing. People are planning to leave their homes so we desperately need more safe spaces to go to.”

Honour abuse is used to control behaviour and protect perceived cultural beliefs. Actions seen as bringing shame could include wearing Western clothes or the rejection of a marriage proposal.

Charities have received calls from girls in relationships opposed by their families, and others terrified they will be forced into marriages abroad once lockdown lifts.

One caller said her family had threatened to kill the father of her unborn child and was pressuring her to have an abortion.

Some victims were feeling suicidal and self-harming. Others said they were being treated like slaves.

Rattu said it was especially unusual to get so many calls over the normally quieter month of Ramadan, which coincided with lockdown and ended on May 23. “It shows the level of desperation,” she added.

Charities said the lockdown meant women and girls had fewer options to seek help, and it was trickier to reach them.

“Victims are more invisible,” Rattu added.

Police are also worried about known victims who have gone missing during lockdown, raising fears that their families may be blocking communication or have seriously harmed them.

IKWRO, a charity helping women from Iranian, Kurdish and Afghan backgrounds, said calls to its helpline were nearly three times higher than normal.

Chief executive Diana Nammi said the fact victims’ abusers were permanently at home made it even harder for them to reach help and language barriers often compounded the difficulties.

Nammi said there was an urgent need for dedicated refuges for victims of forced marriage and other forms of honour abuse.

With an acute shortage of spaces, some women have been placed in hotels, but Nammi said they often had no money for food.

“Many don’t have a bank account, or if they do, the husband has control of it,” she said.