The Reality of Family Abuse in the Name of ‘Honour’

The recent chemical attack in Clapham, South London, has reportedly left a mother, 31, and her two young girls, aged eight and three, scarred for life. It is understood that 12 people were injured in the attack that took place on the 31st of January, 2024.

Commander Jon Savell, from the metropolitan police, suggested that a breakdown of an intimate relationship could be the reason for the attack. The motive is still under investigation, the suspect not yet located, but the potential that this attack could be an incident of so-called honour-based abuse has generated fresh discussion around the issue.

Perpetrators of honour-based abuse are often partners, ex-partners, or family members. There is currently no statutory definition of honour-based abuse in England and Wales, but a common definition has been adopted across government and criminal justice agencies as being:

A crime or incident which has, or may have been, committed to protect or defend the honour of the family and / or community.

The government rejected a petition to create a statutory definition of HBA in 2023 [So-called honour-based abuse: response to the Committee’s Sixth Report (]. However, the sentencing guidelines [sentencing counsel: Overarching principles: domestic abuse – Sentencing (] clearly define HBA as a form of domestic abuse, which is a step in the right direction, following the guidelines in 2018, as this makes the offense more serious because it violates a position of trust presumed to be present between friends or family members.

Head of Family, Emma Palmer, and Senior Associate, Katie Camozzi, are Resolution accredited specialists in Forced Marriage & Honour-Based Abuse at MSB, and have provided training on the subject of HBA to a range of legal professionals and 3rd sector organisations.

It is important to recognise that honour-based abuse can take different forms. Some examples being:

  • Being forced into a marriage
  • Domestic abuse (physical, sexual, psychological, emotional, or financial)
  • Threats to kill, physical and emotional violence and murder.
  • Pressure to go or move abroad.
  • Being kept at home with no freedom
  • Not allowed to use the telephone, internet, or have access to important documents like your passport or birth certificate.
  • Isolation from friends and members of your own family
  • Threats to do any of the above

So-called honour-based abuse differs from domestic abuse primarily in relation to who the perpetrator of the abuse is/could be. In domestic abuse situations, there is usually only one perpetrator, although in some circumstances a perpetrator may instruct or encourage someone else to further the abuse. In HBA scenarios, it is often more difficult to identify the perpetrators, as well as how many there are. Whilst domestic abuse perpetrators are often the partner/ex-partner, in honour-based abuse, it could be the person’s immediate family, the partner/ex-partner, their family or wider members of the community.

In domestic abuse situations, the relatives and friends of the perpetrator often remain unaware of the behaviour. When they do become aware, they typically try to intervene and stop the abuse. However, the dynamics are different in honour-based abuse. Here, families often know about the abuse and may even endorse and facilitate it. It’s not unusual for “family meetings” to be convened, where multiple family members gather to address behaviour deemed shameful to the family and decide on the appropriate course of action to take.

If a person is at risk of honour-based abuse, they should call 999 and seek legal advice once safe from immediate risk. Those accused of being involved in such actions should seek immediate legal advice. Legal aid is available in some scenarios to assist with funding legal advice.

Contact Emma Palmer, below, for more information.

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