A survivor of forced marriage who suffered years of abuse at the hands of her extended family has criticised calls by a Conservative MP to ban the term ‘honour’ in describing certain types of violent crime.
Mariam says removing the label would invalidate the suffering she and others have endured in the name of protecting their families’ honour and would disempower both victims and survivors.
Outlining a proposed Bill in Parliament on Tuesday, MP Nusrat Ghani said the phrase “honour killing” should be banned from all official documents because it assumes the violence is “culturally sensitive”.
The Wealden MP said the term fuelled political correctness and “intimidates the agencies of the states in pursuing and prosecuting these violent crimes”.
Women’s rights groups have reacted with anger, branding the proposal “dangerous” and “irresponsible”.
While they welcome the suggestion that British police should act in transnational ‘honour’ killings, they say Ghani’s assertion that so called ‘honour’ abuse is “just like domestic violence” is misguided and could place potential victims at risk.
Now Mariam, who did not wish to give her surname for fear of reprisals, has decided to speak out about the importance of acknowledging the role honour plays in these complex crimes.
She told The Independent: “Honour is a powerful word and to remove that would be to ignore the abuse I have suffered and the recognition that it was rooted in terms of ‘shame’ and ‘dishonour’.”
She added: “It is not about religion or culture, it is about controlling children and especially girls and women who grow up with the constant threat of bringing shame on the family."
As a child Mariam was told from as young as eight that she was to marry a cousin she had never met.
“From an early age I was controlled by my extended family," she recalled. "When I started thinking for myself I was taken out of school in case I did something to dishonour them - that could mean having friends, wearing make-up, getting an education or going to the corner shop.”
Mariam, who is now in her thirties was warned never to speak to boys or even look at them but when she was 16 she was taken to Pakistan and later raped on her wedding night after being forced to marry her 23-year-old cousin.
She said there was huge pressure from multiple perpetrators colluding against me.”
Mariam went on to endure “an extremely violent” marriage and her daughters were in turn harassed and controlled.
She said: “My husband and his family controlled every aspect of my life. His mother even chose my clothes despite living abroad. When I had my children they said I’d brought shame on the family for not producing a son.”
The final straw came when her husband beat her and threatened her with a knife when she was pregnant.
He was convicted and sent to prison but was released three months later. It was another four years until she and her daughters were able to escape the family.
“I suffered domestic abuse and honour based abuse but they are not the same thing," she said. "Professionals need to understand the different motivations and risks involved because these people will kill their own sons and daughters in the name of honour.”
But speaking in Parliament, Ms Ghani argued that using the term "honour" diminishes the victim and “provides a convenient excuse for what in our society we should call quite simply murder, rape, abuse and enslavement.”
She cited the case of a woman who after being beaten and treated as a domestic servant by her husband reached out to police only to be returned to her abusers because it was “just a cultural misunderstanding”.
Introducing the Crime (Aggravated Murder of and Violence Against Women) Bill, Ms Ghani said police and other agencies, including the CPS, have been reluctant to tackle domestic abuse in minority communities for fear of being accused of racism.
Diana Nammi, founder of the Iranian and Kurdish Women's Rights Organisation, said Ms Ghani has correctly identified significant failures by police as reflected in the findings of a major HMIC investigation which found only three out of 43 police forces in the UK are sufficiently prepared to tackle 'honour' based violence.
But she added: "But rather than demand the police do their job, address these failings and protect those at risk, bizarrely she is trying to sweep the failings under the carpet and let the police off by claiming that "honour" based violence doesn't exist. This is an extremely dangerous and irresponsible approach which will put victims at real risk.
"Evidence shows that "honour" based violence is a significant problem in the UK impacting on thousands of victims. It is distinct from domestic violence and it is vital we use a word that identifies what we are trying to prevent, so that the risks can be correctly assessed and that we use a term that is recognised across the world by professionals, academics and communities."
Reacting to the proposed Bill, Labour MP for Rotherham Sarah Champion said: “There are different ways in which violence against women and girls is perpetrated. It is absolutely necessary to recognise and understand the dynamics of different forms of abuse, in order to disrupt and prevent this violence.”
She added: “If the police and CPS are failing to properly investigate and prosecute perpetrators of these crimes we must look again at the training received.”
The charity Karma Nirvana has trained 26 out of the country's 43 police forces in identifying the risks of 'honour' based abuse.
Its founder Jasvinder Sanghera said: “'Honour' based abuse is a term we fought for as survivors because it is at the heart of all our experiences. If we dishonour our family we know that will become the motivation for our families hurting us so we want professionals to recognise the term and understand it."
She added: “We are reclaiming the word and to have it removed would undo years of hard work teaching professionals to recognise ‘honour’ based abuse in it’s own right.”
Women’s rights groups said they welcomed a second proposal in the bill to improve the provision of police assistance to British women who are victims of aggravated domestic violence outside the UK.
A second reading of the proposed Bill will take place in March
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