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The majority of police forces’ failure to tackle “honour”-based violence is punishing victims

As only three out of 43 police forces are found to be effective in dealing with “honour” crimes, it’s time to listen to the experts.

Recently published figures on forced marriage confirm that the crime is vastly under-reported and that only a fraction of investigations result in prosecution. This comes as no surprise to me, and we can confidently expect the same to be true of “honour”-related crimes in general. Although there is continual outcry about the lack of prosecutions, there is little focus on the vast structural and cultural failures within the majority of police forces that make it so incredibly difficult for victims to feel confident enough in their ongoing safety to testify against their own families. 

A review carried out in 2015 by HMIC into the effectiveness of police responses to “honour”-based violence (HBV) found that only three out of the 43 forces across England and Wales are prepared in all essential areas to deal with such crimes. Ten years on from the horrific murder of Banaz Mahmod, who approached the police no less than five times before she was brutally raped, murdered and buried in a back garden in Birmingham, it’s clear that lessons still haven’t been learned.

During my time as a member of the survivors’ advisory panel at the forced marriage and HBV charity Karma Nirvana – and in my day job working with the advocacy and campaigns team at a reproductive healthcare charity – I’ve come to appreciate the challenges in developing policy around this issue. Cuts to funding; a profound lack of awareness; the commonly apoplectic vitriol directed at communities that are disproportionately affected, and outright denial of the issue within those same communities all impact directly on our ability to address them.

In the years I’ve spent writing about my own experiences, I’ve consistently felt disheartened by these seemingly insurmountable challenges. When I was 12 years old, I was helped to escape “honour” abuse and the threat of forced marriage by siblings, the police and local authorities. It’s been 20 years since my escape, and I now do what I can to help influence change and improve support services.

Up until recently I believed that the best we could do was to continue campaigning for the prioritisation of HBV as an urgent focus issue within government and among local authority commissioners. But things have changed in the last year – I’m much more confident now that we have the expertise to deal with these challenges.

Throughout the course of my work, I’ve had the good fortune to come across individuals who can only be described as heroes, who combine innovation and expertise with tenacity and relentless dedication to tackling human rights abuses head-on, wherever they may occur.

Detective Sergeant Pal Singh has worked on some of the most high-profile “honour” killings in Britain to date, gaining a Metropolitan Police Service award for “Outstanding Individual Contribution to Victim Care” during HBV investigations. He is one of only a handful of people that I believe are truly able to understand the challenges we face and provide the real, practical solutions needed to tackle “honour” crime in all its forms. After spending many years bearing witness to the fatal consequences of inappropriate police responses to HBV, Singh has some important ideas on how to tackle the issue, which have yet to be acted upon.

He suggests that, to begin with, a specialist HBV unit covering the whole of London should be set up as a priority, which makes sense given that most recorded incidents take place there. Other high-risk areas include the West Midlands, West Yorkshire, Lancashire and Manchester. Underreporting of “honour” crime is not based on speculation, it is a reality deduced through analysis of poor and inappropriate recording of crime data.

Specialist teams would set a strong precedent in flagging and recording such cases with greater ease, while continuing to enable safe reporting by building strong relationships with affected communities through outreach programmes. This would also address a hugely problematic reliance on faith leaders, some of whom are complicit in the abuse.

On occasion, HBV victims are likely to be transferred between forces in order to maintain their ongoing safety, but protection cannot be guaranteed where there is a lack of leadership and wide variation in competency across forces. Given that reporting to the police in itself significantly escalates risk to the victim, this is a real concern, as is the importance of understanding the “one-chance rule”, a fundamental aspect of HBV safeguarding. Again, a specialist unit would have the expertise to deal with this. Singh says:

“It is now nationally recognised that the police do not have the ability to protect victims of HBV, or to prosecute their offenders. The creation of specialist units for the secondary investigations into ‘honour’-based violence in areas of high risk would undoubtedly help women who are voiceless and do not enjoy the support of their families or communities.”

Data obtained by the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) show that despite under-reporting, there are over 2,000 cases of “honour” crime recorded by UK police forces each year, and it’s clear that these figures do not reflect the full extent of the problem.

While development of a national standard of best practice is a worthwhile and important end-goal, we cannot rely solely on this in the short term, and we are certainly unable to accept the inevitability of more deaths and serious abuse as a consequence of police incompetency in the meantime. How many more people have to die before we start listening to the experts?

Shaheen Hashmat is a writer and campaigner against "honour"-based violence in all its forms, and she is the founding editor of Double Bind, an online platform featuring the voices of women with Muslim heritage working to promote secular values based on fundamental human rights for all. She tweets @tartantantrum.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.