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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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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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