What social workers need to know about honour-based violence

When Kaiza [not her real name] was four, her family decided who she would marry. As a teenager, her family sent her to a remote part of Pakistan for a year, so she would become more compliant.

18/10/21

What social workers need to know about honour-based violence

Speaking at the Social Work Innovations conference, Kaiza, a survivor of honour-based violence (HBV) gave an account of her own experiences and outlined what professionals need to know about the practice.

Kaiza is now a social worker, training others to recognise and intervene in honour-based violence and abuse. At the COMPASS seminar, Kaiza discussed several court cases where honour-based abuse had resulted in murders of girls and women by their families. She said that social workers needed to be aware of the signs and to have the courage to intervene, as victims often struggled to disclose what was happening to them.

“Terms like coercive control, and grooming were not widely known…we didn't have these words; professionals couldn't intervene.

“For me, the trigger was that meetings were happening in the middle of the night where my uncles would come into the house and my brother would sit, my dad would sit, my mum would sit; I was quite a nosy child and I wanted to know what's going on so I lifted the carpet and floorboard in my bedroom put my ear to the floor. I'll never forget the conversation I heard, where they planned to get me killed…And I suppose that was the point where I thought I need to tell someone. So then obviously I did go into police protection for a while.

“Confidence in the police has been quite limited with victims of forced marriage and honour-based abuse, but for me, I'm standing here today because of the support I had off them.

“Asian females are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than their Caucasian counterparts. Nationally there's 12 to 15 reported honour killings a year that are documented.

“Honour-based abuse is often not reported or is listed under alternative terms such as ‘harassment’.

“With honour-based abuse and forced marriage, you're not just up against the dependants or the perpetrator – it is a whole community, from the mosque to the community centres, to workplaces to the police.”

Kaiza added that when she was waiting for police protection, she had two officers that were working in that police station giving information to her family.

Kaiza’s own and other research into how social workers can prevent and respond to forced marriage showed that there is still a reluctance from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) social workers to intervene in BAME issues because of the wider community perspective.

“However, those social workers are doing a fantastic job by standing their ground and saying that, actually, we know this is wrong. We are going to do what we need to do to safeguard the families and children. But they do come across quite a lot of hostility from their own communities.

“As social workers, we are in a position of power and privilege; we do not understand how much power and privilege we have. And so we need to acknowledge that our power can change someone's life, or make it or destroy it,” Kaiza said.

Key messages for practitioners included not using family members as interpreters or intermediaries, as well as avoiding engaging families in family group conferencing (FGC).

She also advised to not send the victim back to the perpetrators and, if a protection order is obtained, to ensure that a monitoring plan remains in place as the risk is not stopped as soon as an order is granted.

“When people are telling you about their trauma and about what's going on at home and what they feel, believe them. Sometimes you don't have to say anything, you don't have to know anything. Listen and show empathy. If you just give them that, they know that you're there and on that journey with them.

“I think it's absolutely fine if you don't know what to do initially but what isn't okay, is that you end up back in the office and start typing up an email to someone you know – the Asian person who might know about these kinds of abuses.

“We need to be making sure that when we're documenting things and that we document them for what they are in the child's voice or in the adults voice, in terms of protection for victims.

“We need to do the right thing by the victim. Cultural acceptance does not mean accepting the unacceptable. You know, for me, it's very clear that we need to be the difference, so that child needs to look back and think I have that advocate, and that saved my life.

“That is our job.”

To find out more about Kaiza and her work, visit: www.kaizaconsultancy.co.uk

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