Domestic abuse affects more than 2 million women men and their children. It is both a public health crisis – affecting mental and physical health – and a crime.
The sad reality is that still only one in five victims report abuse, and there are few prosecutions of this crime: treating this only as a criminal justice issue, therefore, fails to challenge the perpetrators and support their victims’ (and children’s) recovery to normal living. Survivors have informed this report, with a message that they do not want to get even — they want to get better.
This is why the CSJ is calling on the Government to tackle domestic abuse as a public health issue. The authors of this report have, however, found that all too often health professionals lack the training to identify domestic abuse, or refer victims to the right services. Fearful of raising issues they can’t resolve, a false perception that their role does not extend to supporting individuals experiencing abuse compounds this lack of action. As a result, women and men stay silent and trapped in abusive relationships.
This is all the more worrying when it comes to victims who belong to closed communities. Whether their community is defined by ethnicity, religion or culture, men and women suffering abuse feel unable to speak out because of the stigma of being a traitor. They also often do not identify with the label that government and health and social services have pinned on the abuse they are experiencing: “honour abuse.”
Honour? Where is the honour in forcing an expectant woman to abort her baby because the 20-week scan reveals she is a girl? Where is the honour in forcing a gay son into marrying a girl to cover up his sexual orientation? Where is the honour in treating a daughter-in-law like free labour without rights?
The term honour risks legitimising this behaviour. It risks giving the perpetrator a way out – he or she is adhering to an honour code. Moreover, as one survivor explained, the distinction created by this term pushes victims into a “special”category. But victims do not want to feel they are “special,”they just want to feel safe. And they deserve to.
Language matters. This report calls for banishing the misleading term, “honour abuse,”from all government literature, as well as from the NHS and all statutory services catering for the survivors of domestic abuse.
Getting rid of the term does not erase domestic abuse. It will however recognise that abuse is abuse. There can be no sensitivities around calling it exactly what it is — no matter who perpetrates it or why.