As part of their 18-month long ‘Hidden Harm’ campaign, Thames Valley Police are spending two weeks focusing on ‘asking people to open their eyes’ to honour-based abuse (HBA).
The fortnight of activity is built around the National Day of Memory for Honour Based Killings on Saturday July 14.
This was the birthday of Shafilea Ahmed, who was suffocated by her parents in 2003 after she refused an arranged marriage.
Detective Superintendent Nick John, head of Thames Valley Police’s Protecting Vulnerable People unit said: “Honour-based abuse is about beliefs and customs and an expectation that an individual should behave in a certain way or they will bring shame or dishonour on their family or the wider community.”
He continued: “We’ve had 1,200 HBA crimes reported to Thames Valley in the last four years.
“I don’t believe that is the true picture of this, hence the reason we’re trying hard to get the message out there through this kind of campaign.”
While talking to Detective Superintendent John, it was evident that his passion for making progress on this issue was accompanied by a frustration with available resources.
He conceded that TVP officers do not get much training on this under-reported, complex issue.
He said: “We’re not in the fortunate position to dedicate a whole week to honour-based abuse.”
In January this year, the Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley Anthony Stansfeld confirmed that saying: “Over the last seven years £99m has been removed from the Thames Valley Police budget and a further £14.3m savings need to be made over the next three years.”
TVP’s strategy during the course of the fortnight was to put up posters in prime locations, use social media to highlight issues surrounding honour-based abuse and to increase links with communities through neighbourhood policing.
Nick John confirmed regarding the current campaign: “We don’t have any dedicated officers per se, this is about general awareness raising.”
Police handling of honour-based abuse is haunted by figures such as only 5% of crimes reported nationally being referred to the CPS, and there never having been a successful prosecution related to female genital mutilation (FGM) in the UK, despite latest estimates showing that around 137,000 women and girls are living with its consequences and it being illegal here since 1985.
Nick John conceded: “In some areas policing has missed aspects because they’re worried about what it might come across as.”
The hope is that this latest drive to make an impact on this critical issue can cut through some of the problems of the past, both in terms of the perception of the police’s handling of sensitive issues and the confidence victims have in them to come forward.
Detective Superintendent John said: “We don’t necessarily have the trust and confidence or the understanding or the awareness so we’re trying to do something about it,” adding, “I think trust and confidence is a massive thing – we are trying.”
Between April 2014 and March 2018 there were 1,200 cases of honour-based abuse in the Thames Valley, which included 84 incidents in Aylesbury Vale.