Every police force must improve its understanding of honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation

The police must better understand honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation in order to provide victims with the best possible service and encourage those affected to come forward, a report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found today.

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The depths of dishonour: Hidden voices and shameful crimes – An inspection of the police response to honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation

Honour-based violence is the term used to refer to a collection of practices used predominantly to control the behaviour of women and girls within families or other social groups in order to protect supposed cultural and religious beliefs, values and social norms in the name of ‘honour’. This is the first inspection by HMIC of the police service of England and Wales to focus on honour-based violence.

The report, ‘The depths of dishonour: Hidden voices and shameful crimes’, examines the approach of police forces in England and Wales in relation to the protection of people from harm caused by honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and at supporting victims of these offences.

“When the girl been murdered, then you open a case – how does that help?
You can’t bring the girl back at that point can you?
So you need to support them, but they don’t support them.”
Victim of honour-based violence.

Inspectors found that the police are not sufficiently prepared to protect effectively victims of honour-based violence, including forced marriage and female genital mutilation. Despite there being pockets of good practice, a lot needs to improve. The service provided to victims must improve, given that they face unique difficulties in reporting such incidents and crimes. Forces must also improve engagement with community groups that support the interests of victims, in order to understand better the complexities cases of honour-based violence can pose, which will give victims and those affected the confidence to come forward.

We found that there are well trained and experienced officers who can identify and protect victims at an early stage; however, they are spread thinly. Some forces approach cases of honour-based violence by adapting existing domestic abuse and child protection procedures. While there are similarities, this approach doesn’t take into account the specific challenges cases of honour-based violence pose. The police service must ensure officers are properly trained to identify cases of honour-based violence, and understand the appropriate approach to take.

HM Inspector of Constabulary Wendy Williams said:

“Honour-based violence is being suffered on a daily basis by blameless citizens across all areas and communities. The immense emotional difficulty victims have in reporting the crimes they have suffered mean that victims are acutely and continually vulnerable.

“Although initial responses by the police are good, only a small number of forces are well-prepared for the complexity that honour-based violence cases can pose. It is clear that the police service has some way to go before the public can be confident that honour-based violence is properly understood by the police, and that potential and actual victims are adequately and effectively protected.

“The first response victims receive is the most important, and the courage they have shown to contact the police must not be undone by forces being ill-prepared. Raising levels of awareness will improve the response to honour-based violence and the confidence of potential victims to report incidents and crimes to the police. That, in turn, will go a significant way towards addressing the unreported nature of these offences.”

“We have carried out extensive research, speaking with victims of these incidents, as well as the organisations who support them, and one thing was clear: incidents and crimes of this nature are not unique to one culture, community or geographical area – the hidden nature of these crimes means that it is likely that, of the victims who come forward, there are many more who haven’t. It is imperative that the police show victims that when they come forward they will receive the best possible service and be treated with the utmost care.”

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Thomas Winsor said:

“This report is one of the most important ever produced by HMIC, as these are crimes of unique seriousness, involving a degree of vulnerability which is absent in almost every other case, with the exception of the abuse, neglect and sexual exploitation of children.

“The vulnerability of victims and potential victims of these crimes comes principally from their sense of helplessness and hopelessness, their fear or conviction that their circumstances are not or will not be understood, and the fact that the people closest to them are the people who are most dangerous to them.

“Cultural traditions and sensitivities deserve and should always be given due respect. But where they operate to imprison vulnerable people behind barriers of fear and the threat or reality of violence, and facilitate or intensify crimes committed against them, such barriers must be broken. They deserve no respect at all. The perpetrators of these acutely dishonourable offences need to know that the police and the state will never tolerate their crimes, or the threats – actual and implicit – they make.

“Victims and witnesses should be given the certainty and confidence to report crimes of this nature and to receive the complete and effective protection of the state – the entire community of which they are all full, respected and valued members. The police, with the other institutions of the state, can and must ensure that those who are especially vulnerable are especially safeguarded. Their silent cries must resound in all of the agencies of the state, and must never go unheeded.”

HMIC has also published the results of a research project, which includes the first-hand experiences of victims of honour-based violence. This research was carried out by the University of Bristol and in collaboration with the University of Roehampton, on behalf of HMIC, to inform this inspection.

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The depths of dishonour: Hidden voices and shameful crimes – An inspection of the police response to honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation


  1. HMIC is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales, together with other major policing bodies.
  2. Both HMI Wendy Williams, and HMCIC Sir Thomas Winsor are available for interview.
  3. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
  4. HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729