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Risks of honour-based abuse not fully understood by forces

How the police respond to victims of sexual abuse from ethnic minority backgrounds who may be at risk of honour-based abuse was the subject of a super complaint lodged in August 2020.

A new report has revealed gaps in forces' understanding of honour-based abuse, after a super-complaint identified nine areas of policing that are causing harm to those who may be at risk.

In August 2020, the Tees Valley Inclusion Project (TVIP) lodged a super-complaint raising concerns that the police response to sexual abuse was putting victims from ethnic minority backgrounds at risk of honour-based abuse.

Following a joint investigation into these concerns, HMICFRS, the College of Policing and the IOPC found that some victims may be supported properly because forces did not clearly understand the associated risks, and that police recording of ethnicity is patchy and inconsistent.

To complete this work, the group looked at previous HMICFRS inspections and Home Office reports, victim case studies and interviews, IOPC case files, and interviewed the NPCC leads for honour-based abuse, rape and serious sexual offences, domestic abuse and child abuse.

They also undertook fieldwork remotely in six forces: Cleveland Police, Devon & Cornwall Police, Gwent Police, Merseyside Police, Suffolk Constabulary and West Midlands Police.

The senior panel foreword reads: 'Information on the experiences of victims of sexual abuse is plentiful, recent and rich, but it lacks an in-depth consideration of differences in experience based on ethnicity or vulnerability connected to honour-based abuse.

'There are significant gaps in the data collected by the police as well as quality concerns. This is a well-known problem. We believe it has now become an intolerable one.'

The NPCC - which is currently reviewing data standards for the recording of all protected characteristics - has been asked to take the super-complaint into account when proposing changes to address this problem.

Further recommendations have also been made to chief constables and PCCs. 

HMIC Inspector of Constabulary Andy Cooke said: “Reporting sexual abuse is difficult enough for victims, and it is unacceptable those at risk of honour-based abuse are not properly safeguarded when they are courageous enough to report these crimes.

“It is clear real change is needed. If acted on, our recommendations will go a long way in helping to improve the service these victims receive.”


Failure to keep victims informed following the report of sexual abuse, to provide information during the prosecution process, and to discuss special measures were raised as specific aspects of the super-complaint.

A lack of empathy from the police also featured among the nine areas of complaint.

The report describes deficiencies in ethnicity recording as a 'fundamental failing' which means the police are 'severely limited in the way they can monitor their own performance'.

Contributors couldn't be sure whether a number of the features raised by the TVIP - including those referenced above - are 'more common for victims from ethnic minority backgrounds and/or those who may be at risk of honour-based abuse'. 

However, the report accepted that these are common failures in the police response to victims of all ethnicities.

In terms of recommendations made, it was revealed that forces generally only include the risk of honour-based abuse in their domestic abuse policies.

The report recommended that chief constables update their forces' sexual abuse policies to include the risk of honour-based abuse, with the College to update its existing sexual abuse APP to include this risk.

Another recommendation was that PCCs should work with police, safeguarding partners and specialist support organisations to understand the needs of sexual abuse victims who may be at risk of honour-based abuse, and consider those needs when commissioning local support services.

The interim director general of the IOPC, Tom Whiting thanked the TVIP for lodging a super-complaint which "shines a light on the additional risks some victims may face" when reporting sexual abuse.

The College's CEO, CC Andy Marsh, credited the "many dedicated and committed officers and staff" who support these victims, while recognising that change is needed - particularly to forces' ethnicity recording practices.

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