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The Urgent Need to Address “Honour” Abuse in the UK: Lessons from the Tragic Murders of Shafilea Ahmed and Banaz Mahmod

In recent years, the United Kingdom has grappled with the painful reality of “honour” abuse within its borders.

This form of violence, driven by a twisted sense of cultural and familial honour, has claimed the lives of innocent individuals and left lasting scars on countless others.

Two notable cases, the murders of Shafilea Ahmed and Banaz Mahmod, have served as wake-up calls for society, prompting us to re-evaluate the urgency of tackling this pervasive issue and taking concrete steps to protect vulnerable individuals.

Shafilea Ahmed, a 17-year-old girl of Pakistani-Kashmiri descent, was murdered in 2003 by her own parents, in what can only be described as a horrifying act of “honour” violence. Shafilea’s parents, motivated by their misguided beliefs about preserving family honor, suffocated her to death in front of her siblings. Her body was later found near a riverbank in Cumbria, sparking a nationwide outrage and raising awareness about the brutality of “honour” abuse.

Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old Kurdish-Iraqi woman, suffered a similarly tragic fate in 2006. Banaz had endured years of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse at the hands of her family due to her desire to choose her own partner. Despite reporting the threats and violence to the authorities, she was failed by the system. Eventually, Banaz was brutally raped, tortured, and strangled to death by her own relatives. The chilling account of her final moments, captured on a secret recording, exposed the sheer horror and urgency of addressing “honour” abuse in the UK.

The murders of Shafilea Ahmed and Banaz Mahmod resonated deeply with the public, forcing us to confront uncomfortable truths about the existence and consequences of “honour” abuse.

These cases shed light on the magnitude of the problem, demonstrating that this form of violence persists even within Western societies. They shattered the illusion that such atrocities are limited to distant lands or isolated communities, urging us to face the reality that “honour” abuse is a pressing issue that requires immediate attention.

The tragic circumstances surrounding Shafilea and Banaz’s deaths exposed significant systemic failures in the UK’s response to “honour” abuse.

Despite multiple reports and pleas for help, the authorities failed to adequately protect these vulnerable individuals.

The cases highlighted the need for improved training for frontline professionals, including police officers, social workers, and healthcare providers, to recognise the signs of “honour” abuse and respond effectively. But it also asked for better research from academics which we now have and have had for over 10-15 years. This research is key in understanding these issues and why we need to hold perpetrators accountable.

There has always been a clear need for a coordinated approach involving education, outreach, and support services to ensure the safety and well-being of those at risk.

The public outcry following these high-profile cases brought “honour” abuse out of the shadows and into the national conversation.

Media coverage, documentaries, and campaigns raised awareness about the prevalence and devastating impact of this form of violence. By amplifying the voices of survivors and victims’ families, these efforts empowered others to come forward, seek help, and break the cycle of abuse.

The resulting public scrutiny and pressure also pushed policymakers to address the issue more comprehensively and allocate resources to support victims and survivors. But as we know the resources take time and we don’t always have enough funding for by and for services.

The murders of Shafilea Ahmed and Banaz Mahmod ignited a powerful movement for change. By and for services and others have taken steps to combat “honour” abuse and protect vulnerable individuals. This includes establishing helplines, specialist support services, and training programs for professionals.

We have retired police officers such as Mindy Mahil (expert on HBA, FM & FGM) and Caroline Goode (investigated the Banaz murder) who i know personally and have worked with, they are helping change the landscape with training, talks and just being good investigators (Mindy still supports in cases). More recently I came across Debbie Gould CPS prosecutor and expert on HBA cases.

However, there is still much work to be done. Addressing the underlying cultural factors, challenging societal norms, and breaking the cycle of silence and fear are crucial in eradicating this form of violence entirely. The tragic deaths of Shafilea Ahmed and Banaz Mahmod serve as haunting reminders of the urgent need to confront “honour” abuse in the UK.

These horrific cases exposed systemic failures and compelled society to reevaluate its response to this pervasive issue.

By creating awareness, empowering victims, and implementing comprehensive support systems, we can work towards a future where no individual is forced to suffer in the name of honour. Recently i watched the age of marriage increase from 16 to 18 in England and Wales, i watched Payzee (another good colleague and friend) also the sister of Banaz speak to passionately why the law needed to change (also huge thanks to IKWRO , Karma Nirvana and all the others involved) but Payzee’s words around child marriage stuck with me she was only a child how could this happen to her? and how do we make it stop?

It is our collective responsibility to ensure the safety, dignity, and freedom of all individuals, regardless of their cultural background or gender, and to bring an end to the cycle of “honour” abuse once and for all. I am grateful for the academic research from Dr Roxanne Khan, Dr Maz Idriss, Dr Olumide Adisa and Dr Aisha Gill but how many more times do we need to say enough is enough.

So called honour abuse incidents, crimes and murders need to stop and perpetrators need to be held accountable.

Rest in Power all who lost their lives. We got you.




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