It has been ten years since the murder of Banaz Mahmod, which I chronicled in my first documentary, Banaz. One of the initial objectives of the documentary was to educate service providers, and I was proud when the film made its way into the police's training packages. As the HMIC's recently released report makes clear, the brutal killing of Banaz Mahmod galvanised responses to so-called 'honour'-based violence in the UK, given that she reported to the police on five occasions, and at each point they failed to apprehend the nature of the danger against her. Sadly, the HMIC conclude that little has changed in response, and they comment that their conclusions remain similar to those of the IPCC investigation into Banaz's death which was published in 2006. Very few forces across the country are prepared to deal with the aggravating nature of 'honour'-based violence, and there is a worrying lack of recognition, understanding and training across the board. Most alarmingly, there is still no consistent system of identification and flagging of 'honour' crimes, so we still don't have a clear idea of how serious the problem is, and where support needs to be directed. Hopefully, this report will provide the impetus for the development of more efficient systems to detect and help potential victims.
Whether within the police or other agencies, individuals who have expertise, cultural sensitivity and commitment to protecting women at risk are the greatest resource. The most valuable and dedicated of these are women's rights activists, fighting for change within their own communities, and providing a compassionate and effective source of help for women and girls at risk of their lives. The report benefits from the participation of a number of victims of violence, and many of the most successful cases which mediation by a specialist NGO was crucial, providing essential support at several stages in the process. People at risk of 'honour'-based violence require long-term support, often years past the closure of a case, for continuing culturally-sensitive psychological support and the development of long-term protection plans.
Without their input and their ability to hold services to account, effective protection policies would not have been developed. They need to be central to developing our policy to provide protection. Without their ability to access communities that distrust mainstream services, we could not reach women at risk, or understand the cultural and family background to these events. Without their efforts, there would be many more victims, and much greater demands upon the police services.
However, 'austerity' measures have bitten deep into the services which support women from ethnic minorities. 47% of services for black and minority ethnic (BME) women have experienced signiﬁcant loss of funding. Donations have dried up, government funding is channeled away from small charities towards larger, 'mainstream' providers, charitable trusts have lower funds and more applications to deal with. All charities suffer, but it is those dealing with the difficult cases - 'honour'-based violence, victims with complicated immigration statuses - who have the lowest reserves and the greatest vulnerability to funding loss. Despite being part of a sector which shows remarkable returns upon investment in very difficult environments, the most important and pioneering organisations are at risk, and operating under straightened conditions. For instance, Apna Haq in Rotherham risk losing funding, despite providing expert, life-saving support to women for over twenty years.
As the HMIC report remarks, "where traditions operate to imprison vulnerable people behind barriers of fear and the threat or reality of violence, and facilitate or intensify crimes committed against those people, such barriers must be broken." Activist women from within the communities where 'honour' crimes occur have been leading this debate from the very beginning. All of them now face severe difficulties. Some have already had to close their doors, or limit their services.
As a society, as long as we fail to support these organisations, we run the risk of failing more young women like Banaz. NGOs who take on this vital and demanding work need long-term, sustainable funding. It is not just the police who need to support victims: it needs to be part of all our responsibility to support women at risk -- and the organisations which are best placed to help them and have been doing so for decades. To do otherwise is to squander our most precious reserves in the fight against 'honour' based violence. To do otherwise is to risk women's lives.