Honour-based violence (HBV) is a term used to describe violence committed within the context of the extended family which are motivated by a perceived need to restore standing within the community, which is presumed to have been lost through the behaviour of the victim. Most victims of HBV are women or girls, although men may also be at risk.

Women and girls may lose honour through expressions of autonomy, particularly if this autonomy occurs within the area of sexuality. Men may be targeted either by the family of a woman who they are believed to have ‘dishonoured’, in which case both parties may be at risk, or by their own family if they are believed to be homosexual.

Common triggers for HBV include:

However, some families may resolve to abuse or kill a member on what would appear to be very trivial grounds. It is important to take clients fears of HBV seriously, even when it seems unlikely. Victims of HBV are more likely to underestimate the risks to their safety than overstate them and even the ‘offence’ seems trivial to you, this does not mean it is trivial to his or her family.

People at risk of HBV may have had negative experiences and expectations of authority. It is important to reassure potential victims, to be culturally sensitive and empathic without making assumptions about her or his culture and background. Try to establish a means of making secure and confidential contact at the earliest opportunity, as a client may not be able to make a second attempt to ask for help.

As HBV is a collective crime, the potential assailants and their networking capacity multiply the risk. Assessments of risk that assume a single perpetrator are inadequate. It is not unknown for family to pay a hit man or agency to deal with a fugitive from the family. Families that are widely spread across the country may make many areas unsafe for people at risk of HBV. While it is predominantly men who enact abuse, women within the family may play a part in tracking down a fugitive, including attempting to infiltrate women’s refuges. Families may deploy their professional networks to locate an individual, through for example, circulating photographs within a taxi service, or finding a relative with access to official records to gain confidential information. In arranging protection, it is important to carry out a thorough assessment of the ability and potential of the family to locate and harm the victim.

HBV tends to be committed in communities that are ‘high-context’; i.e. those in which the family or community is considered pre-eminent rather than the individual. As a result of this, clients may lack self-confidence and self-reliance, and suffer profoundly from the isolation from their families. In this instance it is important to arrange support systems to help empower clients to rebuild their lives and to form social networks. Many survivors of HBV are psychologically affected by their experiences, and may need counselling for depression or post-traumatic stress disorder from a culturally appropriate provider.