Mothers are the unseen force behind honour-based crime

Mothers play a central role in honour-based crime yet this is often unrecognised by police and other agencies, potentially leaving victims at risk, new research suggests.

An analysis of 100 cases of honour-based crime by Leeds Beckett University researcher, Rachael Aplin, found that 76 % (76/100) involved women, with 49 cases involving mothers, yet in the majority of cases the mother’s role was not officially recorded by police in the crime report.

“The level of involvement of mothers in these cases was a real surprise, as was the level to which this wasn’t acknowledged in police reporting,” says Aplin. “As many victims are children, there is a risk that agencies place them back in their mothers’ care, mistakenly believing that this will ensure their protection. Law enforcement and social services need to reassess their strategies for dealing with honour-based abuse, taking full account of the role of mothers, to ensure children and young women are not returned to, or remain in, dangerous situations.”

Honour crimes are acts which have been committed to protect or defend the supposed honour or reputation of a family and community. The victims are usually – though not always – women and girls. More than 11,700 honour crimes were recorded by UK police forces between 2010-2014. Unlike other types of domestic abuse, honour-based crime tends to involve multiple perpetrators acting together.

In the cases studied by Aplin, mothers were very often a key player within this group. Mothers were the most common type of female perpetrator, carrying out all types of abuse, including physical violence, threats, false imprisonment and intrusive surveillance. Mothers were also the only family members to inflict violence on pregnant daughters with the aim of inducing a miscarriage. They used their power within the home to control victims, often exploiting their daughters’ misplaced loyalty and belief that they would protect them.

Despite incident reports explicitly implicating the mother in violence, uniformed officers did not identify the mother on the police computer or in the formal crime report for 12 per cent of the cases analysed.

As part of her research, Aplin carried out interviews with 15 specialist police officers who work on these types of cases within public protection investigation. The majority acknowledged the role of mothers in honour-based crime, but a third had never investigated a female offender for honour-based abuse.

“The police can struggle to distinguish between mothers as primary perpetrators and secondary victims, forced by other male family members to be complicit in the abuse, particularly given the stereotypical view of mothers as non-criminal, nurturing and supportive,” says Aplin. “This can be further complicated by victims’ loyalty to their mothers and reluctance to prosecute.”

The abuse perpetrated by mothers included hitting, kicking and slapping, assault with household objects, cutting off the daughters’ hair, deception in order to encourage a fleeing victim back home, threatening to kill the victim or throw them down stairs, bartering to sell them, false imprisonment, emotional blackmail, confiscation of passports, bank cards and mobile phones and emotional blackmail. Aplin believes much of the behaviour is hard to reconcile with the notion of mothers as hapless victims of honour-based crime themselves, though she acknowledges the situation is complex:

“Mothers are perpetrating honour-based abuse in part to conform to social norms and to fulfil what they see as their duty and cultural obligation – but in doing that they may also be acting in self-preservation, as to step outside those norms could put them at risk. However, this doesn’t change the fact that they are perpetrators of abuse, or at the very least, turn a ‘blind eye’ to it.”

“There is also a lesson in this for policy makers,” adds Aplin. “Any action to try and end honour-based crimes needs to focus on female as well as male perpetrators, if it is to have any chance of success.”