• how you and the victim will contact each other
• information sharing with other partners/agencies
• potential networks and methods used by perpetrators to locate a victim who they are trying to locate.
Getting it wrong could lead to serious and fatal consequences.
It is vital that professionals invest in the victim and believe what the victim is saying until there is very credible evidence to suggest otherwise (there may be rare occasions where accusations are made maliciously). Be open minded and never underestimate what the victim is telling you. First impressions will mean everything as many will feel like they can’t trust anyone. They may be embarrassed or ashamed and many may be experiencing trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma may present in various forms – depression, low self-esteem, eating disorder’s self-blame, self-harm, suicidal thoughts.
It is important to reassure the victim about confidentiality and determine their wishes. If you are the first contact, then you need to ensure that you see the person immediately and that this meeting takes place in a safe and private environment. Where at all possible it is better to see them on their own, even if they have brought someone with them. However, this must be balanced with the victims wishes and it is better to get a disclosure with another person present, rather than the victim lose immediate confidence in you because you have excluded their ‘emotional crutch’. It must be made clear to the companion that confidentiality is key.
Victims of HBA will feel extremely isolated and frightened. They may still have some form of loyalty to their family, have a fear being disowned, being ostracised and may blame themselves for the situation they find themselves in. Their anxiety will be heightened by the knowledge that if they are discovered they could be attacked or killed. Then there will be the fear of what lies ahead, including concerns around money, isolation and starting a new life. There may be children involved and the victim may be concerned about custody rights, or their own immigration status.
There may be language barriers. Interviewers should be mindful that HBA is complex and steeped in a community’s culture. Therefore, victims who are willing to talk to the authorities may not necessarily want to be interviewed by a professional or have an interpreter present from their own community. When using an interpreter, ensure that they are official and from the national register. Brief the interpreter as to what you expect, discussing and stressing the importance of confidentiality. Best practice would be to use an official interpreter from outside your area. Better to pay greater travel costs than have an Interpreter that may know or be part of the extended family. Where possible the Interpreter should have had some training in HBA. Unless the victim indicates otherwise the interpreter and any other person in the room (appropriate adult) should be gender specific. Privacy and a comfortable environment should be key features with ABE ‘Comfy Suites’ the preferred option.
You should gather all the relevant information, including:
- If any HBA has already taken place, how has it manifested itself – physical, mental cruelty, threats, surveillance etc.
- Establish the specific detail of the victim’s case. What prompted the abuse? Is it Forced Marriage related. Does the victim fear being taken abroad?
- How does the victim perceive the risk to themselves? Has it escalated recently, is it getting worse? Professionals should be open to the fact that a victim may well play down incidents that have taken place and they may not recognise the severity of their situation.
- Has the victim if she/he has any injuries, old or new. Does the victim need a medical examination? If there is going to be a criminal enquiry, the police should have primacy for arranging any medical examination and it should be carried out by someone qualified in gathering medical/forensic evidence.
- Obtain a family tree – What is the makeup of the family or other significant people in the victim’s life, what role do they play in the abuse and the potential risk they pose to the victim? Include immediate family, extended family and where applicable, the family of any proposed spouse. Obtain as much details as possible about them.
- Details of the social/cultural practices that exist within the family.
- Establish who else within the family may also require safeguarding. Although this will normally be a child, it may also include an older sibling who may be in more immediate danger than your victim, e.g. Forced Marriage.
- Establish what the victim wishes to do moving forward. Has the victim left the home, planning to leave or not yet ready to do so?
As a professional your agency should already have a bespoke HBA and FM risk assessment framework in place.
However below is what we feel you should include in your immediate thought process:
- Making an immediate referral to your police community safety or vulnerable persons’ unit.
- Consideration to calling a multi-agency strategy meeting and who should be included in that process.
- Consider whether it is safe for the victim to return home. Where a victim wishes to return home despite the dangers that this might entail, you should do your best to point all the potential risks that this may involve. All options other than a return home should be discussed. Is there a need for the victim to be put in a place of safety immediately? When dealing with children the law assists with powers that allow professionals to take the decision out of the hands of the child. It becomes a lot more difficult when the victim is an adult and expresses a desire to return to the family home.
- Establish a method for future contact that is safe for the victim. This should include the use of ‘safe words’ for future communication. It may also include the involvement of a third party the victim trusts, a ‘go between’ such as a teacher or work colleague.
- Consider referring the victim to Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) where appropriate.
- Consider early intervention from and Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA).
- Police can place a ‘marker’ or ‘scheme’ on the victim’s address (work or home). This can display to any officers attending the address that the victim is at risk of HBA.
- If the victim does not want or cannot leave home, then ensure a Safety Plan is in place.
- Restrict access to the victim’s file and electronic record and ensure that the various agencies are aware of their responsibilities around confidentiality.
- Provide the victim with a list of specialist support agencies and make the referrals where the victim consents.
- Where necessary arrange alternative emergency accommodation which should be out of the area of the victim’s family/community.
Some Considerations for the victim if planning to leave home (many of which will require doing at the time of departure):
- Advise the victim to make copies of important documents – passport, birth certificate, driving licence, immigration documents, benefit books, cheque books, debit and credit cards.
- Copies should be deposited with police, Social Care, solicitor or someone the victim trusts.
- Advise the victim to open a secret bank account in their name.
- Where it is possible to do so, the victim should create or change any social media accounts, so they cannot be traced. This should include deleting any social media accounts such as Twitter or Facebook.
- Advise the victim to delete contacts from her/his mobile phone and terminate the contract. If she/he has itemised billing, then ensure it is cancelled and advise them to destroy any previous billing so friends/contacts cannot be traced.
- Remove any address books/diaries.
- Advise the victim that where possible they should remove as many photos of themselves from the home. This will make it more difficult for family members to use images to trace them.
- Where it is safe to do so, the victim should cache spare cash and a clothing with a trusted friend.
- Victims should memorise helpline or other emergency contact numbers.
- The victim should be asked to consent to providing police with voluntary DNA, fingerprints and a photograph. This will be a difficult conversation with the victim as the aim is to support and aid identification in the future. Distinguishing features, tattoos, scars etc. should also be documented.
Bear in mind that escape will often be difficult. Victims are often kept under ‘house arrest’ and are locked in to prevent escape. When leaving the house, they may be chaperoned, or kept under surveillance. They may not have access to mobile phones or laptops. They may have had important identification documents confiscated from them.
Professionals should NEVER:
- take the risk lightly.
- send any potential victim away or make a ‘future’ appointment for them. In HBA cases professionals may only have ‘one chance’ to safeguard the victim. If the victim doesn’t get the appropriate response and support at the time, then you may not have a further opportunity and the consequences could be fatal.
- approach members of the victim’s family or community and attempt mediation or family counselling, either yourself or through a professional/religious group. This will significantly increase the risk to the victim, alert the family and ensure that any further offending will be masked from the authorities, e.g. the victim taken abroad.
- persuade or send the victim back to their family where the victim has expressly said he/she cannot return. Don’t assume there is someone in the family that will protect the victim even if the victim has indicated there is such a person.
- assume that this is ‘just a cultural issue’.
Professionals should make themselves aware of the many methods employed by families to trace victims if they have managed to escape from their situation. Families will use community networks to attempt to locate the missing person. These may include shopkeepers, taxi drivers and people employed in safeguarding agencies e.g. police, social care. There have been examples where families have employed ‘bounty hunters’ or private investigators to trace victims. At the most extreme there is evidence that contract killers have been hired from abroad. They may use the police to find them, either by reporting them missing or falsely accusing the victim of a crime such as theft. They will try to access medical records, benefit records etc. potentially using a family member of a similar age to portray the victim to a professional e.g. a GP. In some missing person investigations, perpetrators have reported their child missing to portray false concern to cover up abuse or homicide.
- Is the victim truanting (under 18 years)?
- Is there evidence of self-harm?
- Is the victim being held/kept at home or behaviour/activity being policed?
- Is the victim frightened of being forced into a marriage?
- Is the victim frightened of being taken abroad?
- Is the victim very isolated?
- Is the victim in a relationship that is not approved of by the family/community?
- Is the victim attempting to leave or separate?
- Are there threats the child(ren) will be taken away?
- Are there threats to hurt/kill the victim/child(ren)?
There is no specific legislation that covers HBA. The offences that arise from it are covered by numerous existing criminal laws e.g. Offences Against the Person Act 1861 (assaults), Common Law (Homicide, False Imprisonment, Kidnap), Sexual Offences Act 2003 (rape, sexual assault), threats and harassment (Protection from Harassment Act 18986). However, there is legislation covering Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation and we recommend that you read our FGM and FM sections. Where professionals are dealing with a victim who is a child then legislation under the Children Act 1989 will offer options to safeguard the child e.g. EPO, PSO.
Victims of HBA and FM are entitled to an enhanced service under the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime. In most cases victims of HBA will be entitled to Special Measures; give evidence behind screens or via a live video link, a ‘supporter’ i.e. an IDVA.
National DV Helpline – A national service for women experiencing domestic violence.
0808 2000 247 - www.nationaldomesticviolencehelpline.org
Refuge – A national charity for women experiencing domestic violence.
0808 2000 247 - www.refuge.org.uk
IKWRO – Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
020 7920 6469 – www.ikwro.org.uk
Southall Black Sisters – Support for BME Women escaping Domestic Violence
020 8571 0800 - www.southallblacksisters.org.uk
Ashiana – Supporting Asian women through DV and FM
Karma Nirvana – Charity supporting victims of FM and HBA.
0800 5999247 - www.karmanirvana.org.uk
SHARAN – supporting South Asian Women