HBV and risk management

UN Women

I was invited to present at a side-panel being held at the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women taking place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 4 to 15 March 2013 by a Canadian team featuring Aruna Papp amongst others.
The time and the notice were rather short, and I decided that since the rest of the speakers would be speaking as representatives of NGOs, it would be a good time to sound like as much like a criminologist as I could, and talk not just about how we can draw on differences between kinds of violence, but to suggest an applying an integrative risk management approach, which would both allow non-specialists to gauge risk more accurately, and hopefully reduce some of the ‘it’s their culture’ attitude. Specialist NGOs are very good at detecting risk, but this is often through years of experience, and the kind of intimate knowledge that comes with growing up with the concepts. I’m arguing that we need to develop risk models that take in the particularities of HBV, which build on this expertise, but also that to collect and analyse much more data to test and develop these on a more empirical basis.

Here is the text of what I intended to say, which is also avaialable as podcast link below if you happen to find South Welsh accents more tolerable than a fat long chunks of text (although I futz the extent of HBV in the UK in the podcast in 2010 by saying 2,000 rather than 3,000.)

Me, at the UN

Me, at the UN

Since the 2000s, the policing of violence against women has moved towards a risk assessment and management strategy, developing more and more sophisticated actuarial tools which draw on an enormous body of research. However, this research overwhelmingly focuses upon intimate partner violence (IPV) as the default form. There are, of course, important commonalities between IPV and HBV: both are gendered forms of violence, both occur within domestic settings, but there may also be important differences that affect risk. In the UK, the risk assessment approach was developed in the DASH checklist, which aimed to determine risk in cases of domestic abuse, stalking and HBV. This is not used just used by police, but by other public sector agencies and within the third sector. DASH determines HBV on a single determinant – collectivity – and it is on this basis that around 3,000 cases of abuse were tagged as HBV by British police in 2010, a figure which increased in 2011.

Collectivity may present the strongest challenge to a protection system modelled around the figure of the single male perpetrator, particularly in extreme cases: shelter staff have told me that if they admit a woman who is escaping the risk of HBV, they need to be wary of her female relatives making false claims of abuse in order to gain access and locate the runaway.

Ascertaining collectivity can be core to risk management strategies, which should involve working out the networking capacity of the collective. Ideally, the practise in the UK is to record a family tree which is then used in multi-agency risk assessment and management meetings in order to develop protection plans. In extreme cases, it has been necessary to relocate an individual far from her family and community: a intervention which may be necessary, but which is highly disruptive to the victim. Collectivity implies a heightened attention not just to physical securitisation, but also needs to be considered as a barrier to services, operating alongside the multiple other barriers around reporting domestic violence, which are intensified for minoritised victims. Women and girls subject to a high level of collective surveillance from their families and from their communities may simply be less able to find an opportunity to report abuse. Initial responses must be effective, since there may be no second chance.

Are the divisions between these forms of VAW simple enough to determine on a single axis? To get an answer this question I conducted casefile research into the experiences of Kurdish and Arabic speaking women to find out the validity of collectivity as a primary identifier, and to establish if there were patterns of difference between intimate partner violence and HBV.

First, some clients were victims of IPV in ways that had few differences from the experiences of victims of other ethnicities. Clients tended describe their fears in terms of  ‘honour’ and ‘shame’ where the perpetrators were members of their own families, irrespective of the number involved. IPV was not generally considered in relation to honour unless abusive partners deliberately used the threat of HBV as a weapon – a threat to inform her family of supposed ‘shameful’ behaviour in order to increase her isolation from them and keep her in a state of fear. This strategy was not predictable as a means of abuse, and could even be counterproductive, causing the family to turn against the husband or partner.

Collectivity was found both across crimes which were identified in relationship to honour and those which were not. Diverse collectives were involved in abuse, including some composed solely of the victim’s relatives; some composed of the victim’s relatives along with the husband, and some which just featured the husband and his networks. Ultimately, it was indeed casefiles featuring collectivity that displayed the highest levels of risk overall, where I found women and children pursued from country to country by large and determined groups of their own relatives, and women facing lethal attacks by their husband’s friends, relatives and associates.

The concept of honour was closely identified with agnation – perpetration by the victim’s own relatives. While it’s less clear how agnation may impact upon a risk management perspective, I’d venture that it may tell us something about the longitudinal nature of the risk management project. While an individual abusive husband or partner may found a new relationship and thereafter lose focus upon his former partner, families, particularly those welded to an idea of collective reputation cannot so easily repudiate a daughter or a sister. If collectivity can tell us about the scale of risk then agnation might be able to tell us something about its duration. It can also indicate a higher level of need for care: the experience of being victimised by members of one’s own family can be very traumatic.

The experiences of women in this group were diverse, then, and many could not be fitted into the single-perpetrator model. Some individuals were more dangerous than collectives – a teenager, victimised by her father, was at high risk and required an extreme intervention, whereas a young man, victimised by his mother and sisters was at comparatively low risk and his safety was assured through simple legal mechanisms. Assuming that any crime that features more than one person is an honour killing in the making may misattribute risk and misuse resources; on the other hand, failing to identify a high risk client is a potential tragedy.

Can we develop risk assessment strategies which cover HBV?I’d say that while collectivity is a strong indicator and deserves a primary status, it is not compelling enough to be used in isolation from other factors, which remain to be explored. In comparison with the strongly evidence-based approach of risk assessment in relation to IPV, the treatment of HBV in risk management is under-developed. But HBV currently has little in the way of the substantive, large-sample research which forms the bedrock of modern risk assessment methodologies, through a paucity of data, little of which is sufficiently detailed for the kind of in-depth quantitative analysis which is required to build predictive models.

But I think the project is worth undertaking: integrating the specific issues of honour-based violence into the risk management approach would, I think, be a step towards mainstreaming and deculturalising the phenomenon, describing the factors we currently associate with honour in the sense of a bundle of interrelated risk intensifiers within the broader category of gender-based violence. The problems of an over-culturalised model have ranged from the widespread use of HBV in xenophobic discourse, to a well-intended but ultimately naïve attitude which ends up in the provision of differential, and sometimes inadequate, support to victims upon the basis of faulty assumptions around culture. The development of sturdy and sophisticated risk assessment tools may be a way of making all services able to recognise and provide non-discriminatory and appropriate care and protection.

Addressing HBV as a risk management issue should not submerge its particularities into a homogenising universalisation of the understandings of IPV which have been developed in Western criminology. It needs to take a broader approach, identifying patterns of victimisation which do not fit into pre-existing models. We may need to create risk assessments with very different kind of questions than those which have been asked previously: models which talk about collective identities rather than individual pathologies, models which look for histories of violence, explicit and structural, in the history of the collective, rather than in the history of the individual.

If our aim is that any woman who needs support and protection receives it in a way that centres upon her needs as an individual, and upon informed understanding of her situation, then it is worth considering a way which is differentiated by risk, rather than allowing determinations to be based on discretion, often by people who don’t have the embedded knowledge and expertise of specialists. Since first contact is key, more sophisticated tools could help the first responders whose ability to react is crucial, but who are least likely to be have the ability to develop specialist knowledge. To achieve this we need to build on the irreplaceable expertise of specialist NGOs, but also to investigate data, to build models, to encourage data sharing between services and scholars to work together to deepen our understandings and develop the best practise.



  1. Rachael Sweeting says:

    Good. I’m sure that will be fine – you are making some very important points and it’s clear. If people are still thinking in terms of Western style domestic violence it should make quite an impact. Interesting reminder for me of the preventative aspect of criminology(as opposed to the punitive). A pity you have to cram it into 10 mins but if you’re going to include the printed version(with its highlighted insertions)as handouts that will help. And if you get nervous at all think of Jane Hutt!

  2. Joanne says:

    [Favourite aunties/loyal blog readers get preferential log-in, which is why Racheal was able to comment on a post before it was posted!] I’m not giving people the script, but there are hand-outs, which are now attached to this post. (And if anyone will be interested enough to follow up on my speech they can come and read it here!)

    I don’t know why thinking of Jane Hutt is supposed to be soothing though!

  3. sabah yassin says:

    Understanding children Up bring in Kurdish societies as a key or as a single axis along with Islamic ideal rather than collective will help to understand violation against women and maybe find way how to help victim and reduce violation.

  4. Joanne says:

    Hi Sabah, and thanks for commenting – this article is about protection rather than causes, and the point is simple: protecting someone like me from a boyfriend who wants to kill me is a damn sight easier than protecting a girl or woman from an entire family who want to kill her, because they have all this ability to network. Although it’s also true that I come from a very individualistic society, which is also shown in the kinds of violence that we see here, whereas sociocentric or collectivist societies will tend to have more violence involving groups.

    Islam (IMO) is a factor rather than an explanation: sure a lot of the countries with HBV are predominantly Muslim (not all of course, because of India) but not all perpetrators are Muslims, and there are some Muslim countries where you can hardly find any HBV at all. I’m interested in the way Muslim Family Law in relation to marriage and inheritance, interacts with other social structures around kinship and the mode of production. I know most people would focus upon zina and criminal law, but I don’t think that’s the most telling thing. In the Old Testament, fathers are allowed to kill disobedient children, but it’s difficult to find a Jewish honour crime; Guru Nanak Singh tells Sikh men not to kill their daughters, but they do anyway. So it’s not just what it says in the book: there are social structures in play too.

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