The Times (£) on Friday reported on the proposal by HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Tom Winsor, for an inspection to tackle the failure of police forces in addressing honour based violence (HBV). The paper notes that the plan for inspection has been put out for consultation but has Mr Winsor’s strong personal backing.
The consultation paper states that the purpose of the inspection is to tackle “under-reported” crime and assess “how far the police are aware of it and how well they are tackling it”. Along with HBV, Winsor also calls for inspections into modern slavery and cyber crime, according to The Times.
The article notes that the call for an inspection comes after Windsor’s recent claim “that there are British cities where “communities from other cultures… would prefer to police themselves.””
Tim Winsor also alleged that “law-abiding people” from some minority communities “born under other skies” and “from other cultures” are taking law into their own hands by administering “their own form of justice”. He also suggested that such unreported crimes “could be anything. [Honour killings] are the most extreme case. That is murder. There is no honour in it.”
Winsor’s claims appear to be endorsed by the paper which in an editorial castigating police failures in prosecuting cases of female genital mutilation states: “such crimes are under-reported and that many communities prefer to deal with these questions informally.”
The Times article also notes that Winsor’s proposal could “widen the rift between him and the chief constables he inspects.”
Indeed, the West Midlands Police Chief Constable, Chris Sims, immediately put Winsor’s claims into disrepute last week by highlighting that areas in Birmingham are dominated by minority communities who have contributed to the high volumes of police calls. Sims stated “I don’t know if he’s talking about Birmingham, but I have only had one conversation with him since he took office and it wasn’t about this subject. His characterisation of these communities as born under other skies is just wrong. Many members of communities in Birmingham are British-born and I find that a very odd expression.”
The Times’ editorial challenges the issue of female genital mutilation and rightfully criticises the practice of “abysmal abuses” that “are justified by ancient beliefs about fertility and control of sexual desire, usually with a view to promoting chastity and maintaining fidelity in marriage”.
Reflecting on the estimated threefold increase in female genital mutilation in the UK, it notes there have been no prosecutions to date.
However, before claiming that “it is time the law and the legal authorities caught up, called this practice by its name and eradicated what is nothing more than a dismal relic of barbarism” as the editorial does, it would be useful to contextualise HBV within the broader context of domestic violence and violence against women.
Recent revelations suggest there has been a sharp increase in domestic violence across the UK. The Daily Mail reports on the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s claim that there has been a rise of 5.1% in attacks with injuries within the last quarter of 2013, fuelled by the 15.5% rise of victims suffering abuse at home.
Figures from Women’s Aid also reveal that 1.2 million women and 800 000 men have reported experiencing domestic abuse in 2011/12.
In addition, a furore has erupted regarding recorded rape figures from the 12 months to the end of March 2013, with statistics showing that up to one third of cases have been dropped by the 43 police forces in England and Wales.
The Chief Inspector of Constabulary suggested that the figures indicate the disparity in the ways which different police forces investigate rape, according to the BBC.
Rather than solely advocating for the eradication of female genital mutilation and ‘honour’ killings, it would be more appropriate to call for better policing and prosecution procedures to deal with all forms of violence against women.
The Times editorial argues, “Cultural sensitivity can never be a defence against crime”. That is absolutely right. But it would be naïve and prejudicial to assume that patriarchal attitudes towards women and the ‘cultural sensitivity’ in question arises from within what Winsor terms “communities from other cultures” alone.
Indeed, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ (ACPO) Honour Based Violence Strategy emphasises that honour-based violence is "a cultural, not a religious phenomenon" which "cuts across all cultures, nationalities, faith groups and communities".