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Advice for Police


Unfurl programs were born in refugee camps on the conflict-ridden borders of Pakistan and Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Burma, in the crosshairs of war-torn Congo, in the Rwandan hills still soaked in hate and resentment, on CAP projects to knit together the fraying fabric of strained societies. We find the same programs work well to help survivors of honour-based abuse release tension, and begin to bloom. In this relaxed environment, survivors will also be given options to attend talks, take in new ideas, watch documentaries, discuss books, learn a new skill. As they let go of the harrowing events of their past, we use creative arts, films, theatre and sports to give survivors access to the enrichment that they were denied during their childhoods. 


Survivors of honour-based abuse have been groomed from the time they could process their first thoughts as children to preserve and build the family or community’s reputation. They are raised to obey, often indoctrinated from an early age to forgo individual pleasures, choices and discouraged from critical thinking. They are not allowed to befriend other ethnic groups, their movements are policed and they forbidden to travel alone. All this has a lasting impact on their personalities. 


Unfurl is aimed at restoring the confidence that they lack as they break away from abusive situations and enter the real world where they will be called on to make decisions and participate in society. Many are highly functioning at school/work, but struggle in silence in their private lives, grappling with isolation, a lingering sense of shame, self-harm, self-doubt, anxiety, depression etc. We address this issue by creating safe spaces in which to explore one’s ideas, skills and creativity. 

Survivors who turned to the police for help told us:


“I wish they hadn’t come to talk to me with my parents there. I needed to meet in private. They asked me how are you, and I had to say I am ok. They didn’t come back. I wish they had taken me outside. I got beaten a lot worse and they were careful not to hit me on the face in case the police came back. (Manchester)” 


“The police officers (in Cambridge) were kind to me when I reported my dad, but then he sweet talked himself out of the situation. He can be really charming but he is really manipulative. He had beaten me because he found nudes on my phone that I sent my boyfriend, and he had beaten me so much that I was bleeding, I was so scared, the police believed me at first. But then, he charmed them. There was a police officer who was from my community and he kept bonding with him. I cannot believe it. Then he came home and told the whole family I was trying to get him locked up. No one would talk to me. My brothers beat me after that. I lost my mother’s support. That’s why I first attempted suicide. Please believe the victim.”


“I am really grateful, the police are really aware about abuse and forced marriage in Leeds. They made up an excuse to insist on talking to me in private, they took me to the police car, I told them I was being forced into a marriage and they took me to the station and I wrote a statement and from then on they protected me, moved me, hid me, kept me feeling sane and kept up support till I could apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. I had a few wobbles but it wasn’t because of the police. There was a moment when the police took me home to collect my things and my mother wouldn’t let them in. But we got everything eventually.”


“its so confusing when police and professionals use formal and legal terms to describe what I am feeling or dealing with, I wish I had a dictionary. I know when I am in danger and I know I am feeling bad but things like honour based abuse and is it that, I don’t know, but I know I am not safe and I know that everyone in the community will lie to save face and protect honour and I am nothing to them, just a tiny drop in the big picture, they can get rid of me so fast, and they don’t think they will get caught, they think they will call a police officer racist and Islamophobic and that’s it they can get away with it. So the police has to know that neighbours or people in the street are all connected. Its like asking accomplices to give testimony, it just won’t happen, they won’t rat eachother out and they don’t care if my family beats me to a pulp or breaks my bones to punish me, in their eyes, I deserve it, see? And then their kids wont do anything like get a boyfriend. It is useful to let one person get badly punished. I was so scared. I just need the police to understand, never go asking questions, first make the person who reports the abuse safe. There is a huge taboo against talking to white people about this stuff, you don’t reveal things, also another thing, a bigger taboo to report your own people to the police.”



HBA and Coercive Control

Coercive control is form of domestic abuse that traps a victim in a hostage-like situation.

It can be any combination of oppression/ monitoring/ shaming/ guilting used to instill self-doubt/fear/ break confidence.

Coercive control is illegal in the United Kingdom, but it is often discussed as intimate partner violence. It is important to note that among HBA survivors, parents and siblings exert coercive control over the victim, or a partner/ husband abuses the victim with the complicity of parents and family.

Here is what culturally motivated coercive control might look like in a family you are investigating:

1. Isolating victim from support system

Perpetrators will try to cut victim off from friends/ school teacher or limit their contact victims don’t receive the support you need. They might insist on:

  • shared phones between family members and or access to passwords for social media accounts.

  • moving the individual far away/ relocating from friends or any supportive family member so that it’s hard for concerned individuals to visit 

  • monitoring all phone calls with friends/allies/ teacher

If the perpetrators can ensure victim’s only exposure is to family members or homogenous community group then the abuse will become normalised, leaving less of a possibility that victim will seek help.

The constant surveillance makes it almost impossible for victim to go to a police station without serious consequences in case of getting caught.

Perpetrators will brainwash victims to accept that no one will believe them even if they pluck up the courage to report a forced marriage. This means that if a victim is reporting an incident, it is because they are desperate. 


2. Monitoring activity 

Community policing is common in high control communities or communities where collective honour is seen as more important than individual wellbeing. 

Perpetrators may feel omnipresent. The taxi drivers, delivery staff, and neighbours may all be part of a family’s reporting network, and the individual might feel watched every time you step out of the house. This means the sense of being in prison extends into the public space. 

Perpetrators may hack into email, read messages, listen into phone calls and keep track of who the victim befriends outside of the family unit. 

The victim may only get one chance to tell their story or to report it to the police, please take them very seriously. Believe the victim. Investigate with caution. 

Abusers may broadcast or share what they find on a phone/ computer as a means of further humiliating victim, further emphasising the boundary violation. This will then be used as an excuse to punish/ beat victim and inflict more domestic abuse.

3. Denying freedom and autonomy

 Families or individuals may also try to control the freedom of movement and independence of the victim.

Some methods include:

  • not allowing victim/ survivor to walk to school or work or grocery store unsupervised

  • restricting access to transportation

  • insisting on accompanying individual as they leave the house

  • monitoring or dictating what individual wears when they step outside the house

  • taking away phone privileges 

This means a victim may not get a chance to report domestic abuse or a forced marriage or FGM or a concern about a sibling. They may need to alert the police through a friend.

4. Accusing victim of bringing shame/ putting person down

Shame and honour are important concepts in high control, homogenous communities and victims may be reminded dozens of times a day how they are tainting the honour of the family and community. 

Perpetrators in high control communities may also use holy scriptures or verses that the community holds sacred (eg religious texts, cultural code of behaviour) to bully victim into acts they may be uncomfortable with for e.g. forced marriage/ violent punishment of a sibling.

The victim may be shamed for reporting an internal family matter to the police, or even talking to the police. 

5. Limiting access to money

Controlling finances is a way of restricting freedom and molding victim into obedient, subservient entity.

Some ways perpetrators will try to exert financial control include:

  • saying they will handle money matters because of complexity

  • refusing to let victim start a bank account

  • hiding financial resources

  • preventing victim from having a credit card

6. Weaponising siblings/ cousins 

If victim has a lot of siblings or cousins, perpetrators in the family or community may try to weaponize siblings/ cousins against the victim by saying they have brought shame to the family, or driven a family member to an illness, or belittling victim in front of them. The siblings/ cousins can also be used to spy on a young person.

Again this level of control and surveillance will make it difficult for a victim to get to a police station to report abuse/ forced marriage/ any other violent crime motivated by honour or culture. 

7. Threatening siblings

If physical, emotional, or financial threats don’t work as desired, the abusers may try to use threats against others in an attempt to control the victim or talk them into something they are uncomfortable with (e.g. child marriage and or forced marriage). 

This can look like:

  • accusing young person of being a bad role model and threatening to take siblings to the community’s country of origin to be re-educated

  • intimidating a young person by threatening to make key decisions about them or their siblings without cosent or threatening a young mother they will take their kids away without their consent

  • threatening to get rid of their pet


Read our survivor stories to explore this phenomenon.

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