Spot the signs
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. 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’s reputation within their communities. They are raised to obey, often indoctrinated from an early age to forgo individual pleasures and discouraged from critical thinking. They are not allowed to befriend other ethnic groups, their movements are policed and they are forbidden from taking public transport alone.
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 using our Unfurl program.
What could trigger Honour Based Abuse for students you support:
Behaviours that could be seen to shame a family/ community include:
Culturally inappropriate attitude, behaviour, make-up or families feel is a provocative form of dressing
The existence of a boyfriend/girlfriend or a perceived unsuitable relationship LGBTQI (in many of their parent’s languages there is no word to describe boyfriend, nor LGBTQI except derogatory words)
Rejecting an arranged or resisting a forced marriage, breaking off betrothal
Joining an exercise/ dance or sports class because excessive movement that “attracts attention or jiggles body parts is forbidden” (survivor-led advice)
Pregnancy outside of marriage
Being a victim of rape. Young person will be silenced
Inter-faith relationships (or same faith, but different ethnicity or different denomination)
Kissing or intimacy in a public place Even walking alone with a male can endanger student
Alcohol and drugs use or eating pork. This does not need to be excessive use or substance abuse even trying a sip of beer can leave a young person in danger of disciplinary action/ violent punishment/ domestic or honour based abuse
Structuring programs to help HBA participate in a healthy school life:
If you have a number of students who may be at risk of honour-based abuse, here is guidance for you from HBA survivors:
“Please start academic-sounding after school clubs. Most parents from communities like mine value honour and they encourage us to achieve at school as long it is academic.” HBA Survivor.
“After school clubs would give us respite from home chores and stifling home atmosphere, any club as long it does not include dancing (my community thinks any kind of dancing is indecent) or getting undressed (swimming).” HBA survivor
“Have a program to educate mothers and help them see university is a place of learning and opportunity, not a pick up joint or a bar. Our mothers never speak to any white people, they just see people in small pieces of clothing and they just talk about how it’s not enough to cover any body parts so they think we will do that in university. I think all mums need an education program, this would have helped me as a student.” A young mother at Mosaic Mothers and Daughters’ program, Prince’s Charities, forcibly married herself in her country of origin to a man 20 years older than her, but at the time of the interview widowed and happy.
“I am not really allowed to mix with other cultures or religions outside school, but an after school club like debate or nature conservation, that would be allowed and it means I can stay out of that environment, and talk and open up. If it is art, please call it Art history or something important.” HBA survivor, university student, Springboard program, Karma Nirvana
“Honour based abuse can be really damaging, my sisters got into dealing drugs because my parents kept saying don’t do this, don’t talk to any boy or the devil will be with us, and don’t touch pork or alcohol or your skin will burn and then they talked to boys and touched pork and nothing happened, they got rebellious. When my parents said don’t go near drugs, we had all stopped listening. We got beaten a lot at home, but didn’t care. The drugs helped forget it.” (ex-prisoner, Street League, Ex Juvenile program)
If you are concerned that young person you are supporting may be experiencing Honour Based Abuse you could:
Develop trust with the student and figure out what kind of contact they feel is safe.
If you have the student’s permission, ask the student in advance what topics are ok to touch on, and understand what the family will consider dishonourable, in which case the student may be at risk of further harm.
Please do not approach the student’s family without first discussing it with the student – this act could trigger further restrictions and/ or violent punishment.
Do not use a relative, friend or community leader as an interpreter as this can also place the student at higher risk.
Resource to show students:
Resources for you:
‘What’s on your mind today?
‘What concerns do you have?’‘How are you feeling within yourself?’
‘How able do you feel to control what goes on around your life?’, ‘How confident do you feel that you can make changes in your life in the near future?’
‘Is there anything that’s happening that’s making you feel very uncomfortable or afraid?’
Structure of Unfurl program
One main point of contact: Accompaniment officer
Non-judgemental accompaniment to appointments that make client nervous
Survivor social meet-ups: online and in person
Opportunities to explore one’s needs/ preferences
Creative crafts socials:
Ikebana (simple flower arrangements), haiku (three-line poetry), tea ceremony
DIY “make your own xx” survivor chooses from options like lamp or frame
Movement and relaxation exercises to relaxing sounds of nature/ music
Rock climbing/ Adventure society
Nature observation and foraging walks
Well-being / mindfulness mentor
Monthly debrief/ walk/ social
Referral to sports activities/ poetry readings
Emergency crisis support
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 for a student you are supporting:
1. Isolating victim from support system
Perpetrators will try to cut victim off from friends/ school teacher or limit their contact so victims don’t receive the support they need. They might insist on:
shared phones between family members and or access to passwords for social media accounts.
moving student 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/ teachers
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 wake up and seek help.
2. Monitoring activity throughout the day
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.
Abusers may broadcast or share what they find on a phone/ computer as a means of further humiliating victim, further emphasising the boundary violation. A conversation with a teacher or an email asking for help will be used as evidence of betrayal and may be collectively (and violently) punished.
3. Denying freedom and autonomy
Families or individuals may also try to control the freedom of movement and independence of the victim. This may include:
not allowing victim/ survivor to walk to school or work 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
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 (e.g. religious texts, cultural code of behaviour) to bully victim into acts they may be uncomfortable with.
The victim may be shamed for mixing with men/ other genders or even strangers/ particularly men (threatening to a community that is insular or seeking to control members.
Even wearing jeans can result in a victim being told they have shamed the family, made them lose the hard-earned position/ honour they earned in their community.
This breaks down a young person’s self-confidence, makes you feel worthless, unimportant and deficient.
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
monitoring what individual spends
6. Constantly reinforcing traditional gender roles
Perpetrators will insist that women are homemakers and mothers, while men are the income generators and therefore the ones who venture outside.
Family abusers can use this to keep a young person trapped indoors, they may also coerce victim into slavery-like conditions, where you are taking care of all the cleaning, cooking, and child/ sibling care, with little or no time for course work.
7. 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.
8. Controlling aspects of health and body
Perpetrators may monitor and control how much one eats, sleeps, works and studies, or what they study/ read or are being told at school.
Honour based abuse includes enforcing gender segregation. Families may refuse to allow a young person to swim or join an exercise or dance class with boys. Family perpetrators may monitor how dark victim is becoming/ exposure to the sun, which will affect the after-school clubs that a young person is able to join at school. All of this is rooted in the desire to groom young person as a as a culturally acceptable marriage partner. The grooming starts young.
Perpetrators may control what the young person is wearing when they emerge from the house, commenting on the pitch of young person’s voice/ laughter and or any expressions they deem unsuitable. (As a result the young person may seem increasingly withdrawn, and wearing more and more conservative clothing to hide oneself, as one loses sense of self-worth).
9. 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
threatening to get rid of their pet