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Families Using the System to Control ‘Vulnerable Adult’ Relatives

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Families are using mental health issues to control vulnerable adults and force them into marriage, according to the latest research into honour-based abuse by Leeds Beckett University.

The research paper ‘Honour-based abuse: The response by professionals to vulnerable adult investigations’ has been published in the Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research.

It describes how perpetrators use the authorities to ensure fleeing victims are returned to their ‘protective home’. Their aim is to undermine the competency, credibility, and reliability of victims and avoid outside interference by authorities such as social services and police. Relatives also stigmatised victims as mentally unstable and presented the victims as ‘not all there’.

Leading the research, Rachael Aplin, a senior lecturer in the School of Social Sciences, said: ‘This research looked at the response by police and adult social care to honour-based abuse victims who have a diagnosed or perceived vulnerability, such as a physical disability or mental health issue. The purpose of the study is to improve professional practice in ensuring vulnerable victims are safeguarded.

‘There appears to be a difficulty in practitioners recognising the distinction between those family members who genuinely protect and those who control. Discerning the difference is crucial in protecting vulnerable adults from long-term abuse.’

She added: ‘The research showed that professionals sometimes took the path of least resistance by accepting perpetrator explanations because it fitted their self-interest to do so.’

An example of this sort of abuse from the research was of a 19-year old female who was on a hospital mental health ward. She showed staff some photos of a party that were on her phone, but this was later established to be her wedding. The victim had been married without her understanding. Since then, her husband has had two UK visa rejections. The police ensured she was the subject of a forced marriage protection order (FMPO) and officers sought to annul the marriage, however, this cannot be achieved until the victim is mentally well. Her parents have told staff that they are going to take her back to Pakistan so she can get pregnant by her husband so he can get a visa because he will then have a dependent.

Earlier this year, Rachael published research which suggested that mothers play a central role in honour-based crime, yet this is often unrecognised by police and other agencies.

Honour crimes are acts that have been committed to protect or defend the supposed honour or reputation of a family and community. The victims are usually – though not always – women and girls. More than 11,700 honour crimes were recorded by UK police forces between 2010–2014. Unlike other types of domestic abuse, honour-based crime tends to involve multiple perpetrators acting together.

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