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The present research focuses on gaining an understanding


The present research focuses on gaining an understanding on the causes and consequences for South Asian women who experience domestic abuse in the UK. This research has shown that there is definitely an under reporting of domestic violence in South Asian communities and that many women victims of domestic violence, who belong to these communities do not report the crime. Research has also shown that the concept of domestic abuse is viewed less stringently in the South Asian communities because of the traditional patriarchal societies and the status of women in the societies. The matter is also complicated by the concept of honour in the South Asian communities, where it may be considered wrong for a woman to go to the police against her husband and his family. In other words, it may be considered that she is bringing dishonour to her community and family by doing so. Finally, the fact many brides from South Asia may be coming to the UK as new migrants, places them in a vulnerable position if they are made victims of domestic abuse.

The research was carried out with the method of literature review. To that end, primary studies, secondary literature and official publications were studied to collect the data. The principal themes that were revealed by the literature review are as follows:

  • Under-reporting of domestic violence incidence in the South Asian communities;
  • The concept of honour and its implications in domestic violence incidence as well as reporting;
  • Patriarchal attitudes and the position of women in South Asian communities and the role of these in domestic violence incidence and reporting;
  • Domestic violence and migrant brides from South Asia.

The above mentioned were the predominant themes that were identified in the literature review. As the research was qualitative in nature, the data is thematically organised in the findings in order to keep the data analysis systematic in nature. Thematic analysis helps to organise the qualitative data to some extent although, themes may not be generalisable at all times, as is also pointed out by other researchers, who say:

“Making judgements about qualitative research requires a deep engagement with ‘rich, thick, description’ and the context of the study. Qualitative synthesis is by its nature a subjective process. The themes presented in qualitative work may be summarisable, but their meaning is sometimes inseparable from the data and not usually generalisable beyond it” (Bearman & Dawson, 2013, p. 253).

As the method chosen for the research is qualitative, a thematic synthesis may be appropriate for the data analysis (Thomas & Harden, 2008). Thematic analysis involves reading texts and refining the findings into key themes. These themes may represent ways of understanding the combined meaning of the text, which may be very subjective when viewed as a whole. Themes may be derived by such informal means as reading the texts and describing key messages (Bearman & Dawson, 2013, p. 252). As the themes have already been introduced above, the remaining part of this chapter will be devoted to presenting the findings in a thematic manner.

Under-reporting of domestic violence incidence in the South Asian communities

Researchers have been reporting a tendency of under reporting of domestic violence in cases involving women from South Asian origins (Derrick, et al., 2014). In general, the South Asian communities do experience a number of barriers in reporting crimes of domestic abuse (El-Khoury, et al., 2004). These barriers may be cultural in nature, such as the notion of family or community honour. Or these may be financial, such as the ones that are faced by migrant brides who may be financially dependent on their husband in the new country they have come to after their marriage.

Admittedly, maintenance of statistics for the crime of domestic violence cannot be easy as domestic violence is a very private crime (Dar, 2013). To make it more difficult, one report points out:

“Domestic violence offences are not published within the centrally collected police recorded crime series. Such offences are not specifically defined by law and details of the individual circumstances of offences are not collected However police forces do collect domestic violence incident data which is provided at police force area level. This information has been collected by the Home Office, and can be found in the appendix, however, it is unaudited and has not been classified as an official statistic” (Dar, 2013, p. 3).

Nevertheless, there are some statistics that are available, which reveal large numbers of domestic abuses cases in recent reports and literature. These statistics reveal that in 2014-15, there were a reported 8.2% of women and 4% of men were who experienced domestic abuse. Numerically, this percentage converts to about 1.3 million female victims and 600,000 male victims (Woodhouse & Dempsey, 2016, p. 3).Worryingly, it was found that 27.1% of women and 13.2% of men experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16. Numerically, this converts to around 4.5 million female victims and 2.2 million male victims between the ages of 16 and 59 (Woodhouse & Dempsey, 2016). However, these statistics reveal general figures and specific numbers of domestic violence incidence in the South Asian community is hard to come by (Gill, 2014).

Therefore, first of all, it is difficult to compile the statistics for domestic violence in general due to the nature of the crime and the difficulties in conceptualisation of the crime. However, due to the peculiar notions of family honour, cultural conceptions about gender roles, and deeply patriarchal traditions, South Asian women find it harder to come forward for reporting domestic violence against themselves (CPS, 2016). Predominantly, the cultural factors, such as notions of honour, and financial factors, such as, dependency of migrant brides on their abusive partners and family, may act as barriers to fighting against or reporting domestic violence incidence. Therefore, in order to find meaningful solutions to the problem of domestic violence in the South Asian community, it is essential that these two factors are given particular attention, so that the causes and consequences of domestic violence may be challenged by effective intervention methods.

The concept of honour and its implications in domestic violence incidence as well as reporting

Domestic abuse is a deep rooted social malaise in some communities, which is tolerated due to the long held perceptions about the gender roles in such communities. This is not to say that domestic violence does not occur outside of these communities. However, in some communities domestic violence has cultural connotations as well that is related to the structure of abuse (Gill, 2014). For instance, in the UK, White men may also perpetrate domestic violence against their partners, but they do not use honour as a justification to defend their actions (Siddiqui, 2005, p. 265). This shows that the cultural notions of honour may be different for South Asian communities. These cultural connotations were a predominant theme in a lot of the literature and official reports that were studied for this research. More specifically, the notion of honour and its implications in the structuring of domestic abuse was a recurrent theme.

Honour is a very subjective term and it is difficult to find the precise boundaries of its definition. There are definite definitional issues that are involved in the conceptualisation of honour because honour may represent different characteristics across cultures (Gill, 2014). At the same time, honour may have some commonalities across cultural lines. These commonalities may consist in the presence of certain sentiments, a manifestation of that sentiment in conduct of individuals of a given community and the evaluation of that conduct in others (Pitt-Rivers, 1971). Strictly speaking, honour is not a pejorative term but is rather is virtuous character trait of integrity or upstanding moral quality (Vandello, et al., 2008). However, when used in the sense of honour based violence, honour becomes a pejorative term because it is used in a narrow negative anti-individualistic manner, which seeks to justify the punishment meted out to an individual because he or she has broken a norm in the society. The Crown Prosecution Service explains that there is no specific offence of "honour based crime" and that is may be seen as an “umbrella term to encompass various offences covered by existing legislation”, including domestic violence (CPS, 2016). Therefore, although domestic violence needs to be distinguished from honour based violence, it may certainly be the part of the larger concept of honour based crimes. The research establishes that there are definite pejorative connotations to how honour is used to stifle opposition to violent male partners in South Asian communities, and how honour also comes in the way of reporting such offences to the police or social workers (Gill, 2014). In South Asian and migrant communities in the UK, honour can be a very sensitive as well as a strong phenomenon and may be central to the issue of domestic abuse (Strange, 2014). Understanding the nature of honour and its structuring into domestic abuse from a non-western point of view may help to find solutions to the problem of under reporting of abuse (Strange, 2014). It is important to note that honour, honour based crimes, domestic violence and forced marriages are issues that are interlaced and at times, it may be impossible to separate these issues as was seen in the cases of Rukshana Naz and Heshu Yones (Siddiqui, 2005).

South Asian communities show a distinct conceptualisation of honour and how it is perceived with respect to the role of women in upholding that honour. As one author points out:

“Women who transgress traditional forms of acceptable female behaviour are accused of having brought shame on their family and so besmirched its honour. Failure to be a virtuous woman, such as an obedient and dutiful wife, daughter and daughter-in-law, leads to condemnation by the extended family and the community at large…Honour is used as a motivation, justification, or a mitigation for violence against women as seen from the perspective of the perpetrator, often with the collusion or active involvement of the community (Siddiqui, 2005, pp. 264-265).”

Therefore, there is a strong relationship between honour and violence and it unfortunately falls more on the women than it does on men because of the societal notions about the role of women in the upholding of honour. However, Gill argues that violence against women or honour based violence should not be viewed only from the cultural essentialism perspective (Gill, 2014). Instead she advocates the adoption of a multidisciplinary approach for answering the problem of honour based violence, in order to understand the nature of the violence (Gill, 2014). This is also important because it may lead to some promising interventions that would help alleviate this situation (Gill, 2014). It is pertinent to note at this point that notions of “shame and honour are strong and influential in tight-knit minority communities propped up by conservative and orthodox cultural and religious values” (Siddiqui, 2005, p. 265).

The point made by Gill (2014) regarding a multidisciplinary approach to domestic violence, is also supported by another researcher who recommends that the sociological approach into structuring such policy response would be appropriate (Julios, 2016, p. 71). She suggests that the emerging knowledge of honour related domestic violence among the South Asian communities of the UK, is a ‘natural history’ development, which needs to be understood in that context. The early 1990s saw greater levels of public awareness. Then the period starting 2000 has seen a greater level of literature on domestic violence (Julios, 2016, p. 74). However, domestic violence faced by South Asian women in the UK is not only limited to the honour context, although it is a very important aspect of such violence. A more comprehensive definition of domestic violence has been published by the Home Office in March 2013. This definition reads:

“Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass but is not limited to the following types of abuse: psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional.” (Woodhouse & Dempsey, 2016, p. 4)

The above notwithstanding, honour is an important aspect of domestic violence in the south Asian communities in the UK. It has to be specifically recognised by the policy and law makers so that the solutions to the problem can be found. Intervention into domestic violence is possible only when the victims can come forward and express the fact of the violence. When that does not happen, intervention becomes impossible and the problem goes unresolved as far as the victim is concerned.

Patriarchal attitudes and the position of women in South Asian communities and the role of these in domestic violence incidence and reporting

Victim of domestic violence, particularly from the South Asian communities may be too scared to report the crime to the police because of the fear of retaliation by the perpetrator (Berman & Berman, 2015, p. 444). Another reason why the victims may be hesitant to report crimes may be due to fear of social repercussions. Crimes against women are rarely reported because of the predominant school of thought that blames women for violence against themselves (Stanko, 2000). Consistent research findings over the years, have shown that South Asian families in the UK show a disposition to under report domestic violence (Izzidien, 2008). Despite the statistics that suggest an estimated 1.3 million female and 600,000 male victims in 2004 (Woodhouse & Dempsey, 2016, p. 3), these statistics do not present accurate figures of crime in the South Asian families, where the reporting of the crime is seen to suffer from several barriers (El-Khoury, et al., 2004). There are may dark figures of domestic violence incidence that has not been reported at all. Therefore, the official statistics will not be the accurate indicators of the incidence of rape and domestic violence.

South Asian communities are deeply patriarchal, where the role of the woman is relegated to the background as far as decision making is concerned. Therefore, we see more incidence of forced marriages of South Asian women in the UK (CPS, 2016). South Asian, particularly Pakistani and Bangladeshi women, live within carefully preserved gender roles (Gill, 2014). These roles do not see women as equal to men. Women are generally perceived as the weaker and subjugated sex. Within such role structures, it is unacceptable that women should go to the police against their husbands, no matter what the nature of violence. Due to this, there has been a policy paralysis with respect to domestic violence within South Asian communities. These communities deserve a specially formulated response because the nature of violence and its impact is to be seen in a cultural context as well. Not seeing domestic violence within South Asian communities within cultural contexts deprives the victims of such violence within the community, of meaningful interventions by the authorities. These victims are not necessarily the women alone; victims may unfortunately also be children who may be visually exposed to such violence. As one author points out:

“impact that such abuse has on women, children and young people in these communities, illustrates the fact that the experience of domestic abuse is still by and large regarded as the same for all those affected, irrespective of cultural context” (Izzidien, 2008, p. 1).

Research also shows that the way South Asian women perceive and experience domestic violence is unique to their community (Izzidien, 2008, p. 1). For instance, the concept of marital rape is virtually non-existent in the South Asian culture, where chauvinism may also be prevalent. The culture of shame within these communities is also pervasive and this leads to women tolerating domestic violence to greater lengths (Veigh, 2015). It is also noteworthy that women in South Asian families may also face violence not only by their partners but also by in laws or members of the extended families (Mirza, 2016). Therefore, the problem may get enlarged by the involvement of more people. For the victimised woman, it may be very hard to fight against the domestic violence when it is not just her partner she has to fight.

Domestic violence and migrants from South Asia

The relationship between domestic violence and migrants is even more complicated. A woman who has moved to a new country from her home country, may face even more barriers in fighting or reporting domestic violence. She may have no family to seek help from and she may even face language difficulties, or may have lack of confidence in herself or the authorities. She may also have fears that she would have no where to turn to for financial support if she leaves an abusive partner. In such situations, the wider community can play a very important supportive role. However, in the case of South Asian communities, as is discussed above, there may be strong preconceived notions of honour and patriarchy, which may look askance at a woman who reports against her family or husband to the authorities. Therefore, such support for a woman who faces domestic violence may not be forthcoming.

Financial constraints are more often seen in certain ethnic groups which see a lot of marriages where the bride may come from a non-English speaking country and may be a new migrant into the UK (Anitha, 2008). Studies point to the recent marriage migrants and the problems that they face when they come into an abusive marriage or family in a new country (Colucci, et al., 2013). These women may not have the necessary emotional and financial resources to fight back against the abuse as they are far away from their homes and families and may not even find the support of the community to help them fight the violence.

An important point here is that these women may also be coming from cultures that have different viewpoints about domestic violence than the one that is prevalent in the UK. Research shows that many migrants come from cultures that do not consider domestic violence to be a crime as in their countries, domestic violence is seen in a different cultural light and within the gender roles assigned by society (Güvenç, 2014). When migration happens into the UK, there is a possibility of such socially structured violence also being imported into the UK (Gary & Rubin, 2013).

Highlighting key issues arising for contemporary policy

Literature points to a disconnect between ethnicity and gender in government policy and practice (Thiara & Gill, 2009). In particular, when it comes to South Asian women in the UK, there are intersectionality issues that must be considered at the time of the making of policy. Thus, domestic violence issues may intersect with immigration related issues, forced and sham marriages, housing, state benefits, child-care, etc. (Burmana & Chantler, 2005). This is so because many a times, the individual responses of South Asian women to domestic violence suffered by them, may be related to these issues. A woman may not be able to leave an abusive relationship because she may feel financially dependent on the perpetrator. There may be issues of housing and child care involved which act as barriers for seeking help from social workers and authorities. These issues have to be specifically dealt with in the policy making.


The literature review helped to identify the predominant themes in the area of domestic violence and South Asian women. This thematic data was analysed and presented in this chapter as the findings of the research. These findings demonstrate that there is a low reporting of the incidence of domestic violence where the victims are South Asian women. This leads to the problem of quantifying the data on domestic violence. Lack of data leads to lack of understanding of the problem. Consequently, the responses that ought to be made by the policy and law makers are missing. A multidisciplinary approach needs to be adopted towards the problem, where the cultural and socio-economic factors, such as honour based domestic violence, problems of migrant brides, forced marriages and domestic violence, need to be studied thoroughly. This will help identify the core causes of the problem and also help structure the effective reponses and interventions that need to be made.


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