Domestic violence and sexual abuse is going unreported within Britain’s South Asian communities because of a “culture of shame”, according to new research.
A study, conducted by academics Dr Karen Harrison from Hull University and Dr Aisha Gill from the University of Roehampton, found that many first generation immigrant women and children from South Asia don’t report abuse out of a fear of bringing “shame” on their families and communities.
Dr Harrison and Dr Gill interviewed women, charitable organizations, police officers and religious leaders over a two-year period and also found that there was little awareness about what amounted to criminal behaviour.
“Rape for women was if their father-in-law or brother-in-law or someone in the extended family was the perpetrator. Nor had the Imams we spoke too ever heard of marital rape; they weren’t aware it was against British law,” said Dr Harrison.
“There was far greater awareness of the laws on female genital mutilation or forced marriage. It was shocking to hear so many women who did not have the support of their families after abuse had taken place.
“In cases of historical abuse, where women had been abused as children, the parents had protected them by taking them away from the situation, but were too worried about the consequences for the family, the shame and the dishonour, to report the abuser.”
Whilst official data suggests that sexual violence against South Asian women and children is low, Dr Harrison said it was far more widespread and just was not being reported.
However, the research also found that things were changing in parts of Britain with individuals, community and religious organizations working towards breaking down the taboos of “shame” and “honour”.
Dr Harrison told the Guardian: “Our work has uncovered a number of initiatives operating in these communities that raise awareness of what constitutes sexual violence and encourages women and children to report crimes in a way they feel safe.
“Some of the charities and progressive mosques are getting the message out there but there is a lot of work to be done in raising awareness for these silent victims.”