10 Tips for Writing About HBA & harmful practices

Do not directly associate a culture or religion with HBA or other harmful practices – culture and religion are often used by perpetrators as an excuse for abusive practices. However, they have no part in any culture and are not endorsed by any religion in the world. Connecting harmful practices directly with a particular culture or religion only perpetuates this myth, so make this separation clear to your audience and ensure your reporting highlights them as part of the wider issue of violations of human rights

Don’t reinforce harmful stereotypes – while HBA and harmful practices are more prevalent in certain communities and more commonly affects women, reinforcing harmful stereotypes can demonise and victimise entire cultures and religions that do not practice or condone HBA or harmful practices. In any reporting it should be made clear that HBA and harmful practices affect people of all genders and occur in ALL cultures

Avoid including specific/identifying details about survivor interviewees who may require anonymity – in affected communities, simply speaking to media about these issues can have consequences. Even those who have fled abusive environments will face a lifelong risk, potentially being found by family or community members who wish them harm. Therefore, in some cases interviewees may wish or need to remain anonymous. First, check with the survivor and/or the organisation that supports them to see if anonymity is required or wanted, as they will be best placed to assess their own risk. If anonymity is required, it is vital that care is taken not to identify interviewees who are survivors or from affected communities. This includes but is not limited to full name, age, location, number of children, place of work or education and physical descriptions. Listen to what the survivors tell you and ask if certain information can be shared, as they will know how best to maintain their safety and the impact that sharing some information could have for them

Ensure you use the correct terminology – when reporting on HBA and harmful practices, language is vitally important. For example, we often see ‘arranged marriage’ and ‘forced marriage’ used interchangeably, when the former is a traditional practice entered into by two consenting parties and the latter a form of abuse imposed upon one or more non-consenting parties. For more guidance on language, see Language & Key Terminology: Dos and Don’ts

Consider how you will illustrate your story – many stories about HBA and harmful practices will feature anonymous interviewees or may be difficult to illustrate. Media often utilise silhouette images and shadowy stock images of South-East Asian/African women covering their faces – which both reinforces harmful stereotypes and the shame that has been placed on the survivor – or lifestyle images connected to certain cultures or religions, which wrongly conflate culture and religion with abuse. Consider instead using positive/symbolic images or stock anonymous images that are more generic in terms of identifying culture or religion and which place the survivor in a position of strength not shame.

Avoid over-simplification of the issues – HBA and harmful practices are extremely complex issues. While it is necessary to explain the issues in clear lay terms to your audience, avoid over-simplifying and ensure full context is provided, so that stereotyping does not occur.

Don’t speculate on causes and circumstances of a suspected ‘honour’-related incident or killing – Sometimes an incident or death that enters the public domain may be suspected or assumed as being ‘honour’ related. Usually, this suspicion or assumption is linked to a person’s religion or ethnicity. Particularly in ongoing or active investigations, refrain from reporting the incident as being ‘honour’-related unless this has been confirmed by an official source, such as the police.

Don’t sensationalise stories of HBA and harmful practices – avoid using shocking headlines/language such as words like ‘butchered’ or ‘barbaric’, as this only seeks to sensationalise and ‘other’ these issues and the stories of survivors. Survivors and affected communities do not wish to be portrayed as “freak shows” but want a respectful and factual representation of their stories and experiences, so the issues can be tackled. Survivors share and open up to you with the most personal things of their life and in return you need to show them that you are listening and taking their story to heart and given them a voice and justice not for you to look good

Turn comments off on articles and social media posts to protect interviewees – survivors, support workers and those from affected communities who choose to speak out may be put at risk if they are identified by conversations in comments. Similarly, abuse and trolling may be triggering or upsetting for interviewees, so careful consideration should be given around the appropriateness of leaving comments open, and this should only be done if heavy moderation is possible.

Signpost to HBA/harmful practice specific support services – while a form of domestic abuse, HBA and harmful practices are extremely high-risk and require a specialist response. When writing about these issues, signpost to HBA-specific support services like Savera UK and familiarise yourself with the “One Chance Rule” to better understand the difference in risk level between HBA and other forms of domestic violence or abuse.

Return to main HBA Media Guidelines page