Profile Series: Karma Nirvana’s Natasha Rattu on the fight against domestic violence

Profile Series: Karma Nirvana’s Natasha Rattu on the fight against domestic violence

Natasha Rattu is the Executive Director at Karma Nirvana, a leading the UK charity with on mission to combatting honour-based abuse and domestic violence.

The young activist is a Leeds Law School graduate, who completed her Bar finals specialising in family and criminal law at Nottingham Law School. Alongside her educational experience, she has extensive experience in the field of violence against women and girls, from supporting victims directly as an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate to setting up the Newcastle-based domestic abuse project SAFE.

Recognised as an expert in family and criminal proceedings within the field of honour-based abuse and forced marriage, Rattu has worked for both the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) and in private family practice supporting victims and helping them seek legal redress.

As part of the Profile Series, ‘iGlobal’ caught up with Rattu to trace her journey and the initiatives Karma Nirvana is developing to tackle some of the barriers in the fight against honour-based violence across different South Asian communities.

Complex issues

In 2010, Rattu was awarded the national Crown Prosecution Scholarship, set up in the memory of teenager Anthony Walker, murdered in a hate crime attack. In 2017, she was awarded the Super Achiever Pitman Boss of the Year award and graduated from the Operation Black Vote (OBV) parliamentary scheme set up by Lord Woolley in 2019.

By the time she came into the field of combatting honour-based abuse, she was aware of the many complexities involved and the pervasive nature of the problem across all cultures and communities. This form of abuse is influenced by a variety of motives – it often begins early in the family home with females being at particular risk, however, men are also affected.

According to latest from police forces to the Home Office, there were only 2,024 offences flagged as being honour-based abuse in 2019-20. This is a dramatic decrease from the 5,595 honour related offences back in 2015.

Rattu, who has developed the national Honour Based Abuse (HBA) police risk assessment tool and has trained 24 police forces across England and Wales, says the lack of accurate data is disheartening.

Lack of analysis

“We at Karma Nirvana are really unhappy about the annual return data that we got back because there is very little analysis. And, it does not give you anything in regard to understanding the issues more; it is very basic number crunching and not the full picture.”

She believes the poor quality of data means it does not give the government a great deal of perspective or understanding of the issues in order to effectively tackle honour-based abuse cases in the UK.

She explains: “Where we have had data for a long period of time is the CPS or prosecuting data on honour-based abuse. One of our concerns is that the number of cases coming forward from police, which end up getting charged and going through to the CPS has been dropping yearly since around 2015-2015.

“There is no data from 2020, in fact the last data in 2018-2019 shows the numbers have been falling. Overall, we’re concerned with the picture from a CPS perspective as it is not a positive picture.”

Pandemic impact

As well as the concerns around consistent and accurate data, the coronavirus pandemic means there are unanticipated side-effects, for both victims and charities/organisations who provide supporting services.

As a way to tackle some of these challenges, since the first national lockdown in March 2020, Karma Nirvana is one of the five organisations to receive funding to deliver a government-backed helpline alongside the government’s domestic abuse helpline.

“Whilst the first two weeks during lockdown numbers remained low, however, we soon saw a huge incline in reporting of honour-based abuse to our helpline, including domestic abuse where there was no other context.”

Rattu believes the spike in the number of calls is related to the fact that the UK government published the organisation's helpline with the domestic abuse helpline.

“Our calls increased up to 243 per cent. But last year, averaged at around 79 per cent for the whole year when we looked at the data from 23 March to the end of December. A real big increase on the data in 2019."

In the year 2020, calls to its helpline have increased by 64 per cent, 7,408 in 2019 to 12,128 in 2020. Furthermore, new callers to the helpline have increased by 12 per cent – from 2,064 in 2019 to 2,315 in 2020.

The organisation supported 551 new single victim callers who had no police involvement in their case, and received 163 new case referrals from police forces across the UK, a 32 per cent fall on referrals in 2019.

Community picture

Rattu explains: “Not always the person identifies what their identity is, as they want to remain non-identifying. One of the things we are currently working on is moving past the point of actually being able to understand and identify honour-based abuse.

“This is not just the professionals, but also victims who go through this, because very often people normalise or legitimise abusive behaviours from family members or parents because they have this narrative of its the norm.

“We want to enable people who are going through this to recognise that it is abuse and their families do not have the right to control them and their choices and that they have the right to make decisions themselves."

Awareness of helplines and the support available for victims of honour-based abuse is not always as obvious or attainable for victims.

When the government began its “You’re not alone” campaign to tackle domestic abuse, Rattu recalls: “We were concerned that it wasn’t accessible in other languages, and it wasn’t quite penetrating communities where honour-based abuse is prevalent, as you had to be particular victim speaking English who would understand the core messages the government was delivering to the public around knowing you are not alone and if you’re a victim of domestic abuse to get help.

"What we did is challenged the government and managed to receive funding for campaigns on various platforms, like the Sikh Channel, to get the messages out there into communities where it is more difficult to inform.”

Call for evidence

Rattu points to a UK government consultation which has been opened to a call for evidence, which is expected to set out what will happen in the next three years in the Home Office, and how they will tackle violence.

"They are asking to understand the scope, scale, and prevalence of these issues, and I am currently working on that partner report for the commission."

Last month, Karma Nirvana announced they will be providing support to the Welsh government to deliver free virtual training on honour-based abuse to all professionals working across statutory and voluntary sectors in Wales.

The free training will provide professionals an understanding of HBA, the prevalence across the UK, best practice guidance safety planning, and highlighting real-life survivor stories. The training will take place through delivering interactive workshops via its bespoke online training platform.

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