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New domestic abuse guidance must protect apostates, says Faith to Faithless

Faith to Faithless has welcomed new draft statutory guidance on recognising and preventing domestic abuse. But has called for apostates to be specifically included as a group particularly vulnerable to abuse.

In 2019, Humanists UK and Faith to Faithless called on the Government to take action against abuse based upon religious doctrines by including spiritual abuse as a category of domestic abuse under the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. This call was successful and the draft statutory guidance accompanying the Act recognises honour-based abuse and spiritual abuse as forms of domestic abuse.

However, the language used within the guidance focuses almost exclusively on religious adherents who are being abused because of or prevented from practicing the religious beliefs they would wish to. The guidance does not make clear that such abuse can, and is often, targeted at apostates: those who have left, been expelled from, or wish to leave a religion or cult. That abuse may be aimed at preventing that person from leaving. Or it may be a punishment for perceived transgressions against the tenets of the group.

Faith to Faithless is a programme of Humanists UK which works to raise awareness of the issues faced by those who leave high-control religious groups or cults.

Faith to Faithless co-founder Imtiaz Shams commented,

‘Overall, we welcome the draft guidance which comprehensively covers several areas of abuse that we campaigned to see included within the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Most notably, the recognition of honour-based abuse and spiritual abuse.

‘Since we were founded in 2015, we have supported a large number of people who have been the victims of abuse based upon religious doctrines. It is plain to us that there can be strong links between leaving a religion and domestic abuse, forced marriage, and honour-based violence. Religious and spiritual abuse is characterised by a systemic pattern of controlling and coercive behaviour in which religious texts or beliefs are used as a reason and justification for abuse. Controlling behaviour may also stem from the victim’s dress or make-up which is not approved by the family or community, from resisting an arranged marriage or seeking divorce, or from reporting domestic violence. This abuse can develop from family and community members using shame and guilt to ostracise or control the victim, all the way to physical violence and murder.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read the consultation response.

Read more about Faith to Faithless.

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