Baroness Doocey, a Liberal Democrat peer and Chair of the House of Lords Finance Committee, asked the government to make breast ironing a standalone criminal offence on Tuesday, in a written question to the Home Office. The government rejected the call.
Breast ironing, which is sometimes also called breast flattening, involves pounding and massaging of a pubescent girl’s breasts, using hard or heated objects, to try to make them stop developing or disappear. The ritual is often associated with honour-based abuse.
Last month the Home Office vowed to address the practice and advised the police to prosecute offenders under assault laws, but Baroness Doocey would like the government to implement legislation which would make the ritual a separate criminal offence.
Replying to Baroness Doocey, The Minister of State, Home Department, Minister for Equalities Baroness Williams of Trafford said:
“Breast ironing is child abuse and it is illegal. The Government is committed to challenging the cultural attitudes that underpin so called ‘honour-based’ abuse (HBA), as set out in our cross-Government Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, published in 2016.
The Government is committed to ensuring that front-line practitioners who may encounter women and girls who are at risk of, or who have undergone, breast ironing, are aware of this issue and have the confidence to tackle it.
Border Force Officers at UK ports and airports are trained to look for those at risk of HBA and conduct regular joint operations (‘Operation Limelight’) with the police at airports across the country to raise awareness with potential victims of HBA, including breast ironing. A specific briefing on breast ironing has also been shared with regional Border Force Safeguarding and Modern Slavery leads.
In addition, the following documents provide advice and support for professionals in respect of safeguarding children from abuse, including HBA:
• Keeping Children Safe in Education (p.80-82): https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/keeping-children-safe-in-education–2
• Working Together to Safeguard Children: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/working-together-to-safeguard-children–2
• CPS Legal Guidance on Honour-Based Violence and Forced Marriage: https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/honour-based-violence-and-forced-marriage
The police have a range of offences at their disposal to deal with any cases of breast ironing they encounter, including common assault, actual bodily harm and grievous bodily harm. There are also specific offences of child cruelty and causing or allowing a child to suffer serious physical harm, both of which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment. As such, the Government does not have plans to introduce a stand-alone criminal offence.
No assessments have been made of the prevalence of breast ironing in the UK.”