Frequently Asked Questions about Honour Based Violence (HBV) and Honour Killings:
Frequently asked questions
What are the features of an honour-killing?
The distinctive nature of ‘honour’ based crimes, which distinguish them from other forms of domestic abuse is the collective nature of the crime, where many members of an extended family collude in the act and may act in concert. In some cases this may be formal and organised, where a ‘family council’ is held by male family members and senior women who decide if a woman should be killed and work out the best method for carrying out the act. Other situations may be less formal but the collective and familial aspect of honour crimes is one of the most significant features.
The other aspect is the aspect of the control of women’s bodies, and in particular their sexual behaviour, by the family as a collective, where it is believed that any failure to conform to the norms of the community reflects upon her entire family. Thus, the family, in its entirety, has a vested interest in maintaining control over women, particularly in tight-knit communities with high levels of interdependence, where for instance, employment and trade may be mediated through personalised family and community connections.
As a teacher, how do I determine if a student may be experiencing honour-based violence?
Sudden changes in demeanour or behaviour may be telling, particularly if a previously productive member of the class becomes withdrawn and depressed, and may even self-harm. Girls who face risks from family members may be fearful of being seen talking to a teacher by their relatives. The family may become controlling and insist upon maintaining surveillance over their female relatives at all times, particularly through brothers and cousins attending the same school. If siblings have had early marriages or dropped out of school at a young age, this may also be an indication of an environment in which HBV may be suspected.
How should I help a student telling me they are in fear of honour-based violence or the threat of an honour killing?
It is advisable to prepare in advance for the eventuality of honour-based violence or forced marriage in the classroom by locating appropriate services, such as specialist NGOs for minority women in the area in order to gain specific, case-based advice and make referrals quickly.
Remember that the student is taking a huge chance in communicating with you and may not be able to contact you again. The first step should be to establish a means of communication in the event that the student is withdrawn from school; it may be worth considering using a safe-word so you can be tell if a call is being monitored or if you can talk freely. It is important to take your student’s fears seriously and locate appropriate help as soon as possible. NEVER contact other family members, even those who appear sympathetic, regarding your student’s concerns, as speaking to persons outside the family is likewise considered an offence against ‘honour’ and will increase any risks of violence or abduction.
My student has confided in me that she may be forced into a marriage, what do I do?
Forced marriages and honour crimes are closely related phenomena so similar advice applies as in the case above. In the UK, the Forced Marriage Unit provides comprehensive guidelines
on how to deal with forced marriage – which may also be useful in other contexts.
The woman or man at risk does not want to press charges against the family, what is considered best practice in such a circumstance?
In cases of HBV where the perpetrators are the family, emotions are complex; victims of HBV often consider themselves to be in the wrong and still have strong affective ties to their families. Where this is the case, occasioning the prosecution of a family member may be such a painful prospect that it may jeopardise the protective relationship with the client. While prosecutions send a vital message to the community, protection and support of the victim and her or his needs must be the first priority. It is not advised to pursue a prosecution against the wishes of the victim, but to concentrate instead upon their protection needs.
I want to learn more about the basic cultural framework of the communities affected by honour-based violence?
There is a growing body of scholarship on HBV. Rana Husseini’s ‘Murder in the Name of Honour’ is an excellent book for beginners, while Lynne Welchman and Sara Hossain’s ‘Honour: Crimes, Paradigms and Violence against Women’ is the best essay collection currently available for academics. There are many more resources available on this site and others, including reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that may be useful for the understanding of HBV in particular regions.
Should I involve religious institutions and religious leaders within the community to mediate and talk with my student who has notified me of her fear of forced marriage and HBV, since they may understand the cultural and social dynamics better than I can as a white European?
This may seem like a good idea, but is not advisable. Many religious figures are recruited as first-generation immigrants and may hold traditional and conservative attitudes from their countries back home, and have little understanding of the pressures experienced by second and later generation youth negotiating the differences between cultures. Most religious leaders are paid by subscription from leaders of the community and can feel unable to challenge entrenched attitudes within this group. Even involving an apparently enlightened religious figure may pose a confidentiality risk due to his links with the community. Male religious leaders may have little understanding of the complexities of HBV as viewed from a female perspective. While the voices of religious figures and institutions are an essential method of combating the acceptability of HBV within certain communities, they are not appropriate partners in cases which involve individuals. Due to the tight-knit nature of minority communities, and the high level of risk involved in cases where ‘honour’ is a factor, it is best to disallow the involvement of any community groups in any casework on the grounds of confidentiality risk, with the exception of trusted organisations which have an explicit mission of providing advocacy and support to victims of male violence.
I work in a city in Europe where there are large ethnic minority populations, I want to deal with the issue of honour-based violence but I am worried I may be called a racist if I speak up about this violence and abuse.
HBV is a sensitive issue. It has not been helpful that there is an existing tendency to demonise minority communities, already disadvantaged and facing multiple forms of discrimination, on the basis of their attitudes to gender and sexuality. However, to ignore the very real suffering of women in minority communities also enacts a kind of racism which renders minority victims of violence less able to access services and protection through omitting to consider their needs and cultural backgrounds. While it is essential to raise the issue of HBV, it is important to do so accurately and sensitively, without making generalisations about the communities associated with it. Discussions of HBV are not necessarily racist if they are based in knowledge, and conducted with sensitivity rather than in prejudice.
Remember that many persons and organisations within minority communities are also critical of HBV and male-dominated family structures, and that those families that do commit crimes are likely to be a criminal minority within their community, rather than an expression of the values of the community in its entirety. Women escaping HBV from their families are also members of that same minority community; to take the attitudes of their aggressors as normative for the culture as a whole ignores the victims, and the many dissenters within the community, whether silent or outspoken, whether rejecting the culture of ‘honour’ though public activism, or through private non-conformity to its demands.
What if I know somebody being forced to marry? Should I do something, if so what?
It is not uncommon for referrals to be made by third parties. If you fear a friend is being forced into marriage you can contact the Forced Marriage Unit in the UK, or find an NGO that specialises in minority women’s issues for advice and support.
What is honour-based violence (HBV)?
Honour-based violence is a phenomenon where a person (most often a woman) is subjected to violence by her collective family or community in order to restore ‘honour’, presumed to have been lost by her behaviour, most often through expressions of sexual autonomy.
What is an honour killing?
An ‘honour’ killing is the most extreme form of HBV where the supposed offender against family ‘honour’ is killed to restore the ‘honour’ which has supposedly been lost through her behaviour. An ‘honour’ killing is the most extreme form of violence which may be expressed as a final resort; however there are other lesser responses, such as forcing marriage or other forms of violence which may also be expressed.
What are the behaviours that can incite HBV or an honour killing?
Expressions of personal autonomy, particularly where this is in the realm of relationships and sexuality, are the usual triggers for ‘honour’-related abuse. Those cultures in which ‘honour’ crimes occur are considered ‘high-context’ where the family predominates over the individual, and therefore any individualistic choice which challenges the collective identity and aims of the family may be considered selfish and a violation of that family’s honour.
Potential sites of conflict between the individual and the family may include:
- Choice of sexual/marital partner
- Education and employment
- Behaviour and contact with the opposite sex
- General conformity to the family and community’s culture and expectations.
What is considered to be honourable and what is considered to be dishonourable in the societies where HBV occurs?
In some environments, there are distinct forms of active and passive ‘honour’ which can be mapped onto the expectations of traditional masculine and feminine behaviour, whereby men are supposed to be assertive and respond with violence to slights upon their own, or their families ‘honour’ and women are expected to maintain their own fragile honour through complete conformity to social norms of feminine behaviour. In this scenario, the active ‘honour’ of the male is dependent upon the passive ‘honour’ of his female relatives, and he has an explicit role in ensuring their conformity to the norms of the community and family; and of responding, potentially violently, if a female relative does not conform. In others, ‘honour’ is conceptualised as a collective quality related to the reputation of the family in entirety. In either case, women’s ‘honour’ is related to familial and community standards of feminine behaviour and marriageablity.
Are ‘honour’ killings and HBV related to religion?
There is little scriptural support for honour killings in any major religion, and it has been roundly condemned by several high status religious leaders. This attitude, however, does not necessarily influence all members of a religion, who tend to view all aspects of their lifestyle and culture as being related to their faith, even where they stand in contravention of ‘official’ religion.
What are the kinds of “remedies” typically applied before taking the final step of killing as the final option and solution for regaining honour?
‘Honour’ killings occur as the last resort in a spectrum of forms of violence and coercion. This may include crimes such as forced marriage, violence, threats and harassment. There are often forms of emotional abuse, such as threatening disownment, or to divorce the victim’s mother, amongst other threats to family members. Parents may feign illness, suggesting that the woman’s nonconformity is causing them to suffer physical harm.
Why do you call it ‘honour’ killing, why not call it shame killing or dishonour killing or another term?
We appreciate that in using the term ‘honour’ killing, we are using the terminology and categories of the criminal, and may be insinuating that there is, potentially, something ‘honourable’ about violence. However, it is important to our aims that we reach the affected communities, and to do so, it is necessary to speak the same language: we wish to reach potential victims without confusing them by using terminology which is unfamiliar to them, and we also wish to take this message into the communities in which ‘honour’ crimes occur, which again calls for a common language. Also, knowledge of ‘honour’ based violence within Europe and other countries is still embryonic and in need of development, and it would be a backward step to lose the recognition value of the current term.
What are the women supposed to conform to? What are the standards and expectations they need to meet?
Women are supposed to safeguard their own ‘honour’ and their virginity before marriage, which is often accomplished through restricting relationships to members of their own family, or through some level of gender segregation. Women are expected to acquiesce in choices made on their behalf by the family collective, regardless of their own personal feelings and desires.
However, with these generalities aside, there is no definitive list of what constitutes ‘honourable’ behaviour which could relate to all communities and families. There are wide degrees of variance which may alter from family to family, and change across time, so that a younger daughter may face different restrictions and enjoy different liberties than her elder sister. ‘Honour’ varies with the requirements and attitudes of the family in question.
Common expectations associated with ‘honour’ are that:
- Women must guard their virginity and not develop relationships with persons outside the approved group;
- Women must aquiesce to the demands of their family, particularly with regard to the arrangement of marriage;
- Women should not air their problems outside the family; this includes reporting spousal violence to the authorities;
- Women should not initiate divorce, and should not seek to gain custody of their children.
How can a family kill their own daughter or son?
This is a common question, as the idea of killing one’s own child seems horrific to many parents. Some families may indeed be reluctant to carry out a killing, and may only do so as a result of community pressure. Where a family is perceived to have lost ‘honour’ they may suffer harassment and social exclusion, and be urged by the extended family and community to carry out a murder in order to restore their status. In tight-knit communities, social ties are of great importance, and such pressure can be sufficient to force an unwilling parent to allow a child to be sacrificed for the sake of the ‘greater good’ of the family as a whole.
Where in the world does this type of violence occur?
While HBV is mostly associated with the Middle East and South Asia it has also been recorded in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. There may be many other countries where such crimes occur but where it has not yet been identified or quantified.
Do honour killings happen in the US and Europe, if so why?
Many ‘honour’ killings have been recorded in Europe and America within diasporic immigrant communities: the first high-profile murder to be recognised as an ‘honour’ killing in Europe was the death of Fadime Sahindal. While it may be the case that HBV decreases in minority populations over time as they become more integrated into the dominant society, it may also be the case that some communities become isolated and ghettoised, maintaining traditional male-dominant family structures as a form of resistance against the majority culture, particularly where economic and social integration is poor, and where minorities are subjected to racism and prejudice.
How is honour violence different from domestic violence?
The essential distinction between the two forms of violence is the number of perpetrators and the level of support they may receive from the wider family and community. While an abusive partner in a marriage or intimate relationship commits violence as an individual, HBV is related to the collective, familial control of women’s behaviour. Thus, in a case of HBV, there may be a large number of potential perpetrators, and an even higher number of persons willing to collude in violent acts. This presents a problem for protection agencies as it multiplies potential attackers, and in the case of prosecution, may present difficulties in gathering evidence as there are few witnesses to testify.
How is honour based violence related to forced marriage?
‘Honour’-based violence and forced marriage co-occur in many communities and may be considered related phenomena. A history of forced marriage is a strong predictor of the tendency to HBV in any family or community. Women may both be forced to marry to expiate an offence against ‘honour’, or be considered to have violated ‘honour’ through refusing to accept a marriage forced upon them by their family.
What is a forced marriage and arranged marriage? How can a marriage be forced?
The distinction between arranged and forced marriage hinges upon consent, and is often unclear in practise. Most of the cultures where ‘honour’ crimes are currently recorded also have a tradition of arranged marriage. Arranged marriage may not be coercive, where all parties readily agree to the proposed match, although the strength of tradition and the weight of family pressure may mean that much consent is uninformed or obtained under duress. Forced marriages are those in which one or both parties explicitly reject the proposed marriage. Reluctant spouses may be abducted or deceived and taken out of the country where they lack support networks and forced into marriage there. Women may be abandoned abroad with their ‘husband’ until they are pregnant to make it more difficult for them to leave the relationship. Threats and assaults may also be used; emotional pressure is also common – for instance, feigning health complaints. Forced marriages are highly likely to be violent and abusive in nature.
How many cases of honour based violence are reported internationally per year?
The United Nations Population Fund reported 5,000 honour killings per year in 2000. However, these figures are disputed and there has not been any subsequent global estimate. Thus the number of ‘honour’ killings, and acts of HBV are currently not known.
What’s the difference between honour killings and honour based violence?
‘Honour’-based violence is a larger category which includes ‘honour’ killings to acknowledge that there are many forms of violence and oppression against women which are motivated by ‘honour’ but which may fall short of actual murder.
Are honour based violence and honour killings only found in Islamic societies?
No. There are currently around 1000 honour killings per year in India alone, and these occur across all the major faiths of the region, including Hindus and Sikhs. Crimes against women motivated to maintain or restore ‘honour’ can be found in a variety of cultures and historical periods; a law that allowed for ‘honour’ killing was part of the Italian penal code right up until 1980. While in the current period, ‘honour’ killings are mostly associated with the Middle East and other countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan, this may not reflect reality as similar crimes may be being committed elsewhere but are not yet recognised as ‘honour’-related.
Can domestic violence be honour motivated?
Domestic violence in the conventional sense of violence within an intimate relationship can have overtones of ‘honour’ where insults to a woman’s reputation or that of her family form part of verbal abuse. This lacks the collective dimension of family based violence. However, for a victim of domestic violence, reporting the crime to any authorities, or seeking to gain a divorce on the grounds of abuse may be considered offences against ‘honour’ and lead the family to take violent measures against her.
Is dowry violence related to honour?
While dowry violence and HBV are both associated with India, there are important differences between the two. Dowry violence is more likely to have a specific financial motive than HBV, which is a collective crime, where the motive is restoring reputation in the eyes of the community.
Does this only happen in India and Pakistan?
No. HBV is widely found over a much wider area, including the Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Due to the secretive nature of HBV, such crimes may occur far more widely than is currently recognised. In immigrant and diasporic communities, HBV can occur across Europe and the wider West.
Does it only happen to girls?
No. While this site refers generally refers to victims of HBV as female, as this is the most common scenario, men may also become victims. While women are most often victims of HBV at their hands of their own families, heterosexual men are more likely to be victimised at the hands of the relatives of women they are supposed to have ‘dishonoured.’ Men suspected of homosexuality are likely to experience violence from their own families or communities.
At what age is someone more at risk of ‘honour’ crimes?
Honour crimes may potentially occur to people of any age; however many victims are in their late teens and twenties, often around the age of first marriage.
In the short term, protection for victims and potential victims is necessary. In the long term, only a change in mentalities within the families and communities that commit ‘honour’ crimes will eradicate this practise for good.
What help is there/what can be done to help?
There is a growing world-wide awareness of HBV and increasing services available. However this remains patchy and inconsistent and a victim’s chances of obtaining suitable help for their situation vary. It is important to raise awareness and develop protection procedures across all public sectors in order that prompt action and referrals can be made.
Karo kari literally means ‘black man, black woman’ and is a term used in Pakistan to refer to couples who have considered to have violated ‘honour.’
Will police help me and understand the danger I might be in?
While European and other police forces have an increasing awareness of HBV it is not certain that any particular police officer will have the levels of training and awareness to deliver the best response. If the police do not prove to be helpful it your next step should be to contact a minority women’s NGO in your area that deals with issues relating to ‘honour’ and forced marriage, which can intercede with the police and help you obtain the support and protection you need.
Many minority women’s NGOs working in the domestic violence sector provide support to people at risk of HBV; and these are often underfunded, over-worked and face threats from their communities. You may consider donating to, or volunteering with, one of these organisations.