Honor violence is on the rise in America, a Somali-born activist and former member of Dutch Parliament warned at a conference today at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.
“American society is unprepared to understand and deal with the realities of honor violence,” Ayaan Hirsi Ali said, referring to the practice of hurting or killing a family member as punishment for unacceptable behavior — often merely for adopting local customs.
Ali, the founder of the AHA foundation, which advocates against honor killings, said America's tendency to respect the cultural values of immigrants often gets in the way of efforts to prevent such incidents..
Social service agencies often interview girls in front of their parents, or assign workers from the same communities to speak with victims, but both practices are intimidating to those who are at-risk, Ali said.
“If I were a victim of honor violence, and I was taken to a Somali provider, I would be very, very worried,” Ali said. “With this type of crime, it is important to go to … someone who is neutral.”
Ali fled to the United States from the Netherlands in 2005, after a letter to her was found pinned to the murdered body of the producer of a film she wrote. The movie included criticism of the treatment of women in Muslim society.
Ali recalled the story of a Muslim teenager in California who, fearing for her life, ran away from her family after they found out she had a boyfriend. Ali said the girl was caught in a “cycle of shame” prevalent in some extremely religious communities.
If a young woman displays behavior considered to be shameful, it can lead to negative repercussions for her entire family unless they punish her.
“Shame to the family is like an infectious disease, it's deadly,” Ali said. “Once the family is shamed they are quarantined by the community.
“They are discussed, gossiped, mocked. I don't just mean a small family, I mean a whole bloodline (is tarnished).”
Other speakers at the conference include detectives who investigated honor killings in Arizona and Ontario, Canada; Archana Pyati, an expert on female genital mutilation; and Ric Curtis, a John Jay College professor who is discussing honor violence research initiatives.
EDITORS NOTE: The Crime Report will carry a full report on the John Jay College Conference in tomorrow's edition.
Graham Kates is Deputy Managing Editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.