Consequences of "Honor" Killings and Crimes

Last updated November 2008

According to The State of World Population 2000—Lives Together, Worlds Apart: Men and Women in a Time of Change, a report by the United Nations Population Fund, the most obvious consequences of "honor" killings are the deaths of thousands of women each year. However, "honor" killings have many other effects, and the fear of becoming a victim can profoundly affect a woman’s life. 

In many cases, the threats a woman receives from her family are so severe that she is driven to suicide. Although it is not always possible to determine whether the cause of death was suicide or homicide masked as suicide, the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women concluded that it is clear that many women have taken their lives after being coerced to do so by a family that would prefer not to risk sending a male relative to prison for killing her. For example, suicides have reportedly increased in Turkey since the law there has been changed to punish crimes committed in the name of "honor" more severely. From; Dan Bilefsky, How to Avoid Honor Killing in Turkey? Honor Suicide, New York Times, 16 July 2006.

In other cases, reports Human Rights Watch, women identified as potential victims of 'honor" crimes because their families have either vowed to kill them or tried and failed are incarcerated indefinitely for their protection. At one time, 112 of the 220 women incarcerated in Jordan were imprisoned for their own protection rather than for commission of violent crimes. From: Ferris K. Nesheiwat, Honor Crimes in Jordan: Their Treatment Under Islamic and Jordanian Criminal Laws, 23 Penn State Int’l L. Rev. 251, 259 (2004). In the Al-Raida newsletter, Rana Husseini reported that Prison officials have tried to make conditions more tolerable for these women by separating them from convicted women and offering vocational and academic classes. Ultimately, though, the women do not have the freedom to leave prison unless officials decide that they are no longer in danger. The Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women has acknowledged this type of incarceration as a form of “violence towards women.”

Women, and some men, who fear "honor" killings in their home countries sometimes seek asylum in another country where they believe they will be safe. One woman was granted asylum in the United States primarily on the basis of gender because she feared becoming the victim of a killing committed in the name of "honor" if she returned to Pakistan after refusing an arranged marriage. From:  Michael G. Heyman, Domestic Violence and Asylum: Toward a Working Model of Affirmative State Obligations, 17 Int’l J. Refugee L. 729, 745-46, (2005). Heyman noted that the legal brief in her case highlighted the confluence of discriminatory laws and a pervasive culture of violence against women, along with the Pakistani government’s inaction and acquiescence. In another case, a Palestinian man was granted asylum in the United States because he feared being killed if he returned to Jordan. From: Susan S. Blum, The Illegal Immigration Reform & Immigrant Responsibility Act’s One-Year Filing Deadline on Applications for Asylum: The Narrow Interpretation and Application of Exceptions to the Filing Deadline, 22 Georgia State Univ. L. Rev. 463, 478-79, (2005). According to Blum, he had entered into a relationship with a Jordanian woman whose family would not accept him because of his ethnicity, and obtained asylum based on his membership in the persecuted social group of “non-original Jordanian males involved in non-marital relationships with ‘original Jordanian females.’” Despite these and other examples of successful asylum applications, Human Rights Watch cautions that asylum is an “extreme option” and an unrealistic solution, since most women do not have passports and in some countries, such as Jordan, a woman cannot obtain a passport without the written permission of her husband.

Even when women are not coerced into suicide, incarcerated, or forced to flee their homelands, their actions may be curtailed in many ways by the fear of crimes committed in the name of "honor." For instance, a woman may choose not to report rape because the violation she has suffered could be considered a stain on her family’s honor that would justify them in killing her. From: Moeen H. Cheema, Cases and Controversies: Pregnancy as Proof of Guilt Under Pakistan’s Hudood Laws, 32 Brooklyn J. Int’l L. 121, 138 (2006). Women also stay in abusive marriages for fear of being killed if they seek divorce, and abandon children born out-of-wedlock for fear of being killed if the children are discovered. From: Laura M. Thomason, On the Steps of the Mosque: The Legal Rights of Non-Marital Children in Egypt, 19 Hastings Women’s L. J. 121, 121-122 (2008).

Killings committed in the name of "honor" that are actually carried out, and then ignored or barely penalized, generate cycles of violence fed by impunity. Perpetrators of "honor" killings who are aware of how offenders have been treated in the past often identify themselves to law enforcement authorities, confident that they will be punished lightly if at all. From: Catherine Warrick, The Vanishing Victim: Criminal Law and Gender in Jordan, 39 L. & Society Rev. 315, 327, (2005). A more direct cycle of violence occurs in some cases where the victim’s family is distinct from the perpetrator’s family. In these cases, when a court rules in favor of the victim, she and her family may face violent reprisals from the convicted perpetrator’s family. From: Marie D. Castetter, Taking Law Into Their Own Hands: Unofficial and Illegal Sanctions by the Pakistani Tribal Councils, 13 Indiana Int’l & Comparative L. Rev. 543, 563-564 (2003).