Honor crime and honor killing are violent acts against women and girls (beating, battering, or killing, for example) that are rationalized by a notion that an individual’s or family’s honor has been threatened because of the actual or perceived sexual misconduct of the female.
Honor killing of a woman or girl by her father, brother, or other male relative may occur because of a suspicion that she engaged in sexual activities before or outside marriage and thus has dishonored the family. Even when rape of a woman or girl has occurred this may be seen as a violation of the honor of the family for which the female must be killed. Wives’ adultery and daughters’ voluntary and involuntary premarital sexual activity, including rape, are seen as extreme violations of the codes of behavior, and thus may result in the death of the female through this so-called honor killing. Honor killing and honor crime are based on the shame that a loss of control of the woman or girl brings to the family and to the male heads of the family.
Because any suspicion of sexual activity or suspicion that a girl or woman was touched by another in a sexual manner is enough to raise questions about the family’s honor, strict control of women and girls within the home and outside the home is therefore seen as justified. Women are restricted in their activities in the community, religion, and politics. These institutions, in turn, support the control of females. Thus, the existence of honor killing is useful for maintaining male dominance. Submissiveness may be seen as a sign of sexual purity, and a woman’s or girl’s attempts to assert her rights can be seen as a violation of the family’s honor that needs to be redressed. Rules of honor and threats against females who “violate” such rules reinforce the control of women and have a powerful impact on their lives. Honor killings and crimes serve to keep women and girls from “stepping out of line.” The manner in which such behaviors silence women and kill their spirit have led some to label honor killings/crimes more broadly as femicide.
Under patriarchy, male dominance is based on the authority of the father or male head of the household or family. Women’s safety and sexuality are seen as property. Honor killing and crimes have been discussed mostly in reference to experiences of women in traditional societies in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, India, China, and Latin America. However, comparative research has shown that validating violence against women as a “crime of honor” occurs around the globe and not only in more traditional societies.
Battering of female intimate partners has at times been tolerated or even sanctioned by many societies around the world, including in the United States, as a means of controlling female behavior. In the United States, some men have been exonerated for killing wives who have been found having sexual relations with others, and such behaviors have been called “crimes of passion.” Permitting or requiring (in some communities) such killing is the extreme expression of the notion that males must control “their” women.
- Baker, N., Gregware, P., & Cassidy, M. (1999). Family killing fields: Honor rationales in the murder of women. Violence Against Women, 5, 164–184.
- Haj, S. (1992). Palestinian women and patriarchal relations. Signs, 17, 761–771.
- Shalhoub-Kevorkian, N. (2003). Reexamining femicide: Breaking the silence and crossing “scientific” borders. Signs, 28, 581–608.
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