The parents of Shafilea Ahmed did not kill her for “honour” but because domestic violence “transcends culture, class, race, and religion.”
This as the conclusion of the leading investigating officer – so why are our newspapers full of bold headlines and in-depth discussion about “honour killing”?
As far as I can tell –and I’m happy to be corrected – it is the media that has made the link between Shafilea’s parents’ excuse for murder and “honour” not the police or the judge.
Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Superintendent Geraint Jones, who led the inquiry for Cheshire Police, said: “Over the years, many people have asked me – is this a so-called honour killing? For me, it’s a simple case of murder.
“This is a case of domestic abuse by two parents towards their children. Domestic abuse is, sadly, something which the police have to deal with too often. “
The judge, when sentencing her parents for murder, told them: “Your concern about being shamed in your community was greater than the love of your child” but didn’t use the term “honour killing” – a term put in speech marks by most domestic violence charities and those newspapers not accepting it wholesale.
Women’s Aid says that with domestic violence: “’Blaming the victim’ is something that abusers will often do to make excuses for their behaviour, and quite often they manage to convince their victims that the abuse is indeed their fault.
“This is part of the pattern and is in itself abusive. Blaming their behaviour on someone else, or on the relationship, their childhood, their ill health, or their alcohol or drug addiction is one way in which many abusers try to avoid personal responsibility for their behaviour.”
The charity defines domestic violence as, “physical, sexual, psychological or financial violence that takes place within an intimate or family-type relationship and that forms a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. This can include forced marriage and so-called ‘honour crimes’. Domestic violence may include a range of abusive behaviours, not all of which are in themselves inherently ‘violent’.”
While “honour-based” violence, according to Domestic Violence London, “can exist in any culture or community where males are in position to establish and enforce women’s conduct.
“Males can also be victims, sometimes as a consequence of a relationship which is deemed to be inappropriate, if they are gay, have a disability or if they have assisted a victim.”
So why, if shame, honour, embarrassment and doing things wrong – or your favourite football team losing – are common excuses for domestic abuse, has the UK media whipped itself into a frenzy about “honour killing” rather than reeling in horror at domestic violence?
- 1 in 4 will be a victim of domestic violence in their lifetime – many of these on a number of occasions
- 1 incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute
- on average, 2 women a week are killed by a current or former male partner.
Meanwhile, in the US a white, middle class Christian couple killed their black adopted daughter. As with police in the UK, “investigators found the Washington state couple adhered to a harsh child-rearing regimen prescribed by a controversial Christian parenting book, the prosecutor said earlier this month that religion was not relevant to the criminal case.”
Another couple were charged with murdering their child who they believed had the devil inside her and God told them to stick a rose down her throat. While their status as “immigrant” is seen as significant here – their religion isn’t further discussed.
There are, of course, more intellectual approaches than that of the Daily Mail – aren’t there always? The New Statesman, for example, states that “the left cannot remain silent over honour killings” and refers them as an “epidemic of abuse and violence” – so “honour” is being accepted as the distinguishing feature in this case – not domestic violence as outlined by the police.
The Guardian though produces a piece on a charity supporting women at risk of forced marriage and “honour” crimes: because many charities including Refuge campaign against domestic violence as a whole when supporting victims of “sexual violence, forced marriage, honour-based violence, female genital mutilation, prostitution, trafficking and stalking”.
It is clear that no one would suggest that Shafilea’s case shouldn’t be discussed in a wider context or that “honour” isn’t used as an excuse for violence against women and men.
One could suggest, though, that this violence be discussed in a more rational manner: perhaps we would benefit from the UK taking a calmer, less emotionally-charged and academic approach to domestic violence rather than a knee-jerk response to “honour” killing.
If you look to the news now the discussion of “honour killing” has become white noise and – if you dare to look at comments on articles – is being used for further attacks on Islam: one could almost think all Muslim condoned violence against women.
Perhaps some journalists still lucky enough to be in paid employment could report more on the experiences and understanding of those dealing with domestic violence across all cultures on a daily basis; it could look to the nuclear family as a constant in domestic violence; investigate the links between mental ill-health, such as stress, and domestic violence; or consider the role of the patriarchy across many cultures when “honour” is used as justification for domestic violence.
Remember other excuses – accepted by UK police in confronting domestic violence – include football teams losing during Euro 2012 and the World Cup.
The video below made by Refuge – a charity providing safe houses – highlights how hidden domestic violence can be in the UK as women hide their bruises, take responsibility and make excuses for the damage done at the hands of their abusers.
We need to discuss domestic violence as an experience across cultures and classes. Isolated incidents – however horrific – are examples of domestic violence within families not of broken cultures.
Because domestic violence is a terrifying and very real problem for many people in our country which “transcends culture, class, race, and religion”.