The Horror of Honor Killing: In America and Around the World

Around the world, honor violence is a far greater issue. The UN estimates that over 5,000 such murders occur annually -- and that number only includes the few honor killings that officials ever find out about.
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The Price of Honor, a new documentary about the horror of honor killing, opens with a highly disturbing audio recording of a 911 call: Texas teenager Sarah Said screaming that her father is shooting her and her elder sister Amina. Tragically, both girls were murdered that day, on January 1, 2008. Meanwhile, their killer, Yaser Said -- who shot Amina twice and Sarah nine times under the pretense of "defending the family honor" -- escaped the police and remains on the FBI Most Wanted List to this day.

The film (see trailer above) tells Amina and Sarah's tragic story. Despite their warm personalities, strong school performance, and outward appearances as typical American teens, the sisters had faced a lifetime of abuse at home... by a father who seems, from those interviewed in the movie, to be a complete psychopath. One thing is clear: Amina and Sarah were innocent victims. They only wanted the freedom to love the people they loved and to act like normal American kids. Their father, on the other hand, wanted total control and domination. He murdered his daughters when it became clear that they wouldn't go along with being forced into the marriages he had chosen for them. The filmmakers have created a coalition with non-profit organizations to raise funds for reward money for tips leading to Yaser Said's arrest. They ask that supporters tweet using the #CatchYaserSaid hashtag.

But the movie also aims to cast light on a larger issue beyond the murders of Amina and Sarah Said. Through interviews with experts on the subject, the filmmakers explore the prevalence of honor violence both abroad and here at home, on American soil.

According to Amy Logan, author of The Seven Perfumes of Sacrifice, a powerful novel about honor killing that she spent 10 years researching: "Honor violence is first and foremost about cultures who view and treat women as property or inferior. This is a human rights issue -- women's rights are human rights. Culture is no excuse for abuse. It's time for all communities in which honor violence occurs, regardless of religion, to start having an honest conversation about it."

The AHA Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to defending the rights of women and girls in part by collecting accurate data on these crimes, reports that there are between 25 to 28 honor killings a year in the U.S. That may not seem like much, but the rate of honor violence incidents extends far beyond homicides, including: stalking, harassment, false imprisonment, forced genital mutilation, forced marriage, and every form of sexual/ physical/ emotional/ verbal violence that you can imagine. There are surely many thousands of such incidents every year, and most are hidden from our awareness.

Around the world, honor violence is a far greater issue. The UN estimates that over 5,000 such murders occur annually -- and that number only includes the few honor killings that officials ever find out about. 800 million women and girls live under the threat of honor killing, terrified that if they make one wrong move, or are unfortunate to be sexually abused or even raped, they will be murdered.

The good news is awareness of such tragedies against women and girls is gaining traction in America today. The Department of Justice is presently researching the best way to collect data on honor violence in the U.S., and aims to have a plan by early 2015. The State Department now considers forced genital mutilation and forced marriage as forms of honor violence, and has task forces set up on each issue. Forced marriage, which Amina Said was being coerced into, is only considered a crime in nine states (Texas, where the Said girls lived, is not one of them). Let's hope that, too, changes in the near future.

If you want to make a difference, you can see the film, which premiers in Los Angeles on September 21 and will soon be widely available. You can also join efforts with one of the many excellent international organizations devoted to combatting honor violence, including the AHA Foundation, UN Women, The Global Fund for Women, Futures Without Violence or your local women's shelter. Amy Logan lists 15 Ways to Transform Honor Violence on her website.

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