Honor Crimes: URMC Starts the Conversation on Prevention and Awareness

Nov. 28, 2012

To shed light on the complex issue of honor crimes, the University of Rochester Medical Center is inviting the public and community stakeholders from the Rochester and Buffalo areas for two discussions on Tuesday, Dec. 11. The first is a research symposium from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at the University of Rochester’s School of Nursing, Helen Wood Hall (Room 1W502), 255 Crittenden Blvd., Rochester. The second is an information and discussion session from 5 to 7 p.m. at The Center for Youth, 905 Monroe Ave., Rochester. Both events are free and open to the public.

In Western cultures, the phrase “honor crime” might inspire thoughts of veiled women caught in Middle Eastern cultures reinforced by fundamentalist religious dogma, or recent news about extreme violence perpetrated on young Muslim women within their families. The truth is that honor crimes, including murder, happen daily worldwide, including in the U.S. and Europe and are actually thought to be underreported. Targets are primarily young women, but also include older women and members of the LGBT community. In 2000, the United Nations estimated that there were 5,000 women and girls murdered each year in honor crimes, but according to The Middle East Quarterly and other sources, honor killings accelerated significantly between 1989 and 2009 in the East and West, perhaps because of genuinely escalating extremism, and better reporting and prosecution. Those figures also do not include other forms of abuse, torture and forced marriage. Accurate statistics still are needed.

Diane Morse, M.D., organizer of the event, said, “Experts prefer to use the term ‘family crimes or family violence’ to describe the abuse because it can involve immediate and extended family members including in-laws and cousins. While anyone can be a target, most often it is young women who are victimized as they are attempting to develop their own identities. This is a phenomenon where people are thought to bring dishonor to their community and families when they deviate from cultural norms. It happens both in countries of origin and newly adopted countries. To make matters worse, the stress of immigration and the way families fare in light of employment and economic realities can disrupt traditional hierarchies and make transitioning all the more difficult.”

The community event, “Honor Crimes Awareness, Understanding and Prevention” will feature Arab Israeli, Samah Salaime, M.S.W., founder of Na’am (translated “Yes”) an organization that works to end honor killings in Israel. Salaime and Morse became colleagues and friends when Morse was performing research in Israel while she was a Fulbright Scholar at Hebrew University. This year, their paper “An Effect That is Deeper Than Beating: Family Violence in Jordanian Women,” was published in Family Systems & Health.

In Israel, Salaime and Na’am use a holistic, multi-pronged approach based on cultural sensitivity and competency to tackle the problem. Salaime’s work requires her to be a community activist, organizer and protester. She has established community projects and also worked with government leaders to reduce unemployment and improve education for women. She founded “Girls for Girls,” a school program to raise awareness among girls who may be suffering from family violence. Na’am also trains law enforcement agencies and community leaders.

Organizers hope the event will kindle discussions among local religious leaders, academics, domestic violence experts, health care providers, and members of the legal profession and law enforcement communities.

Morse says, “It makes sense for the University of Rochester to take the lead on this subject to illuminate the challenges we are facing. Our researchers and educators have already begun to establish themselves as leaders in this area.” Morse’s work as a researcher, educator, and clinician in the field of violence towards women makes her uniquely suited to address women’s complex mental and physical health needs. Also an internist and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at URMC, Morse is director of Women’s Initiative Supporting Health Transitions Clinic (WISH), a program aimed at helping formerly incarcerated women receive health care.

Salaime said, “I believe that in spite of all the oppression and suppression that women are suffering from, there will come a day when a major change will take place,” Salaime said. “When that day comes, we will have a huge celebration to mark the existence of no violence against women.”

Co-sponsors for the events are The Susan B. Anthony Center for Women’s Leadership, Saathi of Rochester, The Center for Youth, and Alternatives for Battered Women. Both events are free and open to the public. For more information, contact Jennifer Silverstein at (585) 402-4443.