Why Are So Many Transgender Individuals Victimized By Violent Crime

Honor killings occur frequently in countries like Pakistan and India, where old-school laws still preside over rural populations more than the rule of actual law. The same is true in certain countries in Africa. To a lesser extent, these murders occur in the United Kingdom. But believe it or not, they occur in the United States too — albeit very rarely. These murders are usually carried out by individual family members who feel they have been shamed.

But what if we changed the definition of “honor killing” to include violent actions taken by society as a whole against certain types of people? LGBTQ individuals are routinely targeted by those who would carry out a random violent act, and transgender individuals are the biggest target of all. Why is that? And what can we do to increase awareness in the United States and abroad?

One of the primary psychological reasons that human beings commit murder is indifference to what is different. Although most people remain curious about that which they do not understand, those same people might still resort to violence too — because psychologically, we’re always afraid of what we don’t really understand. And we don’t understand things we don’t see very often.

An old granny might say that she doesn’t believe being gay is morally right because she doesn’t think two men or women holding hands looks normal. But you might follow up her asinine comment by asking if an African American couple walking down a predominantly white neighborhood’s street looks normal. The truth is this: anything we don’t see often is bound to look a little unusual. But that certainly doesn’t make it morally wrong. 

An anonymous lawyer from the Fullman Firm pointed out that many of their debt relief clients had been victims of a random act of violence. And without a perpetrator, no restitution or civil suit could be filed — leaving the victim to pay for hefty medical bills themselves. Although it’s his job to deal with the financial impact, he said he thinks the emotional impact is the heavier burden by far.

We recently discussed a change to Maryland law that would allow transgender individuals to change their names without jumping through hoops or publishing the name change in a local paper — which the law previously upheld.

In the United States, bills have popped up all over the place in order to bar transgender kids from sports. For example, a South Dakota bill would prevent a transgender girl from playing on a girl’s sports team, and a transgender boy from playinig on a boy’s sports team. Hundreds of teachers, students, parents, and sports players responded by writing a letter to the governor to request a veto of the bill on the basis that it harms transgender individuals. 

They wrote, “Research suggests that transgender children are more likely to face significant mental health stressors and have higher rates of obesity and disordered eating than their cisgender peers. Often, transgender students also face isolation and exclusion in school environments, which threaten their physical and mental well-being as well as their ability to learn.”

Remembering Torture Of Gay Men In Chechnyan “Honor” Crusade

Not every victim of an honor killing is a young girl or woman accused of defiling a family’s honor. Sometimes, members of the LGBTQ community are targeted for persecution as well. We recently discussed the plight of transgender individuals, who are targets of honor killings in Pakistan, India, and some African countries — and become victims of hate crimes at an increased rate in the United States as well.

Today, we’d like to remember Chechnyan persecution of hundreds of gay men in 2017. Reports suggest that members of the Russian LGBTQ community helped many escape the country.

Russian LGBT Network chairperson Tatyana Vinnichenko said, “For the majority of these men, this persecution was unexpected. And now they don’t have any money, they’ve lost their jobs, their families, their official documents, everything. So they come to us for help.”

A Russian newspaper had reported that more than a hundred gay or bisexual men were arrested in Chechnya during a classic witchhunt. Authorities tortured the men with beatings and electric shocks in order to get the men to give up the names of gay friends and acquaintances. At least three of the men were reportedly killed. 

Vinnichenko said the event has sown even more distrust of authorities from the gay and lesbian community. “They are distressed, they can’t sleep, they are depressed — they are in a state of panic. Some are sick, some have infections. Many were beaten in police custody. And there is the trauma they suffered from being electrocuted [in custody]. All that needs medical attention.”

Vinnichenko also said that these same authorities will eventually release the men, but cause additional harm by outing them to relatives. She said, “Essentially they call for the relatives to kill them with their own hands. The men who come to us say they believe that their relatives would kill them in order to clear the family’s reputation.”

And this, of course, is the classic definition of an honor killing.

When Transgender Men And Women Are Killed Abroad

You already know why honor killings occur: a male member of the family usually believes that a daughter or wife is guilty of adultery or non-traditional relationship, and so he murders her in order to restore the family’s honor — often with the help of a son or brother. Women who are raped are also killed for this reason on a regular basis — because the family will target the victim. In 2019, two transgender women were targeted in Pakistan.

The bodies showed signs of torture. They were beaten to death. Sahiwal District Senior Officer Mohammad Ali Zia was unsure what motivated the killings, but gender identity issues are a common reason for families to carry about honor killings. 

Although transgender family members are rarely killed for that reason in the United States, the transgender community there still faces extreme daily hardships and an increased assault and murder rate perpetrated against them. 

A recently introduced state bill in Maryland would allow transgender individuals to change their names by forcing judges to issue a waiver to another Maryland law, which requires individuals who wish to change their names to publish the change in a local newspaper.

An anonymous attorney at Nagel Rice LLP (nagelrice.com) said that the law will help keep transgender clients safe. 

SB 581 and HB 39 was sponsored in the Maryland Senate by Senator Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore) and House Delegate Emily Shetty (D-Montgomery). 

Opponents of the bill are upset that it would tie the hands of judges who might have ruled a different way. Senator Bryan Simonaire (R-Pasadena) voted against the legislation but provided no reason when asked for comment.

The Maryland Judiciary also opposes the bill’s passage. Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera wrote, “The Judiciary believes it is important for judges to weigh the facts and circumstances for each individual case. Provisions that place restrictions on the judge prevent the judge from considering legislative intent or factors unique to the case. The notification requirement [of Maryland law] also serves to prevent fraud and mandatory elimination of such notice could lead to an increase in such activities.”

Maryland resident Lilly Tilden says the law didn’t come soon enough for her, and that she found the requirement to publish her former name in The Capital under current law “heartbreaking.”

These kinds of laws are nearly unthinkable in countries like Pakistan, where young women are killed at epidemic-like rates in rural areas across the country. The same can be said of India and some countries in Africa, where honor killings still occur at a trouble rate. Although there has been an increased public outcry and activism from human rights groups over the last few years, the actual number of honor killings hasn’t changed. Some feel that the fight is almost hopeless.

Honor Killings On The Rise In The UK

Honor killings usually occur when a male member of a family decides that a female member has brought the family shame or dishonored the family in some way. There are a number of different reasons usually provided to authorities after these crimes have taken place. They include adultery, scantily clad clothing, a non-traditional relationship, defying the wishes of the father, or refusing to marry. Sometimes, young boys will be asked to carry out the murder because the legal consequences are less serious. 

On occasion, an honor killing occurs after a woman has been raped. The father sees the rape as a disgrace that needs to be purged to guarantee the family’s honor.

In the United Kingdom, honor killings appear to be on the rise — but this could simply be due to the way in which statistics are gathered.

Chief Inspector Gerry Campbell said, “Young women are predominantly the victims of honor-based violence but we are seeing an increase in young men and boys — it’s now about 15 percent of the total numbers.”

But these numbers have exploded because authorities decided to reclassify some cases based on the motivations behind certain types of murders.

Crown Prosecutor Nazir Afzal said, “It will be about making sure we look for the signs so that we don’t miss cases.”

Due to the rise in honor killings over the last two decades, British authorities have introduced a slew of new laws designed to prevent arranged marriages and provide a legal means for victims in these types of unions to dissolve them free of legal consequence. A person found guilty of forcing another person into a marriage or union without consent could be incarcerated for up to two years and slammed with a hefty fine.

The laws were introduced in 2008 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland — and at least 86 Forced Marriage Protection Orders were granted as a result.

Indian Man Decapitates Teen Daughter Due To Relationship

Another alleged honor killing occurred in India earlier this year. Indian police arrested a man who they believed was responsible for killing his teen daughter — by beheading — after he became angry over her relationship. Uttar Pradesh police took Sarvesh Kumar into custody. He had been headed to the police station anyway — with his daughter’s head hanging from his own hand. 

Video of the man’s confession was released to BBC News this March. He said that he became angry that his daughter had engaged a man in a relationship without his knowledge or consent, so he locked her up before decapitating her.

These crimes are commonplace in rural regions of India, Pakistan, and many African countries. Although the problem has received worldwide attention in the past couple of decades, there are still no reliable statistics on the number of honor killings year by year, where, or why they occur. Officials believe that hundreds of young girls and women are murdered each year by male family members — and sometimes, by young teenage male family members who are more likely to escape serious legal consequences.

Family murder is not uncommon in the United States, but “honor” is rarely provided as a reason to carry out these heinous crimes. A Volusia teen recently pleaded guilty to strangling his mother — but over an argument about his bad grades, not over one or the other dishonoring the family. 

That said, India’s National Crime Records Bureau does provide unofficial statistics compiled based on inter-family violence in Uttar Pradesh, a province where more honor killings are committed than any other province in India. 

Women in India have struggled to address civil rights for years, but they are getting closer to equality. Indian authorities recently sentenced four men to hang after they raped and murdered a 23-year-old woman in 2012. The event caused massive backlash in India. The country received around 87 reports of rape and sexual assault every day. 

And human rights activists worldwide recently galvanized after a judge ruled that groping a child did not constitute sexual assault without skin-on-skin contact. The ruling allowed a 39-year-old to walk free after he sexually assaulted a 12-year-old victim in 2016. 

The murdered girl in Uttar Pradesh was only 17 years old and was beheaded with an axe.

Hardoi District Police Superintendent Anurag Vats said, “He said he saw his daughter in a compromising position with a man and he beheaded her in a fit of rage…He has confessed to his crime.”

Video of the man walking toward the police station was shared on social media, sparking outrage in India and abroad.

Vice President of All India Democratic Women Association Madhu Garg said, “Daughters in India are seen as a sign of family honor, which results in such crimes. The issue of the right to choice needs immediate attention and a separate law should be made for dealing with honor killing.”

The World History Of Honor Killings: Part I

It stands to reason that humans have a variety of reasons for any action they take — after all, we’ve evolved a number of complex societies over millennia, many of which have fallen but were later used as the foundation for even stronger (or sometimes weaker) societies. Have you ever wondered how America’s democracy was born? How about why we use the bald eagle as a strong symbol of our society? Easy answer: it’s because Rome used the eagle as a strong symbol of its society, and we fashioned our own government after theirs (although our founding fathers certainly hope they built something better). 

In any case, humans commit murder for a variety of reasons. Honor killings may not be common in the United States, but they occur routinely overseas even as authorities begin to crack down on this strange custom. The family unit is an adaptation that humans have evolved in order to build society from the ground up — so how is it that some societies commit murder against members of their own families? We’ll explore the reasons by poring through the history of honor killings. 

You probably wondered why we mentioned Ancient Roman society. Well, it’s because this is the first piece of historical context available to us.

Honor killings first began in Rome. The head of a household — always the oldest paternal unit called the pater familias — had the legal right to slaughter a sexually active daughter or a wife who cheated. The “right” to kill for honor runs out as soon as a daughter is married and leaves the household. 
We see these instances echoed in Roman literature. The story of Lucretia results in the titular character’s suicide when she was raped. The story of Verginia ends when her father kills her — because she was raped. You can imagine that the stories because even more disturbing when the victim chose to have sex. To the Romans, these stories were romantic (and we’re not just being punny there). But we’ll continue the Roman history of honor killings in part two of our series.

Texas Man Faces Prison For Hiding Honor Killing Suspect

Yaser Abdel Said was an honor killing suspect who took a spot on the FBI’s “Top Ten” list of most-wanted fugitives after the murder of his own daughters Amina and Sara, who were 18 and 17 at the time of their deaths. Their crime? They were dating non-Muslims. Said told their mother that he was taking them out for a meal on New Year’s Day in 2008. Instead, he shot them inside a cab he borrowed.

Said was captured in August 2020 after a more than decade-long manhunt.

Now, his son Islam Yaser-Abdel Said, 32 and also a Texas resident, has pleaded guilty after charged and prosecuted for the crime of assisting his father evade law enforcement capture for the past 12 years. He could spend three decades in prison..

U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah said, “Islam Said prioritized the whims of his father, an alleged killer, over justice for his own sisters. Thanks to the dogged work of the FBI and its law enforcement partners, however, Mr. Said’s efforts were ultimately in vain.”

FBI reported that “On Aug. 25, 2020 FBI agents observed Mr. Said and his uncle deliver grocery bags to the residence, then followed the men to a shopping center 20 miles away, where they dumped trash received from the home.”

The home where Said had been concealed belonged to a cousin from Justin, Texas.
The bigger shock? Crimes like the aforementioned are often overlooked in the United States. According to Farhana Qazi, who used to be a government analyst for Advanced Studies on Terrorism, “Cases of honor killings and/or violence in the U.S. are often unreported because of the shame it can cause to the victim and the victim’s family. Also, because victims are often young women, they may feel that reporting the crime to authorities will draw too much attention to the family committing the crime.”

Calculating The Disproportionate Violence Against Women

Have you ever wondered how much more often the women in your life have deal with violence and sexual harassment than men? If you haven’t, then you might find the statistics somewhat disconcerting. One in three women will experience physical violence and/or rape during their lifetime — from a romantic partner. That’s to say nothing of the violence perpetrated against women by strangers. This compares to about 10 percent of men who experience the same.

There are other forms of assault at play, too. For example, almost half of women and men believe they were victims of “psychological” aggression, manipulation, or coercion. Have you ever known a woman who was battered or abused by her spouse or partner, but she refused to leave him? This is where psychology fits into the equation.

Men don’t experience rape as often as women, but those who do report similar psychological long-term effects and over half of male victims of rape were raped by an acquaintance. Only 15 percent were raped by a stranger. 

Women who were raped when they were in their teens are also more likely to be raped as adults, compared to women who were not raped during adolescence. Researchers do not understand all the factors that contribute to this statistic, but speculate that some women who are more prone to sexual assault because of fear.

College students who report rape are far more likely to report that it happened at school — and women are far more likely to be raped on campus than men. 

Although women are far more likely to become the victims of sexual assault — it can and does occur to anyone. But few people talk about it. Most victims of violence make no attempt to press charges against the perpetrator, in part because our society continues to promote the idea that the victim is somehow to blame.

How Many Honor Killings Have Been Documented In The United States?

Honor killings are generally associated with Middle Eastern and African countries, but the truth is that the number of murders coined as such are on the rise all over the world — including here in the United States. Maybe part of the reason is because families whose ethnicity stems from the Middle Eastern countries have been under increased pressure to conform to conservative American standards. Hate crimes against American Muslims, for instance, have skyrocketed since Donald Trump took office in 2016.

With his potential reelection just around the corner, this is a dangerous time for those of Middle Eastern descent, especially when those in question are practicing Muslims.

Just like in the Middle East, it can be difficult to find adequate data points to determine exactly how many victims of honor killings there have been in the United States. That’s because no agency devotes its time to compiling data regarding these murders. Many human rights organizations avoid labeling a murder “honor killing” in the states because they believe it could lead to increased pressure and stigmatization of these cultures instead of less.

Trump’s Executive Order 13769 was written and signed in order to gather data on honor killings in the United States — but alongside his mandate that crimes committed by immigrants be collected and published on a routine basis, the effort was likely less than wholesome in nature.

Farhana Qazi, Senior Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism in the United States said that the number of killings was likely more than other organizations estimated because officials also avoided public embarrassment for families involved. Zuhdi Jasser, a member of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, said in 2012 that honor killings should be studied to discover their true impact in this country.

The Islamic Center of Washington in Maryland pointed to Chinese detention centers where Muslims were incarcerated and the Trump administration’s actions toward minorities as the reasons why these murders more often go unnoticed — because members of those very communities are afraid to call out the injustices they see amongst themselves for fear that they might continue to be viewed as second class citizens.

A number of high profile cases have come into the spotlight since 1989 when 16-year-old Palestina Isa was murdered by her parents for her interests in American music. Other reasons for the murder included an African American boyfriend and was working part-time. That same year, Amina and Sarah Said were born. They were murdered by their father for having love interests who were not members of the Islamic community in 2008. Their father Yaser Said was consistency on top ten most wanted lists until he was finally captured earlier this year.

More recently, Gelareh Bagherzadeh and Coty Beavers were murdered by Ali Mahmood Awad Irsan when Bagherzadeh attempted to compel Irsan’s daughter to give up Islamic faith in favor of Evangelical Christianity. Irsan was sentenced to death in 2018.

Body-Shaming Isn’t A Purely Middle Eastern Phenomenon

One would think that the Western world should have more tolerance for other ways of life — especially considering that most of us believe the very idea of honor killing is barbaric. But instead of committing brutal crimes, we mostly commit quieter atrocities. Instead of killing, we conduct mental and psychological attacks aimed at shaming victims for behaviors that don’t affect us at all. 

Body-shaming is one such attack. We body-shame when we find someone wearing less than we think they should — or when they don’t look the way we think they should. 

In Bristol, England, sisters Amaleehah and Nadia Aslam-Forrester noticed they were being body-shamed by members of the Asian community online after they posted pictures of themselves in revealing bathing suits. They were surprised. Although they were accustomed to abusive behavior from members of their communities back home, the same kind of behavior from other ethnicities was completely unexpected.

The two sisters grew up in a household with a Pakistani mother and an English father, which was a different kind of obstacle in a world where attacks on other races are becoming increasingly frequent.

Their parents are mostly supportive of the lives they wish to lead, and don’t want the pair to be held back by outdated cultural practices of biased expectations. Right and wrong should be determined by what each individual believes, and not based on what others believe.

Their mother connected them with members of a youth-led Bristol charity called Integrate. The group fights for women’s rights, gender equality, and racial equality — a good fit for two bullied sisters of Middle Easter descent. Integrate teaches members about female circumcision, sexism, honor crimes, etc.

“In our community, honor lies within the body of a woman,” Amaleehah said. “There’s always pressure on her to uphold men’s honor in her behavior and also in the way she dresses. We had one case where someone told us to drink bleach [on social media.] We got a lot of hate messages. Some people were anonymous, making fake accounts. It was awful. And that was all because we were being judged, there was stereotyping involved.”

She wasn’t just provided a voice by Integrate — she was also provided with a job. Now, Amaleehah speaks to children throughout the United Kingdom about the obstacles she and her sister went through in their own schools. 

If you are the victim of violence against women, an honor crime, domestic violence, or online bullying, then reach out to a trusted friend or family member. You can also find plenty of resources online. Don’t have access to a computer? Go to your public library for a link!