Common Methods of Honor Killings

The term “honor killing” is something that seems contradictory. In general Western thought, killing someone is not considered an honorable act without compelling justification (e.g., killing a burglar in your house to protect yourself or your family from harm).

But all over the world, and in some prominent cultures, killing someone for the sake of a family’s honor is justifiable and almost encouraged by some codes of tradition, even if sometimes not explicitly codified in writing.

While an “honor killing” can be perpetrated against a man or a woman, the large majority of them in the world are perpetrated against women by male members of her own family. A woman (or man) who brings “dishonor” to her family is killed, even if the “dishonor” is only alleged and is not outside the norms of the surrounding culture. It is usually all about the religious and cultural norms of the family of origin and not about the culture in which that family lives.

It is difficult to get a number of how many murders or forced suicides are actual “honor killings” around the world, as many of them are unreported, or cannot be determined by facts of the cases. It is estimated, however, that thousands of women are killed in these “honor killings” at the hands of their male family members every year. In recent years, Muslim “honor killings” have been in the news, but the tradition is not limited only to Islam.

As “honor killings” are considered “crimes of passion” because they involve shame and anger, there are very rare cases of these killings taking place with a firearm. Some of the key methods of “honor killing” that have been recorded include stabbing, stoning, beheading, burning with acid, burning alive with fire, the cutting of the throat, and even cutting off of limbs.

In Western countries, many “honor killings” are done by stabbing, with the killings occurring for one of two main reasons  – a woman is considered “too Western” or “too promiscuous” (which can be considered in a form of dress or attitude and may not actually be true in a sexual sense). There is very little due process in these events; if any male of the family feels that woman has brought shame to the family because of how he feels, that can be justification for the killing.

And those emotions (shame and anger, primarily) are the reasons and motivations behind the methods of killing being so intimate and passionate that a firearm doesn’t seem to satiate the shame. Some of the methods are specifically mentioned in certain religious or cultural codes as the way to restore honor to the family.

A woman who is “too Western” can be killed if she has an affair, has sexual relations outside of a marriage, refuses as arranged marriage, asks for a divorce, or even does the “Western” thing of having independence and a desire to choose her own husband.

A woman who is “too promiscuous” can be a woman who does not dress in traditional religious or cultural garb meant to display modesty, or is seen out in public with a man who is not her husband, or has a boyfriend or significant other who is not of that family’s religion or culture (which is considered “inferior” to the family’s belief system).

It seems that there has been a trend in recent studies of known honor killings, in that the average age of those who are killed for being “too promiscuous” is about 17, and those who are “too Western” at age 36.