CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hallevy on Culture Crimes Against Women

Gabriel Hallevy (OnoGabi-halevi(1) Academic College, Faculty of Law) has posted Culture Crimes Against Women on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

About five thousand women are murdered by their families each year in the name of family honor. A young Muslim girl was murdered in Berlin by her own brother, because she "behaved like a German." Both of them had German citizenship. He was sentenced to nine years of incarceration, and was released after six years. His family celebrated his release from prison. Fatima Sehindel, a Muslim Swedish girl, was a student. She wanted to assimilate in Swedish society. She spoke to the Swedish parliament. She even had a Swedish boyfriend. She was murdered by her own father. These crimes were committed in advanced western countries.

It is difficult to get precise numbers of “honor killings,” since most cases are not reported. When a woman is murdered in the name of family honor in the country of origin, it is justified by law, since the concept of family honor justifies the killing of women in these societies. The perpetrators of such killings in these societies are considered heroes of their culture. In these societies, the concept of woman as a vessel of the family reputation is prevalent, and this concept is completed and accompanied by the concept of honor killings. The story of Soraya M., which was publicized in a book and a movie, is another example. Her husband wanted to marry a younger woman, so he claimed that she was flirting with a neighbor. She was stoned to death.

This phenomenon is not exclusive to the countries of origin. Many of the women murdered by their families in the name of family honor are murdered in western societies, very advanced western societies that have open-gate policies and are absorbing immigrant populations. Some of the immigrants in these societies come from countries where the concept of honor killing is in common use, is morally acceptable and is legal. Upon settling in their new homeland, the immigrant population continues this accepted practice, as they used to in their homeland.

Reports submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights show that honor killings have been committed in Great Britain, Italy, Sweden, the United States, Germany, France, and other countries absorbing immigrants. Some of these honor killings are perpetrated or assisted by women. The concept of honor killing is considered by most of the immigrants, including women, as part of their culture, which must be preserved. They sometimes rely on Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Honor killings are not the only offenses committed against women in the name of culture.

When the perpetrators are charged in court, they frequently claim the “ignorance of law” defense, since they have been behaving that way for generations, and why would the legal situation be different in their new homeland. In most cases, this claim is rejected, but it is used to mitigate punishments down to ridiculous sentences. Most western countries share this problem. This article argues that the mistake of law defense is irrelevant in relation to culture-based crimes against women. It is further argued that committing an offense on the grounds of preserving a culture in and of itself justifies harsher sentencing.

In the following paragraphs culture-based crimes against women in countries absorbing immigrants will be introduced. Then the relevance of the mistake of law defense shall be examined in relation to culture-based crimes against women. Finally, and on those grounds, the sentencing considerations when punishing such crimes shall be examined

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