On October 4th, the AHA Foundation hosted its Second Annual Conference on Honor Violence and Forced Marriage at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. Last year’s groundbreaking conference was the first of its kind in the United States. Building upon last year’s success, the 2012 Conference featured an impressive lineup of speakers addressing a room full of NYPD, FBI, criminal justice practitioners, domestic violence shelters and numerous other NGOs.
Opening the conference, founder of the AHA Foundation and award-winning humanitarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali spoke about the unique circumstances of women in honor-based cultures, drawing upon her own experiences growing up in Africa and the Middle East. Ayaan gave the attendees specific tips and best practices for handling cases of honor violence and forced marriage. She also spoke about the challenges facing service providers and law enforcement officials who encounter these issues, and the urgent need to address them in the United States.
Nazir Afzal OBE, Director of the UK’s Crown Prosecution Services, spoke about honor crimes and forced marriage in the UK, explaining to the audience that one of the main lessons to take away was the need to “park their prejudices at the door” and “believe the victim.” Nazir discussed real life cases of honor violence and forced marriage in the UK to illustrate the unifying characteristics of these crimes. He also discussed the recent move to criminalize forced marriage in the UK, and the political backlash that ensued. Nazir closed his remarks by pointing out the importance of each audience member in helping to prevent these crimes and support the victims.
Our next speaker, Detective Chris Boughey, was presented with the first AHA Foundation Honour Award, for embodying the belief that women everywhere, of all cultures, merit access to education and basic human rights. Detective Boughey has been a huge asset to the AHA Foundation in our work protecting women and girls who come to us seeking help escaping honor violence and forced marriage. Detective Boughey was the lead investigator in the honor killing of Noor Almaleki. Noor, a 20-year-old woman from Peoria, Arizona, was murdered by her father for being “too Western” and for refusing a forced marriage to her cousin in Iraq. During his address to our audience, Detective Boughey reviewed specifics of the Almaleki investigation, putting the details in context with typical investigations, and discussed the aftermath of the case.
Heather Heiman, Senior Policy Attorney for the Tahirih Justice Center, spoke about Taharih‘s forced marriage initiative, including the direct services they provide to victims and a national survey they conducted which found as many as 3,000 cases of forced marriage in the U.S. in the two years preceding the survey. Heather discussed with the audience what she has learned through her own work with victims of forced marriage and the nuances that are sometimes present in these particular cases. In addition, she pointed out legal remedies that she has used when handling difficult cases, such as the case of a minor who was being forced to marry.
Our final speaker was Professor Ric Curtis who is heading up the AHA Foundation’s research projects on honor killings in the U.S. and forced marriage and FGM in New York City. Professor Curtis showed a short video of interview clips done with CUNY students discussing the forced marriages they have personally encountered in their lives and the attitudes their communities have towards marriage.
To close the conference, our speakers were joined by Archana Pyati, Deputy Director of the Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families, in a panel discussion led by Professor Curtis. This session reviewed what the panel members believed was the most important take away from the day, their feelings on the biggest obstacles faced by those working to help victims, and questions about what happens to victims after they have been brought into the system.
The AHA Foundation is profoundly grateful to all the speakers whose expertise made this conference such a success. We know that, thanks to the information provided to our audience, this will be a day that saves lives.