On December 4th, 2013, the AHA Foundation, in partnership with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, held its third conference on honor violence, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation (FGM) in New York City. The conference is an annual gathering of experts dedicated to exploring the complex criminal manifestations of, and best responses to, honor-based violence against women and girls. Speakers provided information on how to identify cases, best practices for investigating and prosecuting honor violence, as well as guidance on how to protect potential victims. The conference featured an international panel of experts addressing a room full of police officers, FBI agents, prosecutors, judges, social workers, domestic violence advocates, guidance counselors, and representatives from numerous other NGOs.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali opened the conference with an explanation of the perilous circumstances of women in honor-based cultures. She shared her own story of escaping the oppression of a traditional honor-based culture, as documented in her best-selling memoir Infidel. She characterized the conference as historic because, “Most Americans—who cherish safety for children and freedom for adults—are unfamiliar with tragic consequences of a warped regard for honor and purity. They need to be alerted to discover, criminalize, and put an end to these cruel practices.”
Chris Boughey and Jeffrey Balson, detectives in the Violent Crimes Unit of the Peoria, Arizona Police Department, shared profiles of recent honor violence and forced marriage cases that they have worked on, in cooperation with the AHA Foundation. Detectives Boughey and Balson are acclaimed for their dedication to rescuing women and girls from honor violence situations as well as for investigating the honor killing of Noor Almaleki.
Amber Hanson, a Country Officer with the Office of Overseas Citizens Services, American Citizens Services with the U.S. Department of State, discussed the forced marriage of U.S. citizens overseas and the Department of State’s work in identifying and addressing cases.
The keynote address was given by Gerard Laarhuis, Assistant Crown Attorney, Ontario, Canada, who profiled the Shafia murders, a horrendous, multi-victim honor killing in Canada. He was chief prosecutor in the case in which, as he explained afterwards, a jury “found that four strong, vivacious and freedom-loving women were murdered by their own family.” Explaining to an audience full of stakeholders, he said, “We failed them. We are here today because we want to do better.”
Archana Pyati, Deputy Director of the Immigration Intervention Project at Sanctuary for Families, addressed the topic of female genital mutilation in the United States. She discussed the phenomenon of “vacation cutting” and how her organization is helping survivors of female genital mutilation and those seeking asylum from FGM in their home countries.
The 2013 recipient of the annual AHA Foundation Honour Award was Dr. Elizabeth Gibson, a pediatrician from Pennsylvania. Dr. Gibson was given the award in recognition of her exemplary efforts to assist a young patient in a life-threatening situation. Dr. Gibson was not willing to accept the argument that the girl’s cultural background was more important than her safety, and worked tirelessly to ensure that the girl received protection and support.