On June 6th, 2011, the AHA Foundation held the first ever conference on honor violence and forced marriage in the United States. By all accounts, it was a huge success and a day we know will save lives!
Ayaan addressed an audience full of NYPD, FBI, criminal justice practitioners, domestic violence shelters and service providers on Honor Violence 101. She spoke about the unique circumstances facing Muslim women and girls in an honor-based culture, the challenges facing law enforcement when confronting these cases, and the differences between honor violence and traditional Western domestic violence. She reviewed six cases of honor violence from Queens to illustrate that these crimes are happening on a local scale.
Our next keynote speaker was Nazir Afzal OBE, Director of the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service. He discussed the UK’s response to honor crime, forced marriage and female genital mutilation. During his lecture, he emphasized the need for everyone to believe victims who seek their help. When speaking of forced marriage, he pointed out that the forced marriage is often just the beginning of the abuse. In investigating and prosecuting honor killings, he said they should be handled like organized crime as often the entire family is involved. Finally, he spoke of the importance of educating everyone, starting with young children, on human rights, in order to stop the pattern of violence.
Following Nazir, we were extremely fortunate to be joined by Laura Reckart, lead prosecutor in Arizona v. Almaleki, the first case in the U.S. where an honor violence theory was successfully used to obtain a conviction of a father who murdered his daughter, along with Detective Chris Boughey, who led the investigation into the murder. They spoke in detail about the investigation, the challenges faced and the trial, including their disappointment with the verdict. Their belief is that Almaleki should have been convicted of first-degree murder rather than the lesser charge of second-degree murder as they clearly proved premeditation.
Sabatina James, founder of Sabatina EV, an award-winning German foundation set up to protect Muslim women from violence and oppression, and a victim of forced marriage, told her story, including problems she encountered when seeking help from shelters, police and government agencies. She discussed the fact that her father lied to social workers to ensure her return home and emphasized that people who immigrate to the U.S. do not leave their cultures at the airport.
We were all gratified when, during a panel discussion led by Professor Ric Curtis of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, one attendee stood up to say that she would do her job at the DA’s office differently the next day, thanks to information and awareness she gained at the conference.