Or consider the case of the Egyptian-born taxi driver in Dallas, Texas, who reportedly shot his seventeen-and eighteen-year- old daughters, Sarah and Amina, a total of eleven times for dating American boys. At a vigil commemorating the two girls, their brother took the microphone and said: “They pulled the trigger, not my dad.” Or Fauzia Mohammad, who was stabbed eleven times by her brother in upstate New York because she wore “immodest clothing.” Or Aiya Altameemi, whose Iraqi-born father held a knife to her throat and whose mother and younger sister tied her to a bed and beat her because she was seen talking to a boy near their home in Arizona. Several months before, Aiya’s mother had burned her face with a hot spoon because she refused to be married off to a man twice her age. Her mother, father, and sister were later sentenced to two years of probation. Fauzia and Aiya survived, but they are scarred for life.
In the United States, honor killings and serious assaults are usually prosecuted, and the perpetrators held to account. That is important, but it is not sufficient. Addressing pervasive low-level violence and intimidation can help prevent more serious crimes from occurring in the first place.
Let’s leave aside the question of whether or not such violence is more common in some immigrant communities than in others. Let’s leave aside the whole vexed question of religion or culture. For now, let’s just get straight what is happening to girls in America. And let’s do something to stop it.
The first step is to understand the phenomenon. Honor violence is rooted in the perception that the behavior of a woman or girl, betraying her chastity, is an affront to the honor of her family and community. Examples of such dishonorable behavior include premarital relationships, dating someone not accepted by the family, or simply wearing clothing considered to be immodest or “too American.”
At first, relatives attempting to control a girl’s sexuality may simply impose non-violent restrictions on her social life, access to education, health care, employment opportunities, and civic participation. But if such forms of pressure do not suffice, a girl may be subjected to threats, harassment, assault, rape, kidnapping, torture, and even murder.
I founded the AHA Foundation as a survivor of honor violence, including female genital mutilation and an “arranged” marriage. My motive for doing so was simple: to help girls in similar situations in the country where I have made my home. I quickly came to see that the biggest obstacle to providing effective assistance was the refusal of most Americans simply to accept that honor violence happens here at all.
I know it does because the AHA Foundation regularly receives requests for assistance from women and girls in crisis. There is the young woman, an American citizen, who was taken to her family’s native country in the Middle East to marry a complete stranger against her will because her parents feared she was becoming too “Americanized.” There is the college student who fears for her life should her father discover that she is dating someone outside her family’s faith. There is the teenage girl who discovers she is pregnant and is threatened with murder by her family for bringing shame upon them.