So-called ‘honour killings’ have received more and more attention in recent years against the backdrop of discussions about the integration of migrants particularly from Islamic countries. Honour killings are domestic homicides of (mainly) females who are perceived by the offender(s) as violating behavioral norms, especially sexual chastity and submission under patriarchal rule. This study represents first systematic and large-scale analysis of lethal domestic violence in Germany reported as honour killings. The quantitative and qualitative analyses shed light on the frequency, victims and offenders, circumstances and motives of these crimes.

So-called ‘hon­our killings’ have re­ceived more and more at­ten­tion in re­cent years against the back­drop of dis­cus­sions about the in­teg­ra­tion of mi­grants par­tic­u­larly from Is­lam­ic coun­tries. Ideal­typ­ic­ally, hon­our killings are do­mest­ic hom­icides of fe­males who are per­ceived by the of­fend­er(s) as vi­ol­at­ing be­ha­vi­or­al norms, es­pe­cially sexu­al chastity and sub­mis­sion un­der pat­ri­arch­al rule, or more gen­er­ally of keep­ing a dis­tance from ‘west­ern’ life styles. The killing serves to re­store the fam­ily’s hon­our and may be agreed upon and planned col­lect­ively by the fam­ily. In this per­spect­ive, the killing is not a crime but a le­git­im­ate sanc­tion ac­cord­ing to ar­cha­ic prin­ciples of self-help.
However, a com­pre­hens­ive defin­i­tion of hon­our killings and its dis­crim­in­a­tion from oth­er forms of do­mest­ic killings is far from clear-cut. An hon­our killing in the strict sense is the killing of a girl or young wo­man by their blood re­l­at­ives to re­store col­lect­ive fam­ily hon­our. Yet, much more fre­quent are in­tim­ate part­ner hom­icides bor­der­ing on hon­our killings. A lot of leth­al do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence in sec­u­lar, west­ern so­ci­et­ies is dir­ec­ted against wo­men as well, of­ten mo­tiv­ated by the same pat­ri­arch­al norms of (sexu­al) faith­ful­ness or triggered by the fe­male part­ner’s in­ten­tion to sep­ar­ate. There seems to be a large grey area between ‘typ­ic­al’ hon­our killings and ‘or­din­ary’ in­tim­ate part­ner killings. In this per­spect­ive, to stress the dis­sim­il­ar­ity or ‘oth­er­ness’ of hon­our killings in west­ern so­ci­et­ies may be in­suf­fi­cient to grasp a more com­plex real­ity of do­mest­ic vi­ol­ence among mi­grant groups which has rarely been in­vest­ig­ated in Ger­many.

In this situ­ation, the pro­jects in­ten­ded to identi­fy and ana­lyze all cases of hon­our killings ad­ju­dic­ated in Ger­many between 1996 and 2005 on the basis of ju­di­cial files and me­dia re­ports. In or­der to achieve this goal, searches of po­lice case lists and full-text me­dia archives were con­duc­ted. In the full-text archive of the Deutsche Presse Agen­tur (Ger­man News Agency) a com­plex search pro­cess was used to se­lect po­ten­tial hon­our killing cases from around 92,500 re­ports. The em­pir­ic­al ana­lys­is of this study is based on 78 cases whose case re­cords could be eval­u­ated.

Based on these find­ings, we es­tim­ate the total pos­sible known num­ber of hon­our killings in Ger­many to be about twelve per year, three of which are hon­our killings in the strict sense. This pro­jec­tion in­cludes part­ner hom­icides in the gray zone between col­lect­ive fam­ily hon­our and in­di­vidu­al male hon­our, the clas­si­fic­a­tion of which as hon­our killings is doubt­ful. Giv­en that there are roughly 700 an­nu­al hom­icide re­lated deaths in Ger­many, in­clud­ing many in fam­il­ies and re­la­tion­ships, hon­our killings are (quant­it­at­ively) very rare events.

In 80% of the hon­our killings in the strict sense an un­wanted love af­fair by a wo­man, out­side or after mar­riage, was the cent­ral factor in­volved. The para­mount motives in part­ner con­flicts are the sep­ar­a­tion or the (al­leged) sexu­al in­fi­del­ity of the vic­tim or in­dir­ect vic­tim, in ac­cord­ance with the main motives of ‘nor­mal’ part­ner hom­icides. At 43% the per­cent­age of male vic­tims was un­ex­pec­tedly high. Un­wanted male part­ners were of­ten at­tacked along­side the fe­male vic­tims; in some in­stances only the male was at­tacked.

A num­ber of as­sump­tions sur­round­ing the phe­nomen­on of hon­our killings can be re­futed. Hon­our killings do not oc­cur in all so­cial and edu­ca­tion­al levels, but only in the most dis­ad­vant­aged and poorly edu­cated mi­lieus. There is no evid­ence to sug­gest strong par­ti­cip­a­tion among second or third gen­er­a­tion im­mig­rants. There is also no evid­ence to sug­gest an in­crease in the num­ber of hon­our killings in re­cent years. These res­ults give hope that hon­our killings will not be­come a per­man­ently es­tab­lished phe­nomen­on of vi­ol­ence in Ger­many.

The pro­ject is closely linked to the on­go­ing European Hom­icide-Sui­cide Study.

With fin­an­cial sup­port by the Fed­er­al Crim­in­al Po­lice Of­fice (BKA).