Police Responses to Honour-Related Beliefs
Given the above discussion it appears that subscribing to honour beliefs is associated with a significant risk of various harms. This should, therefore, be of significant interest to the police who are charged with protecting the community from harm. Some of the challenges faced by police responding to suspects, witnesses and victims of crime who subscribe to honour-related beliefs and how they might respond to them are considered below.
First, it is important to note that honour-related beliefs are often very important and attractive to individuals as ways of maintaining their wellbeing and self-esteem, and in managing their interactions with others
(Roberts et al. 2013). In addition, if an individual is part of an honour group, their social status and reputation is often deeply ingrained into the acceptance of, and in behaving in accordance with, honour-based norms. As such, no matter how counter-productive and damaging these beliefs appear to be, there is little to be gained in attempting to change an individual’s beliefs. Indeed in such circumstances, individuals subscribing to these beliefs are highly likely to become uncooperative even aggressive. Thus police are advised to avoid such approaches when dealing with victims, witnesses or suspects of crime. Instead approaches that are accepting of the beliefs are likely to be most useful and are most likely to maintain cooperation with police. There is no suggestion that police agree with the beliefs, but the intent here is the management of individuals in a manner that does not alienate them.
For police, identifying individuals who subscribe to honour-related beliefs is likely to be difficult and at times impossible. Unlike some factors traditionally considered by police as conferring vulnerability, honour-related beliefs are not easily observable. Instead identifying such beliefs is only possible following detailed observation and assessment of individuals and police are encouraged to do this should they suspect that honour is relevant to an investigation (Roberts et al. 2013). Relevant information with which to make judgements regarding the significance of honour for an individual can be gleaned from comments made by the individual, their overt behaviour and statements made by those who know them concerning their behaviour, and the extent to which this is consistent with honour-related norms. The results of such an assessment will then allow informed judgements to be made about the significance of honour to an individual and policing strategies can be developed accordingly.
Certain cultural groups, sub-cultures and geographical areas have been associated with honour-related beliefs. However, it is important to note that just because an individual comes from such a group or area—or even if an individual is implicated in an offence that appears to be honour- related—this does not necessarily mean that they will subscribe to honour- related beliefs (Roberts et al. 2013). Relatedly, it is also noteworthy that honour can be significant to some individuals who are not otherwise associated with honour cultures. As a result, in these circumstances, it would be wrong for police to assume (or to reject) honour-related beliefs without an adequate assessment as described.
As behaviour results from an interaction between the situation and personal characteristics of an individual, it is important for police to be sensitive to the characteristics of situations as these can have a significant impact upon the sorts of behaviour individuals demonstrate and ultimately the likelihood of harm. For example, individuals who subscribe to honour-related beliefs might perceive being arrested as a challenge to their honour to which they must respond violently. For some individuals, this may mean that they are a high risk of assaulting police officers they might consider as being the source of an honour-based challenge. Alternatively, as it is difficult to respond with violence when in police custody, some individuals may feel that they have been unable to respond adequately to the honour-related challenge and may become at risk of self harm either in custody or when released. Sensitivity to situational characteristics allows strategies to be drawn up that minimise some of these risks of harm. For example, plans may be set in place for police to access individuals in a manner that minimises feelings of dishonour. Affecting a public arrest in the presence of witnesses is likely to compound feelings of dishonour, whereas voluntary attendance at a police station might minimise this risk. Similarly, setting in place selfharm prevention strategies while an individual is in custody may prove useful. Certainly, the risk of violence or self-harm by individuals who subscribe to honour-related beliefs cannot be understated.
It is also important to note that the risk of harm extends to those who may not be suspects in a crime but witnesses or even victims. For example, among women who have been victims of sexual violence, those who subscribe to honour-related beliefs are at significant risk of self-harm because they are often perceived to have dishonoured both themselves and also their family (Alverdinia and Pridemore 2009). Indeed, they may be put under significant pressure from other family members to suicide (Roberts et al. 2013). Police need to be aware of this and when involved with such individuals put in place mechanism for protection of the victim.
It is not enough to expect that family members will offer this protection. This point also applies when police need to find a protective environment for a victim of crime when the offenders are family members. In these circumstances, it should not be assumed that, where members of a community subscribe to honour-related beliefs, an individual would receive protection if placed back into their own or a similar community. Other members of the community may agree with the honour-based motive and may aid family members in accessing and even harming the victim.
Some victims of crime might themselves subscribe to honour-related beliefs and police should be aware of this as this can create difficulties with investigations and may increase the risk of future harm for the victim. Victims of this sort may be unwilling to cooperate with police, even when police action may protect them, as this may be seen as a betrayal of the honour group, which is itself a form of dishonour for the victim. In addition, victims who have been removed from the honour group for their own protection may make attempts to contact and even return to the group despite the risk presented (Roberts et al. 2013). This stems from the fact that many victims who value honour may feel that they have failed to live up to honour expectations in reporting a crime or in associating with police and suffer associated distress. This situational vulnerability is compounded when the victims are female, given they are subject to different expectations honour group and the significant responsibility women have for maintaining group honour through their behaviour. Given this, in certain circumstances, protective custody might be considered where risk of violence is great. Counselling and psychological support for victims that is cognisant of the meaning of honour and the demands that this places, even on victims, is also warranted to help protect them.
In any interaction with an individual who subscribes to honour-related beliefs, it is important to consider their perceptions. Individuals ofthis type are highly sensitive to criticism and challenges. This means that in any situation where they are challenged, for example, during a police interview, this may be perceived as a challenge to their honour. It is, therefore, important for police to consider strategies to minimise this risk. Challenges should not be in the form of direct criticism as this will likely result in an individual becoming agitated and is likely to result in a loss of cooperation. Challenges should be calmly made and presented in a form of fact finding, which indicates that information received is contrary to that provided by the individual and the individual should be invited to comment; for example, ‘you have said that you were not present at the scene however CCTV shows that you were there, have you anything to say about this?’ This contrasts with direct criticism such as, ‘you are lying, the CCTV shows that you were there.’ The latter assures a reflexive honour response, while the former offers the offender the space to defend their honour-related violence.
Strong subscription to honour-related beliefs is also likely to provide a challenge in the manner in which individuals refer to offending when interacting with police such as during police interviews. Where an individual has responded with violence to perceived dishonour, they are highly likely to feel vindicated and that their actions were justified. For example, in the author’s experience, some individuals who had killed a family member during an honour killing expressed sadness that the family member was dead but also exhibited no guilt or remorse, and often felt vindicated because they had preserved their own and their family’s honour. For police attempting to challenge this by criticising the attitude or attempting to make the individual feel guilt is likely to be counter-productive and will lead to loss of cooperation. Instead, an acceptance of the individual’s view without overt challenge is important, as they are more likely in these circumstances to provide police with useful information.
The above point applies more broadly to engagement with groups who value honour. Overt criticism of the group or of their honour- related beliefs is likely to result in reduced cooperation. Instead, communication needs to be sensitive to their desire to maintain the selfesteem of honour group members. Asking group members for their ideas to solve policing problems is a much more useful strategy than telling them what to do, as this allows the preservation of honour.