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Honor Killing - the murder of a female family member (or sometimes a gay man) usually by male relatives who believe she has violated their honor. The violation can be anything from wearing hairspray to using the internet to talking on a cell phone or smiling at a strange man. A minor age male family member is usually chosen to do the deed as in the U.S. he will escape being charged as an adult. There are 8000 known plus an estimated 50,000 suspected honor killings each year, including 400 annually in the United States. Experts believe these numbers are low. Honor killings are often disguised as suicides, runaways, and disappearances. Women may also be imprisoned for "their own safety" and will not be released if their family wants to honor kill them. Many of these victims have been in prison for years. Ironically, the perpetrators are rarely jailed as honor killing is usually not considered a crime. In fact, many killers are treated as heroes because they have defended their family's honor.

Acid Violence - acid attacks against women by jilted lovers, jealous husbands, or female rivals. The attacks are exclusively to the face, often with battery acid. The resulting disfigurement and blindness leads to severe physical pain, psychological trauma, and intense social ostracism. Acid violence is predominantly found in Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, which passed a progressive law against the act during the last two years. The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women held a panel discussion on acid violence for the first time in 2012.

Bride Burning - predominant in India, Pakistan, and some Asian countries, brides may be burned alive if their dowries are insufficient; if their husbands or in-laws prefer to bring another woman into the family, if a man wishes to usurp his wife's wealth, etc. Called suttee, this practice goes back thousands of years. While now illegal in India, the estimate is that several thousand women die of bride burning there each year.

Breast Ironing - in conflict zones where girls are at high risk of individual or gang rape, mothers will physically iron the budding breasts of their daughters to retard growth, making their girls more androgynous and less appealing. The greatest risk of rape occurs when girls go to fetch water for their families which they must do several times a day.

Circling - the act of soldering metal rings around a girl's throat. Girls receive one for each birthday from puberty, on, as a sign of beauty and availability for marriage. The rings elongate the neck and emphasize it as an erogenous zone. The problem is that the neck muscles atrophy and women cannot hold their heads high. In addition, their vocal chords are damaged and victims cannot sing, speak or voice an opinion. The practice is usually found in Africa and often photographed for National Geographic.

Blind Stitching - the value of fine rugs is judged by the number of stitches per inch. To achieve this quality and subsequent high price, child labor is used. A boy or girl who starts rug making at age 5 or 6 is often severely visually impaired or blind by their twenties. The practice has been found in Turkey and probably exists in Afghanistan and parts of India as well.

Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) - a practice stretching from Africa to the Middle East, female genital mutilation dates back thousands of years. It is popularly known as cutting because in FGM, the female sex organs are literally cut off. The clitoris, outer labial lips, and more might be removed. FGM is currently performed on about 8000 girls a day, usually at ages seven or eight, but sometimes on children as young as one and almost always without anesthesia. The cutter maybe a female elder or a male village blacksmith. The knife is usually not sterilized. After the procedure, tree thorns might be used for stitches. Then girls’ legs are bound together for several weeks so a smooth ribbon of scar tissue forms with only a tiny hole for urine and menses. The scar is proof of a girl's virginity which in turn makes her a more desirable bride. This is important if marriage is the only option for economic survival. But the cost is enormous. Many girls bleed to death. Others develop massive psychological, gynecological, and obstetric complications including fistulas that cause incontinence and odor which in turn leads to social ostracism.

Many groups are working on the ground to help mothers end the practice and replace FGM with other healthy, coming of age rituals. The latter is important since girls maybe ridiculed if they are not cut. In 2012, the UN Commission on the Status of Women put forth a resolution to have FGM banned worldwide and named it a human rights violation. Note: FGM is sometimes called female genital circumcision, but many activists feel the word "circumcision" legitimizes the practice and diminishes the amount of violence and death that occurs. In addition, there is no comparison between traditional male circumcision and the extreme damage done by FGM. That said, the term FGM, while accurate and the designation used by the UN, is not considered politically correct since mothers are trying to do what is best for their daughters, especially in areas where nuptials depend on the practice.

Cutting is another word for female genital mutilation, the cutting away of a girl's genitalia to safeguard her virginity until marriage. According to the UN, cutting is practiced in 28 countries worldwide. An ancient, deeply ingrained ritual, cutting is performed on girls as young as one-year old. In places where it is practiced, cutting is considered an important, traditional female rite of passage. In impoverished or famine stricken regions, a girl's survival might depend on marriage and marriage might depend on whether or not she is cut. According to the 2013 UN Commission on the Status of Women, 4 million to 113 million girls are cut each year. The numbers are vague because in many places the practice now lives underground. Cutters often use unclean tools, tree thorns for stitches, and no anesthesia. Some villages believe that they “will be cursed by angry spirits” if every female infant isn't cut.

FGM creates catastrophic, lifelong psychological and physical complications including death. The scar tissue produced by FGM is often so thick the groom has to cut it with a knife to consummate the marriage. In 2012-13, the United Nations named FGM a human rights violation. FGM and male circumcision are not comparable in terms of physical and psychological consequences.

Forced Child Marriage - the United Nations defines this as the marriage of children under age 18, but statistics show that 8 to 10 million girls worldwide, ages 9 to 15, are forced into marriage each year. The vast majority are physically and emotionally too young for sexual intimacy. Worse, promises by much older grooms (in Egypt. 2009, a 90 year old man was betrothed to a 17 year old girl) to sexually abstain until the girl is ready are often broken, resulting in lifelong gynecological, psychological, and obstetric damage. Where cultures allow for more than one wife, young brides may become virtual house slaves to the older women. There is also a phenomenon known as Gulf brides where men travel to the Gulf states to marry very young girls, but when the grooms grow bored, they return their wives like unwanted merchandise. Having lost their virginity and shamed their families by being abandoned, these girls are usually trafficked or honor killed.

Natural disasters also increase forced and child marriage, such as the recent Indonesian tsunami, when local governments offered men money to marry young girls and rebuild the population. In famine stricken areas, mothers may have to choose between marrying off their daughters or letting them starve to death because they can't afford to feed all their children. Please note that young boys are often forced to marry as well although this occurs much less often.

Child Soldiers - the history of child soldiers is as old as warfare itself. Currently, it is predominant in Africa, Burma, and parts of Indonesia. Both boys and girls are drafted. Current estimates are that 700,000 children ages 8 to early/mid-teens are in forced military service worldwide In addition, some countries use children, the elderly, and both the mentally and physically disabled as human mine sweepers.

Female Infanticide: Forced Ultrasound/Abortion - Also known as female gendercide and femicide, this relatively new criminal tradition (that's technologically speaking, the practice itself goes back centuries in one form or another) is rampant in India and China where there is a rabid preference for baby boys. Women either voluntarily have an ultrasound to determine their baby's sex and then abort the girls, or they are forced to do so. Estimates by activist attorney Reggie Littlejohn, featured in the 2013 documentary "It's a Girl" are that several million baby girls are forcefully aborted each year. Why? In India a girl belongs to her husband's family and it is her duty to care for in-laws when they age instead of her own parents. Or as they say, "a girl waters someone else's garden." In China, the huge demographic disparity between men and women has led to a population where males outnumber females by 37 million and the mothers of grown men contract with pregnant women for arranged marriages between their sons and unborn girls when those girls come of age. What's "of age"? …Sometimes it’s early puberty.

Guns - in the United States with its historic frontier mentality and emphasis on independence, our gun culture can be defined as a criminal tradition - especially with conceal/carry; the 2nd Amendment debate, and Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University, Aurora, Columbine…

Stoning - a parallel practice that can be considered a criminal tradition, stoning is a form of execution almost exclusively reserved for women who have committed adultery. While men are occasionally stoned, this is rare. Geographic patterns of stoning were presented at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2013. Certain revered texts provide guidelines for the size of the stones to be used on female adulterers. The stones must be big enough to cause damage, but small enough to make the death slow. Convicted women are buried up to their chests, just above the breasts. Immediate family members - the father, husband, sons, or brothers are encouraged to throw the first stones. Death can take hours.

Human Trafficking - There are strong links between human trafficking and various criminal traditions. For instance, child brides are often returned to marriage brokers by bored grooms. The brokers marry the girls off again and again, meeting definitions of human trafficking.

US law defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a human being against their will by means of threat, force, coercion, abduction, fraud and/or deception. Trafficking always involves the abuse of power and the exchange of money for human beings. (6)

It is the world's second fastest growing business with profits of $37+ billion a year and acquisition costs as low as $30. Profits continually increase because there is endless supply and demand. Human beings can be recycled and resold again and again. (7)

All of these trafficked humans - 80% of whom are female- are slaves. (3) There are more slaves today than at any other time in human history with 27+ million people enslaved worldwide. Slaves are present in every country and economy including the United States. (7) America is a major slave trade destination with an estimated one million+ slaves working throughout the United States. Most victims are found in domestic servitude including child and eldercare; restaurant and hotel work; construction; janitorial; factories; agriculture; panhandling; and adult services like massage, prostitution, and nail salons. (7)

The US identifies five major forms of trafficking including labor trafficking, sex trafficking, the recruitment of child soldiers for a gang or militia, trafficking in human organs, and trafficking in babies and children. (3) Trafficking victims come from vulnerable populations - runaways, the poor and disenfranchised, those who find themselves in a country where they don't speak the language, victims of war and natural disasters. (3)

Often the traffickers are gangs, the military, agricultural operators, labor brokers, business owners, domestic/child/eldercare agencies, matchmakers, marriage brokers, sex traders, and others. Together, they make $37 billion a year - tax free. (3)

Generally, laborers with bad contracts, rape and domestic violence victims, members of the military who freely enlist, and adult sex workers employed by their free consent are not considered trafficking victims. (3)

Likewise smuggling is a violation of US border law and is defined as illegal entry for self-benefit. By contrast, human trafficking is a violation of civil rights and does not require movement or relocation. (3)

Red flags that may indicate a person is being trafficked include a lack of identification or identity documents that are controlled by someone else; zero days off; the name of an owner painted, tattooed, or branded on the trafficked person's body, someone else constantly speaks for the trafficking victim; the victim has no sense of time or place. (7)

Trafficking occurs even when a person voluntarily migrates, signs a contract, and is paid for her work. Often the pay scale is insidious as the trafficker charges for room and board, clothes and transportation at exorbitant interest rates that can never be repaid. (3)

Trafficking victims can seek legal recourse, but often don't because they're afraid. They don't know American authorities are not required to deport them and they may not even realize they are being wronged. This is especially true of children. (8)

Fifty percent of the 800,000 people trafficked across international borders each year are minors. The International Labor Organization estimates that 8.4 million children are enslaved worldwide. (8)

The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reports that nineteen countries use trafficked boys and girls in armed conflict. (9)

According to UNICEF, two million children participate in the commercial sex trade worldwide. Child sex slaves can be as young a three because many cultures believe sex with a female virgin can cure HIV. (3)

International agencies report that a growing number of human traffickers are women, many of whom use Craig's List as a major trafficking tool. (7)

Slave labor happens in almost every industry but is especially prevalent in coffee, cocoa, cotton, and electronic goods. Low cost suppliers are sometimes no cost suppliers, using slave labor. Consumer demand fuels the entire slave labor chain. (7)

Trafficking grows if there is a bad economy, high unemployment, gender based work discrimination, upheavals in one's personal/social life, civil unrest, natural disasters, illiteracy, lack of language, the caste/class system, poor immigration laws, border issues, abuse of prison systems, sex tourism, and more. (3) Trafficking victims become trapped by fear of deportation, violence, retaliation, civil/criminal prosecution, debt repayment, family honor, Stockholm syndrome, distrust of authorities, shame, low self-esteem, and anything that make them socially or financially vulnerable. (3)


Information resources:
1 - Murder for Honor, Rana Hussein
2 - orchidproject.org
3 - United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, 2012-13
4 - The Caged Virgin, Ayaan Hirsi Ali
5 - becauseiamagirl.org
6 - U.S State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report
7 - callandresponse.com
8 - International Labor Organization
9 - The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers
10 - UNICEF
11 - Acid Survivors Trust International/ www.acidvilence.org



The United States: - All the criminal traditions cited here occur in the United States, but are called by different names—honor killing is homicide, FGM is assault or child endangerment—moreover in the US these actions are considered crimes. The US has the legal infrastructure to pursue prosecution but many countries do not because these traditions aren't against the law. Ending these behaviors means supporting other nations in their legal evolution, it means taking a stand for human rights and against criminal traditions.

What Will Help: Consumer awareness and education, boycotting countries with the worst trafficking records, buying fair trade, promoting transparency/ human rights within supply chains, effective trafficking laws and enforcement, awareness of vulnerable populations, ESL, community/faith based coalitions, focus on rescue and restoration; building awareness among the trades, community outreach, legislative focus, establishing stronger trafficking victims protection acts, trauma training, laws against sex tourism, outreach to the hospitality industry, multiple stakeholder awareness, cultural change.

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