Honour Killings in Germany, 1996-2005

A study based on prosecution files

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. 
Project category: Research project
Organisational status: Individual research project
Project time frame: Beginning of project: 2008
End of project: 2010
Status of Project: completed
Project language(s): German

Head(s) of project

Contributors / Researchers

  • Julia Kasselt, M.A. (International Criminology)

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).

Publications (selection)

  • Oberwittler, Dietrich / Kasselt, Julia (2011). Ehrenmorde in Deutschland 1996-2005. Eine Untersuchung auf der Basis von Prozessakten. (Polizei + Forschung, vol. 42, ed.: Bundeskriminalamt). Köln: Wolters Kluwer Deutschland. ISBN 978-3-472-08045-9

  • Oberwittler, Dietrich / Kasselt, Julia (2014). Honor Killings. In: Gartner, R. & McCarthy, B. (eds.): The Oxford Handbook on Gender, Sex, and Crime. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 652-670. | OUPblog: Five important facts about honor killings

  • Kasselt, Julia: Ehre im Spiegel der Justiz (Kriminologische Forschungsberichte). Duncker & Humblot, forthcoming.

  • Kasselt, Julia / Oberwittler, Dietrich: Die richterliche Bewertung von Ehrenmorden in Deutschland. Eine empirische Analyse der Sanktionspraxis im Zeitraum 1996 bis 2005. Monatsschrift für Kriminologie und Strafrechtsreform 97(3), 203-223 (2014).

  • Oberwittler, Dietrich / Kasselt, Julia: Ehrenmorde in Deutschland. Verbrechen gegen das Selbstbestimmungsrecht junger Migrantinnen. In: Unsere Jugend 4, 166-175 (2012).

  • Last update: 16 July 2015
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