Some domestic violence cases could be 'honour crimes': Saskatoon police victims services worker

The Saskatoon police victim services unit is starting to see files that may be so-called "honour crimes," and they are working to try to understand how to help stop the violence.

Victim services worker concerned by cases of 'women being abused by older men in their family'

Police in Saskatoon and Regina are now aware of cases of so-called 'honour violence,' and are now trying to best understand how to support the victims. (Shutterstock)

Since Sheri Watkins began working in victim services for the Saskatoon Police Service earlier this year, she has had some files cross her desk that hinted at crimes she didn't understand.

People have seen it, especially in these newcomer organizations.- Sheri Watkins 

"They were women being abused by older men in their family," Watkins said in an interview with CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning.

Watkins suspected that these were so-called "honour crimes."

What is an 'honour crime?'

An "honour crime" is "a crime or incident that may have been committed to defend or protect the honour of the family or community," explained Heather Shepard, who is with the Regina Police Service's cultural unit.

Sadly, people may be more familiar with the most extreme version, "honour killing" — a term which became familiar to Canadians following the 2009 murders of four members of a family in Ontario.

Shepard is quick to explain that honour crimes are not about any specific religion. Instead, she argued, they are about patriarchal cultures and men who feel threatened when a female family member starts "becoming too Westernized, not following traditions."

"It starts maybe at home and then extended family finds out.… There's more pressure for the family to act and protect their honour."

Engaging the community

Watkins, who has also worked in rural Saskatchewan and in the North, had never seen a case like this until she took up her post with victim services in Saskatoon.

She invited Shepard to the city as the key speaker at a seminar for organizations in a position to help the victims.

Sheri Watkins, head of victim services for the Saskatoon Police Service, recently organized a seminar on so-called 'honour crime.' (CBC)

"My biggest takeaway was to get community organizations involved," Watkins said.

"People are not surprised — people have seen it, especially in these newcomer organizations."

Another challenge both women identified is a mistrust of police by some newcomers, and both said police services will have to do more to reach out to stop the violence.

With files from Saskatoon Morning